There's nothing like roaring down the road in an open-top 4x4, with chunky aggressive tires howling down thehighway. Unless of course you need to chat with your companion or listen to Pavarotti on your iPod. Or worse, if you have that dreaded hour-long commute where you catch up on business or friendship in your cocoon of a closed cabin while stuck in the rush-hour grind. Either way, the sound of a tire on the road can come from a variety of sources: either the tread pattern, the dynamics of its enclosure (such as the wheelwell), and even the tire's construction.
In addition to our dedicated off-road rigs where bias belts and open tread elements rule, we also do the commuter thing with a Kia Sorento, the almost winner of our 4x4 of the Year test back in 2003. It proved its backcountry mettle and provides excellent light duty trail work for us, and can zip around the backroads when fires, earthquakes, and floods become a part of our daily drive. But after five years the stock Michelins were becoming too thin, as Lincoln could have worn his hat on the penny. We decided to try a new tire with a bit more aggressive tread than what we had, but also touted to be a quiet performer.
The Goodyear Fortera and Wrangler with Silent Armor technology were introduced two years ago, but we've been doing long-term testing, considering that the Fortera touts a 70,000-mile treadlife warranty. The key concept of the Silent Armor is a layer of Kevlar to soak up the bumps and bashes, and a special cushion layer which makes for what the company reports as a 20 percent quieter ride. In our normal off-road rigs, we can't hear much anyway, but on our road test vehicle most road noise gets amplified like being inside a tin can. Not that the Kia isn't a quiet car, but it's half the cost of any comparable SUV, and it shows in the interior-road-noise department. However, immediately after the first trip on the new 245/70/16 Forteras, the interior noise level seemed to drop by half, and that's doing testing on roads we were completely familiar with. The noise reduction was astounding, and even the exterior roll-by pitch we know so well was totally different and noticeably quieter. In addition, the comfort level increased by a fair margin as well, even with full tire pressure. Our off-road testing was of course light, as this isn't the vehicle's primary purpose, but we have taken it to the dirt. In sand, dirt, and rocks the tires perform as well or better than most similarly designed tread patterns. The mud test is, of course, not where this tire shines, although we never got totally bogged down. After two years and 30,000 miles we still have well over half the tread left, and feel that they are indeed a well rounded tire, and only required a few ounces to balance. This is one tire your SUV might be looking for, and is worth checking out.