We ride on a lot of different styles and brands of tires in our line of work. In one year, we might use six or more sets on one vehicle just to get a fair share of highway and trail miles on each of them (we also drive a lot of miles!). Very few tires have wholly disappointed us in our tests, as each has typically offered some feature or degree of capability that has held our interest. Many tires, however, have impressed us greatly, either through improvements applied in redesigns of existing model tires or the excellent performance realized in newly launched models.
The following tire reviews represent seven of the tire brands we've rolled on in 2012. It was a good year, as none of the testing resulted in any blowouts or torn sidewalls, and no tire plugs were required (though we do still have a screw or four jammed in to the tread blocks of a handful of the tires). Check out our year on tires for 2012. Maybe you'll discover the right set for your rig for 2013.
Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ Radial
We've ridden on a variety of styles of Mickey Thompson tires over the years and each has provided good results. One of our favorites of those has been the Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ Radial. It's a strong contender in the dirt, rocks, and mud, providing ample traction as needed, and it is just as comfortable on the highway, offering excellent handling and ride characteristics.
For this article, a set of 37x12.50R17 Baja MTZ Radials were installed and run on a '97 Ford F-350 Crew Cab XLT 4x4 pickup, but we've also used them in various sizes on smaller rigs, including a Jeep TJ and a YJ. Whatever the vehicle, however, the Baja MTZ Radial is an excellent all-around tire that won't leave you wanting for off-road traction or highway performance.
The MTZ features Mickey Thompson's Power Ply sidewalls, which utilize a special angled third ply to provide high-performance handling, better puncture resistance, and improved towing capability. Deep shoulder lugs and enhanced Sidebiters are in place to provide added traction, and self-cleaning, high-void tread lugs are also incorporated to improve traction in mud and snow.
One of the cool things about the Baja MTZ Radial is that it's a mud tire, but it doesn't really act like one until you need it to. Then it just pulls through without much effort. If we were dedicated mud hounds, though, we might consider the Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC radial as it certainly provides greater traction in more extreme trail situations, but the Baja MTZ Radial beats it out on the highway by far, while offering comparable trail-crawling capability in the same package.
The Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ Radial is available in popular sizes such as 31x10.50R15, 33x12.50R15, 35x12.50R15, 33x12.50R17, and 37x12.50R17, as well a variety of LT Metric sizes to fit 16-, 17-, 18-, and 20-inch wheels and 35-, 36-, and 38-inch-diameter flotation sizes to fit 20-inch wheels.
BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2
Some models of BFGoodrich tires have been installed on just about every vehicle we've owned—even our '85 VW Westfalia has a set of BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/As. Aside from the need for an occasional tire plug in a fairly aged set of Long-Trail T/As (damage that was likely driver error), the mishaps have been few and failures nil. Needless to say, BFGoodrich offers some of our favorite tires on the market—the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 being one of them.
We first had difficulty accepting the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 as we were pretty sore about it replacing its predecessor, the much-beloved Mud-Terrain T/A KM. After some time, however, we gave it a chance and found it to be just as capable, if not more so. Taking its look from the Krawler T/A KX, the KM2 also got plenty of the Krawler's ability and strength, and the similarities don't stop there. The KM2 uses the same technology pretty much across the board. BFG even incorporated Krawler TEK—its special Krawler-inspired, three-component elixir designed to improve sidewall strength—into the TriGard sidewalls of the KM2. On top of that, a three-ply sidewall compound is used to further resist cuts, punctures, and the like, and built-in flex zones permit the tire to conform to and grab obstacles when aired down to trail psi.
The KM2 does what's asked of it in most, if not all, trail situations and is equally as comfortable on the road. We initially felt that the highway ride on the KM2s was a bit rough, but we were much more pleased after adjusting the air pressure from 40 psi down to 28 psi. Being that the KM2s we tested are E-rated, we'll likely continue to adjust the psi downward as the extra stiffness of the higher-rated tire is somewhat excessive for the Grand Cherokee WJ on which they are installed. But, dang if they aren't tough!
The BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 can fit daily drivers still riding on factory fitment wheel and tire packages all the way up to extreme-built 'wheelers requiring 38-, 40-, or even 42-inch-diameter tires. The availability of sizes is vast.
Toyo Open Country A/T II
Just released in September of 2012, the new Toyo Open Country A/T II is an improved version of Toyo's popular Open Country A/T tread. Though we've only logged less than 1,000 miles on them, we're certainly not worried about their longevity. According to Toyo, independent third-party test results showed the Open Country A/T II delivered more than 40 percent–longer tread life compared to its other leading brands. The A/T II also comes with Toyo's 65,000-mile warranty for P-Metric and Metric sizes, as well as a 50,000-mile warranty for LT and flotation sizes. Should we still want to opt out, the Open Country A/T II also qualifies for Toyo Tires' No Regrets 45-day, 500-mile trial offer.
How do you get an extra 40-percent tread life from a tire? Toyo attributes it to its new wear-resistant tread compound, which also aids in delivering less road noise and more comfort, as well as design improvements to the tread that help the A/T II deliver equally as impressive results in rain, mud, and snow on and off the trail.
With nearly 100 sizes of the A/T II available for a wide variety of wheel sizes ranging from 15 to 20 inches in diameter, the A/T II is ready for just about any vehicle application, including OE fitments and spanning all the way up to 35-inch-diameter fitments for 18- or 20-inch wheels. The larger flotation sizes like the 35x12.50R18 also feature a deeper tread depth and a more aggressive tread and shoulder design for those seeking a bit more trail capability from this all-terrain tire.
Cooper Discoverer A/T3
If you've never owned a set of Cooper tires before, the Discoverer A/T3 should be your first. This tire really performs in all terrains and does so with comfort and ease. Though it appears somewhat mild-mannered with its unassuming highway LT tire looks, it packs a serious punch when needed, tackling dirt, rocks, sand, loose hill climbs, and mud like a champ. The highway performance is just as impressive, sticking to wet pavement and cornering as if attached to rails and providing a smooth and quiet ride.
The tread compound of the Discoverer A/T3 is formulated with a chemically coupled silica and carbon black mixture. A silica-enriched tread compound offers lower rolling resistance than traditional full carbon black tread compounds, which can translate to greater fuel economy in stop-and-go and highway driving and also less stress on driveline components on the trail. The A/T3s tread compound also enhances wet traction while also improving cut and chip resistance in off-road driving situations.
Offering more of an aggressive all-season tire look than that of the typical all-terrain, the Discoverer A/T3 still has the needed elements to maintain its effectiveness on the trail. The dual draft angles on the tread element walls and serrated steps in the lateral grooves of the intermediate tread rib aid in reducing stone retention and stone drilling, and assist in cut and chip resistance. The A/T3 is also mud and snow rated. We can attest to its prowess in mud driving situations, but we have not yet tested its ability in the snow. If its wet traction ability is an indicator, though, we are betting that snow is no problem for the A/T3, either.
Available sizes of the Cooper Discoverer A/T3 include a variety of LT Metric sizes, including a LT315/70R17 (35x12.50). Flotation sizes include 30x9.50R15LT and 31x10.50R15LT. The set we've been testing on our Grand Cherokee WJ are the LT265/70R17 size.
Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac
We first tested the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac back in 2011 and have continued to have great results with this tire. It has an extreme trail look but still handles like an all-season radial on the highway, with excellent stability in corners and uneven pavement while emitting minimal road noise. We liked the DuraTrac then and we still like it now.
As comfortable as the DuraTrac is on the highway, it's even more capable when it comes to the trail. It features self-cleaning shoulder blocks and highly angled center tread blocks, both of which greatly enhance traction as needed. The angled center tread blocks also aid in providing greater lateral stability on the pavement as well as reducing road noise. Dirt, sand, mud, and rocks on the trail are no issue for the DuraTrac. We were particularly impressed with its performance in deep sand, as we weren't expecting such capability, but the DuraTrac just plowed through it with ease to take on more rocks and other obstacles.
The Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac is available in multiple LT Metric sizes. Flotation sizes include 31x10.50R15LT and 33x12.50R15LT. We have been testing a set of the 33x12.50R15LT size on a Jeep Wrangler TJ.
TreadWright Max-Trax M/T
Shopping for new tires can be a daunting task for those on a fixed budget, which makes TreadWright tires an appealing alternative to other popular brands. TreadWright offers retread/recap tires in many styles and sizes in the 30- to 33-inch-diameter range to fit 15-, 16-, 17-, and 18-inch-diameter wheels. A 315/70R17 size is also offered for those seeking a tire closer to the 35-inch size range. The 265/75R16 size has the most offerings with mud- and all-terrain tires in that size starting at around $100. Other popular brands in this size sell for almost double that. The model we've been driving on is TreadWright's new Max-Trax M/T in the 265/75R16 size.
What is a TreadWright retread/recap tire? It is a previously worn tire that is subjected to a remanufacturing process designed to extend its useful service life. TreadWright follows a seven-step process to ensure each tire meets its high standard of quality and safety. First, "gently used" tires that have the highest grade possible are selected. These used tires are inspected in 17 different areas before they are accepted as useable. Once the tire is approved, TreadWright buffs the thin top layer of rubber from the tire. Then a computerized-machine wraps a continuous ribbon of new full-grade truck rubber on the tire for the specific mold and tread design the tire is receiving. Then, each tire is computer-balanced, "cured," and given a new tread design. Once the tire has cooled, TreadWright carries out a thorough inspection and testing of the tire to ensure it was made correctly and is safe for use.
An interesting thing to note about TreadWright is that all of its tires are "green" tires. This is because it takes 70 percent less oil and materials than is needed to make a new tire. Additionally, the scrap buffings from the tires it retreads are used to make rubber mats and other recycled products, and its rejected tires do not go to landfills but are sent to a tire-recycling facility to be used in cement plants, roads, and other areas. TreadWright tires also feature a traction additive it calls Kedge Grip. This is blended into the rubber compound and consists of crushed walnut shell and crushed glass particle that works in a two-fold manner. As the tire wears down, the walnut shell is designed to displace from the rubber, leaving a small (1 mm) pit or void that provides additional traction edges. The crushed glass is designed to stay in place longer, providing additional grit and grip on the surface of the tread.
One issue some may have is that airing down the tires voids any warranty. Did we air down? Yes. Did the tires spontaneously combust? No. But, they did perform like any other "new" tire when aired down, offering a larger contact patch to the terrain below and conforming to the rock obstacles at hand. TreadWright indicates that many of its customers do indeed air down its TreadWright tires for trail use and have not experienced any problems. But, be advised that all warranty goes out once you hit trail psi.
Nitto Trail Grappler M/T
The Nitto Trail Grappler M/T is a great middle-of-the-road tire for those on the fence about running all-terrain or mud-terrain tires. It blends some of the off-road performance of Nitto's Mud Grappler with the on-road comfort of its Terra Grappler to create a tire that is both aggressive and quiet. Nitto calls this a Trail Terrain Light Truck Radial. We call it a tire that works as needed, no matter the terrain.
Prior to the introduction of the Trail Grappler M/T, most of our experience with Nitto tires had been with the Mud Grappler, a tire that really shined on the trail but didn't always suit our daily driving needs. The Mud Grappler didn't perform poorly on the pavement; it simply performed as any mud tire typically would, which is usually a bit loud and chunky for daily pavement use after multiple miles are logged. With the Trail Grappler M/T, however, daily driving is not a problem. The pavement ride isn't loud or chunky—ever. In fact, compared to the Mud Grappler, the Trail Grappler M/T is 34 percent quieter at city speeds and 36 percent quieter at highway speeds.
Did we mention that the Trail Grappler M/T works on the trail, as well? It does. It offers a three-ply sidewall and a thick rubber construction to increase puncture resistance, and the tread blocks provide additional biting edges for commanding lateral stability and forward traction. Additionally, stone ejectors at the edge of the tread clear out stones and mud and also help to protect the tread, and deep center sipes help with traction in wet driving conditions and also help to resist hydroplaning.
The Nitto Trail Grappler M/T is available in 31- to 37-inch diameters to fit 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-, 20-, 22-, and 24-inch wheels. It also features two sidewall designs, allowing the user to position his preferred design facing out. One side has stylized lettering with V-shaped buttresses and the other has traditional lettering with flat buttresses.