The best performing tire out there... that won’t win you any races. A completely biased Oppo-review.
Full disclosure: As a long time advocate of these heavenly rubber circles of happiness and joy, I’ve wanted to write up my thoughts for quite a while. I’ve put these tires through more than any sane individual would ever choose to, and as such I’ve got a unique perspective to offer you. For what it’s worth, I had Bridgestone RE71R’s prior to these, and shitty offbrand all-seasons prior to both of those. I drive a modified Miata with stock power levels, weighing in at roughly 2100 pounds, and have been using 205/50 tires on 15x8 wheels.
What are they?
The ZII star specs are Dunlop’s signature extreme performance summer tire, introduced to compete with the likes of Bridgestone, Toyo, BFGoodrich and a handful of others in the ultra competitive “200tw” category. In terms of pure speed, these have turned out to be pretty middle-of-the-pack. While the new ZIII Star Specs (only available in Japan currently) have been redesigned with the hopes of dethroning Bridgestone’s Re71r as the fastest tire, the slower ZII’s have a number of traits that make them a fantastic choice for a wide variety of enthusiasts.
Rating tires of this performance level on longevity is akin to judging hypercars by their mpg’s, but it still needs to be mentioned. These are no R1R’s that you’d be lucky to get 10,000 miles out of. They’re leagues above the Re71r, which wear quicker than most 100tw tires and even some 40tw tires. The miles you can get out of these is head and shoulders above the rest of the group. I’m currently just over two years running these—all four seasons—with between 70-80k miles racked up since the first day they touched the pavement. The elephant in the room—yes—they’re abso-fucking-lutly beat to shit. That’s clear from the header image, and will be made even more clear with some closeups. BUT. They’ve never been rotated. They’ve been driven in anger for thousands of miles on gravel, at full 10/10, not holding back even a hair. They’ve seen track time, been autox’d, amateur drifting.... Oh, and every morning Monday through Friday for the last two years, the rears MIGHT have possibly been converted into smoke on one particular on-ramp near my work. This is something that I’ve been unable to verify, but I’m told it could be true. Anyways, what I’m trying to get across is that these tires have been beat to death, zapped back to life, only to get brutally manhandled once more time and time agaim.... And yet they’ve never missed a beat.
It’s not just a matter of longevity either. Dunlop made a 200tw tire that keeps 90% of it’s grip right to the moment you start seeing cords. That’s incredible! The re71-r? As soon as you get through the first layer of rubber, you’ll notice a huge drop off in dry grip, and “rain” will be your new four letter word for terror. It’s even worse for cold weather. The re71r and most of its competition will be comparatively ruined after a month of driving in sub-freezing temperatures. Even after the temps climb back up, even if the treads are still full, the tires will be so far off in terms of grip due to the rubber compound breaking down that you’ll be better off saving them for drift spares. Dunlop’s magic little pavement eaters, are different.
Grip: Dry, Wet, Winter Conditions
Dry grip is great. If you’ve always driven on all-seasons, these will blow your mind. Even thehigher 300tw summer rubber is so far off as to make upgrading to Star Specs seem like a holy experience. I’ve never driven another tire that so quickly translates steering wheel input to changing direction. The breakaway zone—where you meet the absolute limits of grip—is incredibly forgiving, coming on slowly in such a way that even novices can feel comfortable approaching (and passing) the limit. If tires do break loose, they’re quick to hook back to the tarmac, without being too abrupt or jarring. That said.... There are definitely faster options on dry pavement if you’re serious about competition. Rival S, RE71R, RS3 v2.... These and a few others are classed in the same (semi-meaningless) 200tw category, and they will all post faster lap times in dry conditions.
Wet grip review brought to you by a life-long seattle resident. The rumors are true, the PNW is more-or-less constant rain (so, uh. Don’t move here). In Washington, a year-round tire absolutely has to be able to handle water. Lots of it. The ZII star spec can handle more water than it has any right to, for a tire with such minimal siping it’s somewhat curious HOW it manages to grip so hard, and stay so well-controlled in wet conditions. Seriously, It’s not “good for a summer tire”. It’s good period. I’d place the wet grip of this rubber above at least half of the all-seasons I’ve driven, and there’s no question in my mind that the Dunlop is significantly better than every other 200tw summer tire in this catagory. Kicking the back out is easy, but it won’t happen by chance. 80% throttle and below and the driving dynamics are similar to dry, go beyond that (or kick the clutch) and you can get a wonderfully smooth slide that is a breeze to recover from. I Haven’t tried any of the race rubber specifically made for wet conditions so I can’t offer any sort of comparison there, and I’ll also add that while Washington State gets a lot of rain, we very rarely experience super heavy downfall with high water buildup on the roads.
In even just a single inch of snow, these are garbage and you’ll crash, destroy your car, and probably die horribly, even if there’s only half an inch of snow, and even if you’re sticking to 5mph. Drop an ice cube on an ice skating rink. That’s how much grip you have. Changing steering angle will do nothing, it’s actually quite comical. A perfectly modulated throttle MIGHT propel you in whatever direction you happen to be sliding at the moment, but 95% of the time your tires will just be spinning uselessly. I’m not trying to paint these as miracle tires. They’re phenomenal in how versatile they are for their performance level, but they’re not magic. If you expect snow where you live, either swap tires or don’t drive. It’s that simple. If it starts snowing, you’re probably okay to immediately drive home, but as soon as there is the slightest layer sticking to the ground your fate is in the hands of God.
I know all of that because I happened to be at the gym when my city got its once-yearly snow and decided to dump three inches between 9-11pm. After spending thirty minutes doing donuts in the parking lot (denting a wheel in the process) I drove the quarter mile back to my house at midnight. For one flat section I got out and pushed because my 200 pounds self in Converse all-stars could accelerate and bring to a stop my Miata quicker and safer than the tires. After that harrowing night... My baby spent three days under a tarp, unable to even make it out of the parking spot I’d miraculously managed to slide into unscathed.
As for ice, it’s not ideal but it’s definitely doable. If you pay attention you’ll be fine. The same easy-as-can-be breakaway when your tires break loose as on dry pavement, only now it happens a hair quicker and can sneak up on you. Driving these tires on cold pavement with ice is like driving a Stock Evo 9 under normal conditions. It requires your full attention, understand that and there won’t be issues. I’d say the Star Specs are comparable to cheap Chinese all-seasons in terms of ice grip, but the Dunlop’s have a bit of an edge simply because they transmit so much more feel. I’ve had zero problems driving through ice the last thirty days on my way to work, and this is what my tires currently look like...
Odds & Ends
Three flat tires with my old all-seasons, two with the RE71R’s and zero with the Dunlop’s that had more miles than the other two sets combined. Probably just luck of the draw, but who knows. Make of that what you will.
On dry level ground, from a standing start there was no way I could spin the rear tires. With the all-seasons I had to launch under 4000rpm for optimal grip. With these... I did one test at redline and hooked effortlessly, but didn’t test further because while I do plan on upgrading everything, I’m not quite ready for major driveline failure.
Not as wide-ly available as some of the competition, at least for a 15 inch wheel. 205's are as wide as it gets. :(
Easy to control in mild offroad conditions, but in no way competitive. Lots of fun, if only because you’ll be spinning your driven wheels like crazy when you give it the gas, while still retaining the ability to climb and descend steep gravely grades with low gears and careful throttle application.
Noise. Summer tires will be noisier than all-seasons all other things being equal. These are pretty average compared to the rest of the 200tw catalog, but as they wear they get much louder, at a quicker rate than all but the Kumhos and Falkens, based off of my experience, and the consensus of the greater Miata hive mind. The last 10,000 miles the noise has gotten very loud, to the point where tire noise is possibly louder than the exhaust from the drivers seat. If you want a fast tire that’s fairly quiet and will stay that way, these aren’t for you. Best suited for cars that already make various racecar sounds.
That’s.... Really all I’ve got for negatives. Obviously there are things that apply to the entire summer tire category but as for this specific tire.... Just noise really. That’s the only thing I’d care to see improved. Sure, faster is better, but I don’t want that at the expense of any other characteristic here. Tire Rack put these on clearance a few months ago, but in my size at least, they raised the prices right before the “clearance sale” thus making each clearance tire two dollars more than the “normal priced” tire. That’s pretty underhanded, but I’d imagine that’s on tire rack and has nothing to do with Dunlop.
Overall, fantastic tires that I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone looking to DD a fun car, or a somewhat novice racer who wants a good sticky tire that’s easy to read.