The tyres fitted to your four-wheel drive as it first rolled off the production line were designed with three purposes in mind. Firstly, they must provide a soft, quiet and compliant ride during your initial test drive, so you are convinced the vehicle is smooth enough to want to park it in your driveway. Secondly, they must be built to a price point, as the saving of just a few dollars per new vehicle can save manufacturers millions of dollars over a production run. Lastly, they need to hold air. Simple, right?
Well, things start to turn when you begin looking at upgrading rubber to something more aggressive, such as an all-terrain tyre. Modern all-terrain tyres have the hardest life of any tyre in the spectrum, and are responsible for a seemingly impossible task. They need to perform strongly in arduous off-road conditions as well as maintain respectable on-road manners and tread wear rates. All-terrain tyre owners want to be able to drop the kids off to school on a Monday and head away camping or four-wheel driving on a Friday. But is this too much to ask of something that is essentially a rubber donut?
Of course not! If you are considering replacing the factory fitted rubber for something more up to the task, here is our list of the top twenty all-terrain tyres on the market today.
WHAT IS UTQG?
Take a closer look at the sidewall of the tyres fitted you your vehicle, and you will notice more than the size or manufacturer’s name stamped there. In the case of American made tyres, they must meet Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) before being deemed fit for road use. What this covers is the tread, traction and temperature grades, meaning you can compare apples with apples when it comes time to go tyre shopping.
The higher the number stamped here on the tyre’s sidewall, the longer they should last. Tyres are tested under controlled situations, and once they have driven a total of 11,520km, an average is determined and the tyre can be graded accordingly.
Traction is graded from highest to lowest, with AA being the tyre with the most ability to stop quickly on a wet surface, down to C, which would be about as controlled as ice-skating in tenpin bowling shoes.
Tyres get hot, which is why having them temperature rated makes plenty of sense. Tyre temperature grades are rated from highest to lowest with A being able to take more heat than a C grade tyre, for example.
LIGHT TRUCK OR PASSENGER
Light truck or LT tyres are more suited to four-wheel driving, thanks to a heavy-duty construction. Rather than the focus being on a smooth and quiet ride, LT tyres are responsible for delivering traction and strength off-road, as well as having a higher load rating, which comes in handy for those who tow or are regularly loaded up. Passenger Construction or P-metric (also known as light duty) is designed with on-road handling, fuel economy and low noise levels in mind. Being a softer construction, they are not as suited to tough off-road driving. The choice is yours; do you want dependable off-road traction or a quieter ride on-road?
BFGOODRICH ALL-TERRAIN T/A KO2
BFGoodrich have been making all-terrain tyres since 1976, and it seems like the old All Terrain T/A KO tyre has been around … well, forever! Which is why it is refreshing to see a new all-terrain in the BFGoodrich stable, but at the same time it’s not too dissimilar from the old tyre on face value. Which is great for those who have issues dealing with change. The most notable mention though for the T/A KO2 is the tyre sidewall, which BFG claim is 20 per cent stronger than the previous A/T thanks to their CoreGard technology. We aren’t too sure what that means exactly, but it sounds like fancy tech talk for a sidewall with split and bruise resistance. It also claims up to 50 per cent longer tread life on gravel, which is impressive.
BFGOODRICH RUGGED TERRAIN T/A
The Rugged Terrain T/A from BFGoodrich is for those chasing something less aggressive in a tyre, but still want puncture resistance and a beefier sidewall over a passenger construction tyre. If the idea of exploring forestry tracks and beaches gets you excited, then the 70/30 tread pattern could be more suitable. But don’t for a minute think this is a pretend off-road tyre. While it might not be the most aggressive looking product in the BFG range, it still features tread cleaning elements to eject mud and stones, and two deep circumferential grooves that evacuate water for claimed superior wet weather handling.
BRIDGESTONE DUELER A/T 697
The Bridgestone Dueller 697 is another example of a less aggressive all-terrain tyre. For some four-wheel drive owners, chip and cut resistance is one of the most important aspects of selecting a tyre, over wide-open lugs and sidewall biters, for example. If you live on or near gravel roads, or the local council insists on laying a shale-based road surfaces, then you will fully appreciate this fact. Conditions like these are incredibly hard on a tyre! So instead of going for a chunky all-terrain design, Bridgestone claim they have focused on attempting to create a tough tyre, with a cut and chip resistant tread compound with the aim of providing a balance between grip and resistance to tearing and chipping.
The Cooper A/T3 has been around for some time now, and seems to have put some decent runs on the board with the off-road touring fraternity. This could be due to the large amount of sizes available in the AT3 range that make for direct replacements of worn out original equipment tyres, or due to the less aggressive tread pattern aimed at providing a quiet ride on-road. One thing is for sure, Cooper have included an impressive amount of useable tyre technology into the AT3, such as an anti-chip chemically treated silica compound, and the use of 2000 denier cord in the carcass for a claimed 33 per cent increase in strength over the previous Cooper AT.
COOPER S/T MAXX
The next step up in terms of aggressiveness from the Cooper all-terrain line-up is the S/T Maxx. Cooper tells us that this product took three years of testing in the Australian outback before it was released into the market. The yin to the aggressive tread pattern and sidewalls yang is the use of micro-gauge sipes, which are contained within the tread blocks. These help to push water out from the tread blocks in wet or greasy conditions where traction is low. As the sipes are contained within the tyres tread blocks, this is said to reduce the chance of cuts or chipping off-road.
DICK CEPEK FUN COUNTRY
So we decided to take the high road and not mention how unfortunately named this tyre is, nor the fact that your mates will be making non-stop jokes every time you stay home to give your tyres a good polish. But once you get past the dick jokes, the tyres actually have plenty of good things going for them. The original Dick Cepek FCII all-terrain was known as being a tyre that almost refused to wear out, making it a popular choice with desert tourers. The latest incarnation now known as the Fun Country retains many of the features of the original FCII, such as the stout three-ply sidewall, but now incorporates a computer designed tread pattern to reduce road noise, and a secretive tread compound that the Dick Cepek team insist offers improved cut and chip resistance.
DUNLOP GRANDTREK AT3
The Grandtrek AT3 is the replacement tyre for the aging Dunlop Grandtrek AT2, and as you can see from the images it’s still a road-biased all-terrain tyre. Being a Japanese engineered product, Toyota actually approves the Dunlop Grandtrek as an official aftermarket dealer fitted tyre option. We have to admit that for an all-terrain tyre they are about as inspiring to look at as a wet Monday morning, but when you combine a well known OE manufacturer with a Japanese engineered product that was extensively tested in Australia, so you can imagine why Dunlop are proudly making noise about the AT3.
FALKEN WILDPEAK A/T
If you look closely at a few different all-terrain tyres, you will notice a common trend of having five tread blocks running across the tyre carcass. This is what is known as a five-rib tyre design, and the Falken WildPeak A/T certainly stays true to this design. The reason for this according to Falken is to improve durability, and provide a delicate balance between on-road handling and traction when off-road. These days it seems like every vehicle comes with a different size of tyre fitted from the factory, so it’s refreshing to see Falken offer the WildPeak A/T to suit rims diameters from 15 inch to 24 inch, and up to a 37 inch overall tyre diameter.
FEDERAL COURAGIA A/T
Coming in at the budget end of the all-terrain tyre scale is the Federal Couragia A/T. While the Federal Couragia mud-terrain is a common sight out on the tracks, you don’t see the all-terrain as often. On paper, the Couragia all-terrain delivers some impressive specs, such as siped tread blocks and wide channels to assist with mud and water ejection. Interestingly, the Couragia A/T is available in both passenger and light-truck construction, so if you’re seeking a quote from your local tyre shop, ensure you are comparing apples with apples. If you enjoy off-road driving, it would be wise to avoid the passenger tyre and stick with the tougher LT construction, even if it costs a few dollars more.
GENERAL GRABBER AT2
General Grabber sounds more like a Ninja Turtles character than a tyre manufacturer, but the AT2 has some serious tyre technology and off-road cred behind it. You see, many high-speed four-wheel drive based competitors race on General Grabber products, and if they survive blasting through a desert at 200km/h the manufacturer must know a thing or two about tyre construction. We aren’t saying that the AT2 is a desert-racing tyre. In fact, it could be considered the complete opposite, as it’s snowflake approved (meaning it was tested and approved for snow performance) as well as incorporating holes for snow studs. So if you live near the snow or enjoy snow driving or skiing, that could be a handy feature to consider when shopping for your next set of all-terrain tyres.
GOODYEAR WRANGLER ALL-TERRAIN ADVENTURE
Tyres that are bulletproof? Sorry to get your hopes up, but all-terrain tyres aren’t that advanced yet, even though we would love to see it. So while the Goodyear Wrangler AT Adventure might not actually be the masked bulletproof superhero of the tyre industry, they do incorporate kevlar technology into the construction of the tyre, in a process Goodyear refer to as Durawall Technology with DuPont Kevlar. What this is claimed to do is increase the overall strength of the tyre, and resist cuts, chipping and punctures. Does it work? We don’t know… but if Goodyear is prepared to back the Wrangler AT Adventure with a mileage warranty of up to 95,000km they certainly must believe every word of it.
HANKOOK DYNAPRO AT-M
Traditionally, an all-terrain tyre would feature larger open tread lugs when compared to a highway tyre, and would also incorporate square shoulder lugs to cut through mud and keep the tyre tracking straight. Hankook obviously see nothing wrong with this mantra, and continue the trend with their Dynapro AT-m. The big selling point with for the Dynapro is the wraparound sidewall tread that Hankook tell us has been included not just because it looks tough, but mostly due to the additional protection it offers against cuts and bruising. The sidewall isn’t the only area that Hankook paid attention to with the AT-m, as it appears they have increased carcass strength over previous models, too.
Maxxis have a wide variety of tyres on offer, and not just for the four-wheel drive scene. They are manufacturers of all things tyre related, from bicycle to ATV tyres. The AT-980 is one of the least aggressive four-wheel drive tyres in the Maxxis range, but it is still quite aggressive for an all-terrain tread pattern. It must be said; the tread pattern looks mighty similar to a certain other all-terrain that has been extremely popular in this country for many years, which doesn’t earn it points for originality. What the Maxxis AT0980 can offer though is all-seasons weather ratings. The tyre also features a spiral wound cap ply, which Maxxis claim improves ride comfort and high-speed stability.
MICKEY THOMPSON BAJA STZ
For a long time, Mickey Thompson Tires (yes, American spelling) have been the pride and joy of hairy-chested four-wheel drivers who like their tyres to be big and chunky and their meat cooked on a fire. Well, thanks to the racing and performance background the Thompson family is known for, a less aggressive performance based all-terrain was born to provide an option for those who drive their four-wheel drive daily. Replacing the aging block-like ATZ 5-Rib design, the STZ incorporates plenty of usable features such as internal tread block sipes for wet weather performance, and a revised compound that the manufacturers claim is more resistant to chipping. Sure, it might not be cool to look at like a Baja Claw, but that really isn’t what the STZ is about.
MICKEY THOMPSON BAJA ATZ P3
The ATZ P3 is one of the most aggressive all-terrain tyres on the market, and what some refer to as a genuine all-terrain tyre. Rather being a cross between an all-terrain and a highway terrain tyre, it is a mixture of a mud-terrain tyre and an all-terrain. Take one mud-terrain tyre carcass, put an all-terrain tread pattern on top and you have a strong foundation for puncture resistance, with a tread area that should work well on sealed roads, too. Mickey Thompson is credited with being an innovator of aggressive sidewall tread back in 1977, so it is no surprise to see an almost retro sidewall with plenty of extra rubber for grip in muddy ruts featuring prominently in the ATZ P3.
NITTO TERRA GRAPPLER G2
Nitto are a relatively new player on the Australian four-wheel drive tyre market, but they have carved a huge name for themselves overseas. It’s a good thing Nitto decided to venture to our shores, as they have an exciting range of tyres. The Terra Grappler G2 is a plain looking tyre appearance wise, but like many things in life, beauty is more than skin deep. What the G2 lacks in goolies, it makes up for in technology as it features coupling joints for tread rigidity, full depth sipes for wet weather handling and aggressive shoulder lugs for a bit more bite off-road.
PRO COMP XTREME ALL TERRAIN
The main drawcard for the Pro Comp Xtreme A/T is the aggressive directional tread pattern. A directional all-terrain tyre? Really! So it turns out directional tyres aren’t just for the performance car scene or competition tyres these days. The claimed benefits of a directional tyre is that they can expel water at a greater rate compared to non-directional tyres, and in most cases offer better handling characteristics as they ‘track’ existing grooves or ruts. So there is some science behind this design. Where they are limited is the fact you will need to carry either two spares (one for each side) or make the call and risk the chance of having to run a tyre backwards in the event of a puncture.
PIRELLI SCORPION ATR
Pirelli seems to be known as a company that only makes performance passenger tyres, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Scorpion ATR of many years ago was actually a spirited performer off-road thanks to the soft, almost sticky tread compound chosen. Now, Pirelli has gone back to the drawing board with the latest Scorpion ATR with very similar design attributes. To call the Scorpion ATR aggressive would be like calling your grandmother attractive… Just wrong! So if mud is your thing, the Scorpion ATR simply isn’t aggressive enough to offer self-cleaning properties. But rather than relying on brute force, it seems Pirelli have taken a more even approach in an attempt to offer a product that they say will brake on-road and still grip off-road.
TOYO OPEN COUNTRY A/T II
Toyo are another brand that is sometimes forgotten when thinking about tyres, but the Open Country AT definitely deserves a place in this guide. Like other tyres in this category, it features a five-rib tread design for off-road grip, as well as an aggressive sidewall for additional protection and traction. Stone ejector blocks have been built into the deep tread groves to avoid stone drilling; something that is common on tyres with larger tread voids. The Open Country A/T II is another tyre available in both passenger and light truck construction, so ensure to ask the question before opening your wallet.
YOKOHAMA GEOLANDAR A/T-S
Yokohama has long been a player in the all-terrain and mud-terrain sector. The A/T-S has been designed to be aggressive enough to grip in snow or on rocks, but not so aggressive that they will dig into soft sand, according to Yokohama. They also claim one of the main advantages of the Geolandar A/T-S is the anti-chip properties of the (secretive) tread compound, and that the tyre has been designed with straight line stability in mind. The idea here is to keep the vehicle tracking true rather than veering up onto the mound of a rut at speed. And while it might sound a bit like marketing gibberish, the fact manufacturers are listening and putting effort into tyres with anti-chip properties is enough to be happy about.
LONGER LASTING TYRES
Here are three easy things anyone can do to extend the
life of their tyres:
1 Firstly, the way you drive your vehicle will affect how long the tyres last. If you are accelerating or braking rapidly, or cornering hard, you are doing damage.
2 Secondly, correct inflation will reduce heat build up and uneven wearing of the tread area. Many tyre blowouts are the result of under inflation, which causes the tyres to quite literally fall to pieces from the inside out.
3 Lastly, correct tyre rotation will reduce uneven wear. This enhances tyre performance as well as extending the life of the tyre.