Hard to believe, but it has been ten years since Goodyear established a new benchmark in off-road tire design with its Wrangler MT radial. Now, with a growing number of tire manufacturers than ever offering more choices for truck and SUV owners, Goodyear evidently thought it was high time to up the ante yet again-and this time, the Wrangler MT/R, now sporting a new directional and asymmetric tread design, has some advanced tech tricks up its sleeve.
For starters, the conventional steel third ply in the sidewall has been replaced by a layer of Dupont Kevlar. Those of you who've ever worn a pair of Kevlar gloves certainly know that the stuff is incredibly resistant to punctures and abrasions-five times stronger than steel, to be precise, and in Goodyear's testing, a single ply of Kevlar increases sidewall strength by up to 35 percent in testing. The carcass is comprised of an all-new compound, with stickier silica rubber said to improve traction in the wet. And the tread design is of the wraparound style, with lugs and blocks ringing the upper third of the sidewall, giving the new tire literally thousands of additional biting edges. Hey, we're sold-if it all came down to lab-test results and good looks, that is.
But what might work in the lab or on a showroom floor might not make a darn bit of difference in the types of driving we do. So we saddled up a new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK shod with a set of OE replacement-size 285/70R17s and headed out for a day of evaluation in California's Johnson Valley-home of the infamous Hammers. First up, though, was a 60-mile highway flog to get there, and a chance to examine the MT/R's road manners. Now, a soft-top Wrangler, which isn't engineered to handle like a sportscar, and which exhibits a fair amount of wind and drivetrain noise already, might not be the optimal vehicle to test a tire for qualities such as lateral stability, road feel and tire whine. But typical the vehicle is of a weekend warrior's trail toy, and we noticed no discernible variance in levels of wander or vibration with the Goodyears over the already-extremely-good OE treads. Compared to the previous version of the MT/R, however, they did seem on average to be much quieter, less prone to wobble, and measurably tighter in cornering.
Once at Johnson Valley, we aired down the Wranglers to a sensible 12 psi, and ambled out into the desert. On rocks and steep hill climbs, the Goodyear's wraparound tread design, with its myriad blocks and biting edges along the upper sidewall, came in handy when having to nerf off a large rock or two to traverse some very narrow (even for a Jeep) gulley notches. With that band of Kevlar instead of steel in the tread, the tire didn't so much envelop the obstacles in its path as much as it merely locked whatever surface it came in contact with in an iron grip, and gently rolled over it with smooth application of throttle.
Where the new MT/R really pleased us, though, was in the mud. Thanks to some recent winter showers, we were able to find some fair-to-middlin' stretches of bog material in the middle of a (usually) dry lakebed. In the goo, directional stability was very good, with very little wriggling or need for steering correction if one tire momentarily lost traction. The 19/32-inch-deep treads did a superfluous job of flinging mud-there's nothing like getting a brand-new Jeep dirty really fast-and self-cleaning was a breeze; so much so that us "we hate mud" types got to indulge our hatred over and over (and over) again with nary so much as a momentary stuck. (Considering how much we really hate mud, we sure were grinning like kids on Christmas Eve afterwards.)
The only surface where the new Wrangler didn't positively excel was in sand-in this case, the silty, powder-type variety found in some of Johnson Valley's dune complexes. Here, lacking much of a solid surface to grip beneath the talc, the MT/R's aggressive tread tended to dig in, rather than float over, the soft stuff-though to be fair, the slow-to-arouse, torque-challenged 3.8L engine in the relatively heavy (4,100-pound) JK didn't make the tires' job any easier, and we'd guess that a vehicle with a freer-revving mill would've helped the MT/Rs greatly here.
Long story short: the new MT/R with Kevlar is the real deal, a definite improvement over the previous tread. They're smooth enough on pavement to handle daily driving duties, and off the beaten path, they're commendable performers in just about any of the types of terrain you're likely to encounter on your weekend 'wheeling outings. The new MT/R is available in 30 sizes ranging from LT235/85R16 to a most-impressive 42x14.50R17, and you can order up a set right now at your local Goodyear dealer.
Tire: Goodyear Wrangler MT/R Kevlar
Load range: D
Max load (lb @ psi): 3,195 @ 65
Sidewall: 2-ply polyester, 1-ply Kevlar
Tread: 3-ply polyester, 2-ply steel, 2-ply nylon
Approved rim width (in): 7.5-9.0
Tread depth (in): 19/32
Tread width (in): 9.0
Section width (in): 11.5
Overall diameter (in): 32.6
Static loaded radius (in): 16.1 (at 100-percent load)
Revs per mile: 630
Weight (lb): 59
Test vehicle: 4,100-lb. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.