RUBBER BULLETS

SEVEN TYRES POUNDED ON - AND OFF -ROAD TO FIND SUITABLE ALLTERRAIN RUBBER FOR YOUR 4X4.

WORDS TOBY HAGON PHOTOS ELLEN DEWAR

IT’S A DAUNTING prospect, wandering into a tyre retailer for a new set of all-terrains and being bombarded with dozens of options that include everything from something that looks like it was created for a Mars Rover to something thoroughly Hume Highway. That’s indicative of the task at hand. Being a tyre on a modern off-roader is no easy task, especially in Australia. As well as having to deal with a few tonnes of laden 4x4, those nondescript round black things also have to stop and corner confidently on wet and dry bitumen, they’ve got to deal with mud, sand, snow and gravel, and they’ve got to go the distance, resisting punctures over some of the harshest terrain in the world. Some do it better than others, and how well a tyre performs will often depend on what you drive it over.

This brings us to an expansive skid pan in Queensland at the Mount Cotton Training Centre. Along with dozens of tyres, we’re joined by tyre fitting experts from Tyre Right, a retailer with no affiliation to any tyre brands. The focus is on 17-inch all-terrains, a popular configuration for everything from dual cab utes to serious SUVs, and our selection of seven aftermarket tyres shows the diversity in design under the all-terrain banner.

THE CAR

OUR TEST car was an Isuzu D-Max LS-U, complete with 17-inch alloy wheels. Its standard fitment road-focused Bridgestone Duelers were used as a baseline tyr e, tested twice during the day for consistency; they were also used to establish the test course, a mix of sweeping and varying radius corners.

For our tests the stability control system was switched off, allowing Paul Stokell to bring the tyres to their grip limits without electronics cutting in. The absence of interference from occasionally inconsistent chassis electronics allows the properties of the tyres to shine – or flop.

For all tests the tyres were brought up to the pressures recommended on the placard, the Tyre Right crew in charge of fitment and balancing.

TESTING TIMES

FOR THIS test we’re using a VBOX data logger to measure G-force, speed, track position and angle. Our tests include dry and wet braking, dry and wet cornering, as well as an off-road loop. For each discipline a tyre is given a score out of 100, with the best getting the maximum score and others ranked according to how far they were from the winner. We’re also tackling a challenging off-road track with gravel, rocks and mud. We know it can’t possibly cover every Australian track condition, but it gives us an idea of how each will perform in more challenging terrain.

Given the variability of off-road surfaces and the propensity for them to change after each pass, we’ll be relying on the bum and brain of 4X4 Australia’s Justin Walker for a broad performance assessment, rather than 1s and 0s from hard data we’re collating on the blacktop. If he’s happy it’ll get an off-road gain in the form of a five per cent boost to the sub-total; if he doesn’t like the performance it’ll lose five per cent. It’s not perfect, but with the absence (and difficulty) of hard data it is a way to reward or penalise depending on how the tyres traversed our mix of loose gravel, mud and rocks.

The bitumen run is being done by former Australian Drivers’ Champion Paul Stokell, one of Australia’s most accomplished steerers. He’s a man who knows all about precision and pace, two things being put to the test throughout the day.

The price of each tyre will be taken into account, and neither driver knows which tyre they’re driving, only relying on the feel, grip and attitude of the car.

THE FIELD

BRIDGESTONE DUELER AT (LT)

DUNLOP GRANDTREK AT25

FALKEN WILDPEAK AT

GOODYEAR WRANGLER AT ADVENTURE

HANKOOK DYNAPRO AT M

MAXXIS 700 AT

NEXEN ROADIAN AT

MEASURING EQUIPMENT

Our data was collected with a VBOX video data logger, before being analysed on the accompanying Circuit Tools and Test Suite software. They’re powerful programs that allow data to be plucked from individual sections of a course or track.

Measurements are taken 10 times per second and include everything from lateral and longitudinal G-force measurements, to speed down to the one-hundredth of a kilometre-per-hour and time down to the one-hundredth of a second. The main measurements we looked at were speeds in corners, the G-forces on the vehicle and stopping distances. For overall cornering performance we looked at the distance it took for each set of tyres to get through the corner.

To measure stopping distances the vehicle was driven 7-10km/h above the test speed, and then the brake pedal was mashed to activate the ABS system, ensuring the ABS was pulsing by the time the car was decelerating through the test’s upper speed threshold.

THE TESTS

• Dry braking from 100km/h

• Wet braking from 100km/h

• Dry cornering x 2

• Wet cornering x 2

• Off-road course

• Price analysis

TEST SHORTFALLS

There are some things we’re not evaluating in this test, most notably puncture resistance and wear levels. They’re two big issues for off-roaders but are challenge accurately test a to in a relatively short time. Rest assured, it’s on our list for the future.

Another thing we didn’t test is rolling resistance, something that can noticeably increase fuel use. The more aggressive nature of all-terrain tyres means they tend to resist rolling more, in turn requiring more throttle input (fuel) to keep spinning.

MAXXIS 700 BRAVO AT

FROM the first ABS stop the Maxxis 700 Bravo all-terrains demonstrated decent grip that had the D-Max pulling up in a smidge over 46 metres. While they were nowhere near the Dunlops for succinctness when it came to stopping, the Maxxis led the rest of the field. That sentiment was backed during wet braking, with the rubber and tread pattern leading to consistently good stops during our 70km/h test.

That the Maxxis managed relatively short stopping distances was good, but its cornering performance was better. In both wet and dry it scrabbled around our quartet of corners in the quickest time. Okay, so we’re only talking fractions of a second, but small increments is the nature of tyre testing – and the reality is the Maxxis were quicker.

As the data attests, the Maxxis performed very well across a broad range of on-road disciplines, something that helped bolster its overall score. However, that grip up to the limit came with a minor drawback: as the nose bites and faithfully holds its own through a corner, the tail doesn’t maintain the same poise and the rear tyres slide around. In the real world the stability control will halt any such antics, but it’s indicative of the challenges with a high-riding off-roader; sure, grip is one thing, but how the car behaves throughout the range of driving conditions is just as important.

Off-road, the Bravos performed solidly, the mild side-bite paying off in both loose and hard-packed dirt. Walker noted there was less throttle input needed in some situations as grip eased things through, something that earned them a five per cent bonus for the off-road factor. If there was one blemish, it was when rock hopping. Walker noted that while there was good bite through mud and gravel, the tyres were prone to some occasional slipping on rock climbs.

The final piece of the Maxxis Bravo 700 equation is a keen $259 RRP It’s not bargain basement, but it undercuts many more recognised brands.

HANKOOK DYNAPRO AT-M

HANKOOK is a brand that has made big leaps with on-road tyres, with the Korean maker keen to repeat that performance off-road. To look at the Dynapro doesn’t break any A/T boundaries, with mild aggression in their design but sensibilities for regular on-road running. There’s restraint to the tread pattern with some of the tread flowing over into the sidewall, but there’s enough chunkiness there to let the person next to you know you value off-road performance.

That middle-of-the-road thinking played out with our data, with the Hankooks consistently hanging around the middle of the pack. Wet road performance was marginally better than its rivals, and wet cornering was a highlight. The Hankooks also displayed consistency across the on-road disciplines, never performing poorly but never standing tread blocks above the others.

Despite the respectable figures, Stokell found the Hankooks slightly lazier on direction changes and that dry cornering grip wasn’t as pronounced. It seems the stresses of cornering had the chunky tread struggling to maintain its shape. That flowed through to the hard braking, too, where in the dry they lacked some lateral stability. While it doesn’t necessarily show up in the data, it’s worth keeping in mind the wriggling going on at ground level.

The Dynapro earned back points off-road, with the purposeful pattern giving it some additional bite through sloppy terrain. Over the rocks, in particular, it eased along nicely, enough to earn it the full five per cent off-road bonus. Walker noted there was decent compliance, with the tyres seemingly moulding around the rocks and ridges subtly better than most others. Again, it points to a tyre that’s squidgy but still manages to hang on nicely.

It’s no surprise that the $259 price tag sits in the middle of the road, capping off the performance of a tyre that neither stands out nor disappoints.

NEXEN ROADIAN AT

IF ROLLING away on a new set of all-terrains for the lowest price is important, the Nexen Roadian mounts a solid argument – on paper, at least. At $209 per corner they’re by far the most affordable of our contenders, set to leave you with at least $200 extra in your bank account once you’ve fitted a set of four. That’s early points to Nexen, then.

But the data quickly showed that you get what you pay for. In our dry disciplines it was among the worst performers, taking the longest time to negotiate dry corners and taking a full 47.4m to come to a halt from 100km/h on a dry surface. That’s a Land Cruiser longer to pull up than the best-performing Dunlops.

Our 70km/h wet braking showed it to be relatively skittish, taking 30.4m to stop. Again, it was towards the bottom of the pack and means you’ll need to account for longer stopping distances in the real world.

Wet cornering performance was also towards the bottom of the group; although, there was a consistency throughout the corners, something that Stokell said makes it easier to access the breadth of the (relatively low) grip threshold. Reaching the threshold sooner made it easier to judge what was going on so you could adjust your driving style accordingly. Stokell also noted road noise was nicely subdued, with the road bias of the construction also shining.

Off-road, though, the Roadian continued its mediocre performance. Walker felt they didn’t bite as hard as others up the rocks. They weren’t as bad in dirt, but the ride was jittery and less flex in the sidewall affected ride comfort. As such, the Roadian was the only one of our tyres not to be rewarded or penalised due to off-road performance. Their middle of the road behaviour meant the final on-road scores stuck, with no weighting either way for rough-road performance.

FALKEN WILDPEAK AT

IF YOU want some attitude in your all-terrains then look no farther than the Falken Wildpeak. These are tyres clearly designed for the aggressive ‘I’m-an-adventurer’ look. Chunky, organically-shaped blocks cover the face, with a square edge delineating the sidewall, itself dappled with more of that ‘blockiness’.

The Wildpeak would certainly fit in nicely for anyone throwing accessories at their ride, and they’re helped by a load rating 120kg higher than all but the Bridgestone Duelers. However, looks aren’t everything, especially when it comes to tyres, where round and black is as interesting as it gets for most people.

SLOPPY OPPING

ST MOST tyres took around 20 per cent longer to slow from 70km/h in the wet compared with the dry. But the Goodyears were closer to 40 per cent, the 32.6m wet stopping distance at least two metres longer than the next worst performer.

Despite the clear focus on off-road attitude, the Wildpeak performed admirably in our on-road disciplines. Braking, in particular, was above average, with the Wildpeak within half a metre of the Maxxis 700 in the dry and matching them in the wet. For such an aggressive-looking tyre, they stop succinctly.

Stokell was complementary about the bite and feel during heavy braking, suggesting there was a healthy reassurance to the way they pulled up. Cornering performance was not as convincing, no doubt in part due to movement of those chunky tread blocks. Stokell also commented on the rumbling noise of those sidewall tread blocks when pushing harder though bends. “It’s definitely noisy on its edges around a corner,” he said.

However, the Falkens still played in the middle of the field with respectable results.

Off-road, it’s perhaps no surprise the Falkens ticked plenty of boxes through our short, concise course; that aggressive tread paid dividends in the mud and on loose gravel.

Walker relayed that there was little effort required on varied surfaces, adding that over rocks it was very capable and performed the final challenging jump-up very easily. If there was one negative it’s that the manoeuvrability in tighter terrain was compromised, with steering adding weight and a bit more effort was required in tight bends.

Still, as a decent performing all-terrain that brings serious credibility to the bush, the Wildpeak makes for a surprisingly well-rounded tyre, albeit with some unwanted noise as a consequence. That they retail for $259 is a plus for those looking for a solid off-road tyre.

DUNLOP GRANDTREK AT25

BY ALL-TERRAIN standards the Dunlop Grandtreks are as tame as they come, in looks at least. At a quick glance the ballooning tyre is wrapped in a tread pattern that looks like it would be at home on a Toyota Camry, and it’s clear the Grandtreks are more focused on the city and suburbs than the bush – in design at least. So expectations were high that the on-road bias would translate to excellent performance in the conditions most people will use them. They didn’t disappoint, at least initially.

The Grandtrek trounced its rivals for braking performance, both in the wet and dry. Its 42.4m stopping distance was almost four metres better than the next best; that’s about the length of a small hatchback, something that could mean the difference between filling out insurance forms and stopping just in time. That dominance was repeated in the wet, the 25.1 metres required at least 1.6m better than the nearest rivals. Stokell felt it from the driver’s seat, too, describing the stopping power as awesome and noticeably better than the rest of the field.

Curiously, that dominance didn’t flow through to all the cornering exercises; while the Dunlops performed very well during one of our wet corners, it was mid-pack in the other. Perhaps more pertinently the Grandtreks maintained excellent consistency throughout the corners, especially in the wet, with Stokell able to maintain an above-average speed throughout the corner. His seat-of-the-pants comments listed it as the best in overall wet cornering feel, with the on-road focus again shining through.

During dry cornering the Dunlops maintained that predictability and consistency, but lacked outright pace. Good, but not as convincing as the stopping performance.

Where the Dunlops’ fairy tale performance started to unravel was with our final two assessments. At $319 they’re the third most expensive tyre here. Plus, the offroad performance is lacking against the rivals – Walker noted they were more inclined to spin over slippery surfaces, with the lack of tread bite likely to blame. This is a shame, because before they got dirty the Grandtreks were among the best performers.

BRIDGESTONE DUELER AT (LT)

THE ONLY light-truck construction of our test, the Bridgestone Dueler brings a more rugged construction to the table. For that you pay a premium, too, with the $325 retail price towards the pointy end of our seven-strong field.

There are on-paper advantages, most notably with its 1180kg load rating, matching the Falkens in being 120kg ahead of the others; great for people looking to accessorise or modify their truck. That the Bridgestones performed admirably on-road was a plus, with the dry-road performance outdoing the wet.

In both dry cornering and braking the Dueler was only outdone by Maxxis and Dunlop. Even then, the deficit to the Maxxis under brakes was limited to half a metre.

Stokell was less complementary about what the Bridgestones did to the behaviour of the car, with the rigid light truck construction taking the edge off driver feel. However, he said there was a consistency when the tyres let go, with the modest limits allowing more confident pushing near the threshold. Throw water into the mix and the Bridgestones lost some of their sheen, especially around corners, and they trailed all but the Goodyears in how long it took to cover our two wet bends.

Stokell also noticed that winding on steering lock challenged the Bridgestones, the relatively low grip levels and tougher sidewall conspiring to make things less athletic and less responsive. None of which hurt the Dueler’s all-round on-road ability, its final tally edging the Hankook by the slimmest of margins.

Off-road, the aggressive tread pattern earned respect from Walker, who noted the ease with which it traversed mud and rocks. “There was heaps of grip up the pinch at the end,” he said, cementing its five per cent off-road factor boost.

Add it all up and the off-road performance helped the Dueler’s cause.

WHAT 'S AN A/T?

There is no official industry definition of an all-terrain tyre, which may explain the vast differences between them visually. Tyre manufacturers acknowledge that an all-terrain typically has more aggressive tread blocks with bigger spaces between them. That, of course, is relative to what you’re comparing it to.

GOODYEAR WRANGLER AT ADVENTURE

GOODYEAR is a name synonymous with off-road tyres, and Wrangler as a brand conjures images of go-anywhere ability. Just to ram the whole adventurous theme home, Goodyear has added “All Terrain Adventure” to the moniker of the rubber tested here. Perhaps that helps Goodyear justify the hefty $339 RRP that deducts some early points from the brand’s latest all-terrain.

Sourced from China, Goodyear clearly wants to infuse some European credibility into the sales pitch, stating on the sidewall: “Engineered by Goodyear in Europe, manufactured by Goodyear in China.” (For the record, the rest of our tyres were sourced from Thailand and Korea)

Like the name there’s a retro wisp to the tread pattern, with spacious openings separating the relatively small blocks. Less impressive is how the Wrangler performs on-road.

Stokell picked the poor grip from the outset, noting their “skatiness” in the wet.

“Wet braking was poor,” he said, frankly. “They didn’t want to stop in a straight line … it took quite noticeably longer to pull up.” The sentiments were backed by raw data, which showed the Wranglers required 32.6m to stop in the wet from 70km/h, at least 2.2m longer than the next worst.

Wet cornering was no better, the Goodyears slipping and sliding for the longest time through our two bends. The low grip levels also had the tail willing to wag, something that would keep the stability control busy through roundabouts or tight corners if you get too enthusiastic.

The Goodyears were also less than average when dry braking, albeit only just behind the bulk of the pack. There was a surprise result in dry cornering, though, the tyres slotting towards the top of the finishing order courtesy of some respectable grip. “In the dry cornering, it wasn’t too bad,” said Stokell.

Perhaps some of that less-thanstellar performance can be explained by the off-road focus of the Wranglers. Goodyear adds a layer of Kevlar in the construction, something claimed to better resist punctures. That wasn’t something we got to test this time around, but it adds a level of interest for those looking to punish their rubber. It also performed well on the off-road course, Walker noticing there was “plenty of grip on the rocks” and above average traction through mud and gravel.

Even with that five per cent boost, though, the sub-standard on-road performance made life tough for the Goodyears.

AND THE WINNER IS.

GOOD or excellent performance over a broad range of disciplines made the Maxxis 700 a winner in this test. The relative newcomer to the local off-road scene delivers a tyre that lives up to the 4x4 expectations without overly compromising on-road performance. Indeed, in many cases the Maxxis performed above average, cementing them as an excellent multipurpose tyre, one that will get you to your off-road playground confidently and allow some exploration once there. That it is competitively priced is a bonus for those looking for a great all-rounder.

Second was the Falken, a tyre that didn’t excel in any one discipline but managed competent performance across all. That it’s priced towards the lower end added to its appeal.

Rounding out the podium is the Bridgestone Dueler. What it lacks in wet-weather grip it partially makes up for in dry-weather performance, with the chunky tread also performing on our rough track. The promise of a tough light truck construction is a win that helps justify its price premium.

The Hankook only missed out on a minor placing by a fraction of a point, its solid performance in wet cornering helping its overall ranking. Those not as interested in regular off-roading or the look of their tyre could do a lot worse than the Dunlop Grandtrek. It trounced its rivals for braking performance and stood up well in wet cornering. However, the less aggressive tread pattern let its performance down in off-road terrain.

While the Nexen Roadian was outclassed in most on-road disciplines, its low $209 price tag won back crucial points.

This leaves the Goodyear Wrangler, a poor performer in our wet disciplines and an expensive tyre. While it claims other benefits off-road, for this test they didn’t come into play, leaving the Goodyear to round out the all-terrain field.