Kumho Ecsta 4x – Review and Experience

After spending some time with these budget priced performance all seasons, I can finally write something about them. I replaced the set a few months early due to irreparable tire damage. Most of the ride / handling comparisons are against the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+ tires, which where my previous set and generally well regarded high performance all season.

Overview 

The Ecsta 4x’s are a great value choice in this tire category (High Performance All Seasons). I say value because they were not meant to outperform the top brands, but to stand alongside at least a few of them. Performance is better than I expected. Grip is plentiful in the dry, and was surefooted enough in the rain (or whatever California considers inclement weather). The treadwear looks to be on track for the mileage. Ride quality is not as good as I thought it would be but certainly not bad.

Handling

The Ecsta 4x’s are a great handling tire. Turn in is crisp and grip is plentiful. Ultimate grip is shy of the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+ that I had on previously, but for the money saved, I won’t knock off too much. I won’t notice it on the street. The sidewalls are very stiff and keep the tire from feeling sloppy. It’s a predictable tire. More on the stiff sidewall later. I have no problems with the tire in the handling department. It does what you ask. Weatherwise, I can’t comment on anything other than rain. They handle rain just fine and feel secure on a wet road.

Ride Quality

This is the area I will fault the tire. Ride quality is not as good as the Michelin’s or not great in general. It feels rougher and less refined on imperfect roads. The carcass at times feels like it has a spring to it that translates into a bit of a jiggle. It may be the sidewall stiffness. The ones I purchased were an XL designation tire with a 94W service description. Too much stiffness for the GTI. The XL version is not the one to get. The Michelin’s had stiff sidewalls but the ride did not suffer as much. Overall, not a bad ride from the Kumho’s but not great either. Refinement feels lacking. I initially wrote that the ride quality was better than the Michelin’s but extended time revealed otherwise.

 Treadwear

Treadwear was as expected. I replaced them a little before their time due to an irreparable puncture but I was satisfied by the mileage. I accumulated maybe 30,000 miles on them. I estimate that they could have lasted another 10k miles, but previous alignment issues left the wear uneven (not the tires fault) and at this point in the tires life it made sense to replace the set. If they hit 40,000 miles, I consider that satisfactory.

Issues

The mold that was used to make my particular set suffered from a weird line that ran across the tread. It looked like a crack but was limited to the surface. I didn’t consider it an issue as long as it didn’t get larger. I’ve seen other Kumho Ecsta 4x’s with this mold line/crack. I put a decent amount of miles into the tires and the crack was not an issue but it gives me pause about the quality control. It certainly added some road noise if anything. I looked at the lines during a recent tire rotation and they looked a little bigger larger. They didn’t cause any issues but it’s something that I would rather not have to worry about. It factored into my decision to replace the set.

Summary

I really wanted to like these tires because the performance side was great. Grip was good, handling was good, wear was good. However, ride quality was only so-so and could get jarring on expansion cracks and rougher patches. The tread crack (which was the same on all 4 tires) didn’t give me any issues but certainly didn’t reassure me of the quality of the tires.

My final verdict – The Kumho Ecsta 4x’s are a nice performance value but not as well rounded as Michelin’s offering. The money you save reflects in what you get. Performance is great but the ride quality suffers. More expensive tires provide good performance numbers and also provide good ride characteristics. The Continental DWS’ are an example set of highly regarded performance all seasons that provide a good balance of handling and ride characteristics. Tire Rack surveys show that there is a highly competitive field in the high performance all season market. With more competitors coming out with a better balance of ride and handling, the Ecsta 4x’s may come out lighter on the wallet but you’ll know know what you’re missing from slightly more expensive brands. As much as I wanted to like these tires, I cannot recommend purchasing a set.

Kumho Ecsta 4x – Quick Look

I’ve had a set of Kumho Ecsta 4x tires on for the last few months to replace my tired set (Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+). My old tires were badly cupped and incredibly noisy. It’s amazing how badly tires degrade over their lifetime, especially if the alignment is not spot on.

The Ecsta 4x’s are relatively new and there is not too much written about them but early reviews (mostly from Tire Rack) suggests that they are a good performance all season for people on a budget. The Tire Rack lists them as Ultra High Performance All Seasons. On the merit of pricing, I chose these over the category favorite, the Continental DWS. They were (at the time of purchase) slightly cheaper per tire and approximately 100-150 cheaper for the set.The Kumho’s are the stock size (225/45/17) with a 94w XL load designation.

Ecsta 4x (stock photo)

So far, I’m liking these tires. They are quiet and quite competent in the handling department. They may give up a bit of response to the Michelin PS A/S+ but the difference is not worth the price premium for the Michelin’s. The Ecsta’s seem to like a little more pressure than the Michelin’s in the corners. Stray too far from the stock pressure setting and they feel a little sloppy. So far, I’ve settled around 35.5 psi front and rear. Your preferences will vary depending on the setup. Ultimate grip seems very similar and Ecsta’s also ride nicer than the Michelin’s.

More impressions to come after a little more seat time. I am curious to find out how they are in the rain.

Upgraded / Redesigned FSI Cam Follower – Aftermarket

1/22/12 Just a quick warning: this company may not be as legitimate as the VW community thinks. Several Mazda websites do not have fond memories of this particular company. I’ll have to find more information…Stay away for now.

Update: 8/2014

Nothing has proven to be as good as just replacing or checking the cam follower periodically. I’ve been lucky with the wear so it’s far easier for me to not worry about it. Unfortunately, there are a variety of factors that contribute to what kind of wear you see and your experience may vary wildly. Keep on top of your oil changes and keep track of your follower wear!

For the past few months, the company HPFP Upgrade has been working on creating a cam follower that is more durable than the oem piece. Testing is now practically complete. I’m guessing that they are in production right now with a probable February release. HPFP Upgrade is a relatively new (to me) company that focuses on the fueling system for various direction injection cars.

There’s been a good deal of anticipation regarding this product. Any product that can help with the FSI’s follower problem is welcome. The company states that it has achieved an increase in durability through the use of hard chroming. By creating a surface with less friction, there is less wear between the follower and cam. Testing supposedly confirms their claims. In addition to the new surface material, the oil flow holes were relocated to the sides. Information is limited right now as the company has yet to officially release the product.

Early Production Photos – Note the revised oiling hole locations

Of course, the product is untested by the mass public and details such as warranty have yet to be hashed out. There are still unanswered questions. How will the relocation of the oil holes affect things and how durable will the follower and hard chrome finish really be in real life application? HPFP Upgrade asserts that the the new finish is much tougher than the OEM DLC coated follower and slicker as well. They also say that the relocation of the oiling holes also has nothing but positive effects, although their reasoning is yet to be seen. The company seems to have done its homework, field testing a few units with favorable results. So far better than another company that just made the follower thicker and omitted the DLC coating…*cough*kmd*cough*. The design is superficially similar to followers used by Mazda.

I’m following this product quite closely and will probably try it out when it does finally get released.

Here’s a thread on the MKV forum with a few details but it unfortunately turns into a flame war in a page or so. Upgraded FSI Cam Follower

If you do end up getting this in a month or two, let everyone know what you think of it in the comments.

PCV Valve and Intake Manifold Motor Warranty Extension

06F129101P Front Detail

I recently received a letter from Volkswagen of America stating that the warranty for the pcv valve and intake manifold motor has been extended to 10 years/120,000 miles. You will also be eligible for reimbursement if you paid for repairs on any of these parts. Signs of pcv failure may include loss of boost pressure, poor idling and sometimes oil being pushed out of the oil cap. Intake manifold failure usually results in poor cold starting and sluggish low end performance. Either case can also cause the check engine light to come on.

PCV Valve

Here a Golfmkv.com link to common 2.0T FSI issues.

I’ll upload the document as soon as I can scan it in. Here we go.

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Revised OEM PCV and Crankcase Breather Tube

06F129101P Front Detail

In my current quest to return some parts back to OEM spec, I’ve recently purchased the latest revision PCV components.  The latest revision PCV valve is “P” with the part number 06F129101P.  There is also another revision of the rear breather tube, part number 06F103215B.  The valves in the latest revisions seem much stronger compared to my old “G” revision.  The check valves are now spring loaded instead of free moving.  I don’t know when they switched to the spring loaded valves because I completely skipped over the 2 or 3 other revisions.

06F129101P Valve Detail

If you’re wondering why I went back to stock, I wanted to remove the catchcan I’ve been running.  An intake manifold teardown by a forum member  revealed that catch cans do little to aid in preventing the intake valve deposits inherent to direct injection engines.  I have also been thinking about the lack of intake vacuum working on the crankcase.  In the catch can setups, vacuum is sourced from intake air moving over the rear breather tube exit.  I think it is a max of 3″ of mercury according to BSH and this occurs in the higher rpms under boost.  At lower rpms, actual vacuum may be much lower.  Too little flow or stagnant flow through the valve cover may allow the blow-by gasses to start forming deposits.  I’ve noticed a little grime building up around the oil cap area, despite the regular oil changes.  The accumulation of these blow by gasses can contaminate oil and deteriorate it much faster as well.  Another side effect of routing all gasses through the rear breather tube seems to be, ironically, more oil in the charge pipes.  If a recirculation type catch can does not catch all the vapors, the rest end up condensing in charge pipes and intercooler.  The stock system sends them directly to the intake manifold to be burned off.  The way the stock system works, it only reroutes vapors through the charge piping and intercooler under boost.  When I installed my throttle pipe, a good amount of oil came pouring out of the pipes.

06F103215B Check Valve Detail

Now oil vapor in the in the intake charge is detrimental to performance.  This is where a catch can does help.  Oil vapor can effectively reduce the octane level of the intake charge and lead to more knock, which would then decrease performance.  I haven’t noticed a performance difference since I switched back to the stock system but then again, my car isn’t exactly a horsepower monster.  It is a compromise situation but after many miles of thought, I’d rather have the stock system deal with the evacuation of the crankcase gasses.  The stock pcv system flows a lot and I don’t think some of the catch cans flow enough.

06F129101P Rear Detail

The stock pcv valves have not been models of reliability, which is one of the reasons catch catch cans have sold so well. Modified and stock cars alike can blow through them.  These newer parts are now several revisions deep and they seem to be much more robust pieces.  The rear check valve in the breather tube looks much better.  The front pcv check valves have a more positive engagement compared to the “G” revision I compared it to.  I guess only time will tell!

06F103215B

Revised OEM PCV and Breather Tube Part Numbers

06F129101P Front PCV Valve Detail

The 2.0T FSI’s pcv system has gone through several revision changes.  Earlier valves failed rather easily, causing boost pressure to creep into the crankcase.  Checkvalves would leak and pressure diaphragms would rip.  Symptoms include oil coming out of the valve cover gaskets or oil cap, reduced gas mileage and power or increased oil consumption.  An unsteady idle is another symptom and severe cases will cause a code to be set.  This latest one seems to be a bit more robust than previous versions.  The check valves are spring loaded now instead of free floating for more positive engagement.  If you want to stay stock here are the latest part numbers.

The latest pcv system part numbers are 06F129101P for the front pcv valve and 06F103215B for the rear breather tube with check valve.  The 06F129101P part number only works on rear breather tubes that have a built in check valve.  Certain VIN’s / model years have breather tubes that do not have rear check valves.  The only way to be sure it to pull it off and check for the valve.  Here’s some excellent information for replacing the PCV valve and breather tube.  The link also shows the Eurojet check valve solution so just ignore it if you are not going that route.

06F103215B Rear Breather Tube with Check Valve

Hot Weather Fuel Cuts

1K0 919 051 CL

Since the weather is getting warmer again, some of the older MKV’s may begin to experience failure/overheating of the low pressure fuel pump.  I had this problem last summer. This issue often comes up in hot weather and long distance driving.  The low pressure fuel pump begins to overheat and then cuts out, starving the high pressure fuel pump. Acceleration is completely cut and you have to pull over or slow down.

If you’re experiencing fuel cuts in the heat or during long distance driving, take a look here for some more information. You may need to replace your in-tank fuel pump with the latest version.