It's a fact. Most of us wheel our daily drivers. Our everyday rides may not be quite as sexy as the massively shod, coil-sprung, tube-frame creations that sometimes grace these pages, but these "mundane" vehicles often serve dual purposes. They see trails when we ply the backcountry for fun but also see way too much pavement as they take us to and from work, soccer practice, and the local Wal-Mart. Buying tires for wheeling in both worlds used to be a real trade-off. We wanted something that worked in the dirt, and we needed practicality given the stark reality of tires seeing most of their miles on the pavement. Traction versus road noise, grip versus longevity, aggressive looks versus handling, and price versus performance. It was a real dilemma when it came time to mount new rubber under a dual-purpose truck.
A desire to put our daily-driven (and sometimes wheeled) Comanche back in the fat part of its powerband without regearing the differentials meant we needed a new set of tires. We reviewed our needs and the choices available in all-terrain tires. Advances in computer-aided design and rubber formulations have dramatically reduced the former quandary in trying to choose a tire that is well suited for a dual role. There are now tires available that excel in both the on- and off-road arenas.
The Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ fills both roles very well. After having a set mounted, the first thing we noticed was that the ATZ really has an aggressive look for an all-terrain light-truck tire. It features large blocks arranged in four "ribs." The tire has a squared-off shoulder, and the tread runs well up the sidewall. As we said, "an aggressive look for an all-terrain ... tire." In the past, tread blocks that large often meant the dreaded "howl" on the pavement. Not so with the ATZ. The computer-aided design on the tread blocks breaks up the harmonics that we hear as a "howl," and the result is a tire that, as bold as it looks, is very quiet. The tire features an extra-deep tread that works well in the dirt and should provide a few extra miles of wear.
We needed an LT265/75R16 tire. The ATZs carry a load range D or E rating on many of the "traditional" sizes. These ratings mean the tires can carry a heavy load - much heavier than our relatively small Jeep can exert. Mickey Thompson also includes a large offering of "specialty" sizes, many of which have a more trail-friendly C rating. All of the Baja ATZs feature a three-ply sidewall and a six-ply tread for increased puncture resistance.
The higher D and E load rating can result in a stiff tire, even when aired down. We were pleasantly surprised to find that dropping the tires to 16 psi for off-road gave us a very suitable sidewall bulge. The lower pressure smoothed out the ride in the rough stuff and allowed the tire to flex and grip the rocks very effectively. With the tires aired down, they floated well enough to keep us moving in deep, dry blow sand. About the only off-pavement challenge we didn't get to test was deep, sticky mud (thankfully rare in the great Southwest), so we can't attest to its ability to clean itself in mucky conditions.
The Baja ATZ has a plethora of siping. These small cuts in the blocks provide additional traction on slick surfaces. We can certainly attest that these tires work very well on snowpacked, wet, or ice-slicked streets, as we had an ample chance to test these characteristics this spring.
The ATZ comes in two flavors: the ATZ and the ATZ Plus. The ATZ Plus has actually been around the longer of the two siblings and happens to be a tire that we have been enjoying for the last several years. Having run both tires on the same truck for considerable miles, we can make some comparisons. The "new" ATZ is definitely the better looking of the two if you want to make a statement. The larger tread blocks make it appear a closer cousin to a full-on mud tire than a street-oriented tread. The ATZ Plus is quieter on the pavement due to its extra center rib. The ATZ is by no means loud, but the ATZ Plus is quieter yet. Another characteristic we noticed is that the ATZ doesn't pick up as many stones. In fact, the ATZ even advertises "stone kicker rock ejectors" as a feature. For most of us, picking up stones isn't that big a deal. However, we live on a dirt road, and the transition to pavement on the ATZ Plus was sometimes accompanied by an annoying "tick, tick, tick" sound. No more! We aren't quite sure what the engineers did, but the ATZ just doesn't pick up rocks.
After a thousand miles on the "new" ATZ, we can say with confidence that this tire does an excellent job of resolving the old conundrum of what tire to buy for a dual-use truck. Mickey Thompson has done a first-rate job of utilizing new materials and technology to create a tire that works very well both on- and off-road. If you are forced to live and wheel in two worlds with one truck, then the Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ is a tire that merits serious consideration.