The old adage that your vehicle is only as good as the tyres it rides upon came home to me one day last winter, when we had well over 30 cm of snow here in the village of Hanmer Springs. I was rolling down one of the side roads when I came across a brand-new Mitsubishi Challenger stuck by the side of the road. Unwisely he had decided to park off the shoulder on a particularly icy patch of road. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t get enough traction to make it back up onto the road. I pulled over and watched his tyres spinning on the treacherous surface. Even though he tried low range, it just wasn’t working. I stopped and offered to tow him out, which he gratefully accepted. The snatch rope did the trick and soon he was back up onto the road. I don’t understand it, he said, this is a four-wheel-drive. It should be able to cope with this easily.
I pointed at his tyres. There’s your problem, i replied. They send these things out of the yards clad in ballet slippers, great for tar seal and the odd bit of light gravel, but absolutely useless when the going gets tough. I pointed to my Ford Ranger, which is shod in Cooper STT tyres, which have so far done 60,000 km without any signs of needing to be replaced. That’s what you need on your vehicle if you’re going to get serious. He looked at me, thanked me, got back in, and slithered gingerly off down the road. Fast forward a few months.
My wife drives a Toyota Highlander, which is far more capable than you might think. Of course it came with the requisite ballet slippers, fabulous for braving the perils of a supermarket car park and rolling on road carpet, but virtually useless off-road. Not only that, but they wore out in 20,000 km or so. They needed to be replaced.
Based on my own experience with Cooper Tires, we decided to see if it was possible to get something for the Highlander, since we occasionally want to drive beyond civilisation, on roads where there is often no cellphone coverage. After chatting to our favourite tyre dealer, we opted for the new Cooper A/T3 all-terrain tyres, and decided any extra road noise was a small price to pay for the security and potential performance it would give the Highlander.
We needn’t have worried. The tyres, while slightly noisier, are not intrusive at all. Any increase in road noise is only barely perceptible, and certainly nothing of note.
What we did get was a huge increase in performance, both on-and off-road. The first thing we noticed was the improvement in handling. The stiffer sidewalls meant that the vehicle now tracks incredibly accurately around corners, and turn-in has improved out of all sight, on a vehicle which handles really well anyway. In fact the handling has improved so much that it is quite possible to cut across the centre line (not a good thing to do these days) without intending to. The old trick of using the weight of the vehicle and centrifugal force to help push around the outside of a curve simply doesn’t work anymore, testament to the stability and effectiveness of the tyres.
The vehicle now tracks on the straight line with tremendous stability and accuracy, without any wandering at all. It’s almost like driving a 2 tonne sports car. The ride is definitely firmer without being hard, and potholes are soaked up with ease.
Off-road handling has improved dramatically. On gravel roads the vehicle hunkers down, and gets all the power down to the hard, biting through soft surfaces and loose gravel as if they aren’t there. Again the cornering on gravel is not only secure and safe, but simply fantastic. Turn in is deadly accurate. Travelling at speed on gravel is predictable and safe, and stability is assured. Dearly Beloved recently took the Highlander to a local fair near Rotherham. Access to the entrance involves several kilometres down a gravel road. She joined the queue of Merivale tractors tip toeing gingerly along at 30 km an hour. Eventually, with a clear road, she had had enough, pulled out and passed them all. When she got to the entrance, they took one look at her vehicle with its don’t-mess-with-me tyres and pointed her at the paddock set aside for locals, a paddock stacked full of double cabs and utes. When they eventually arrived, the tractors on their townie tyres were pointed into another paddock, further away from the action.
Not long ago, we did a road trip to the far North, and, on our way back from Cape Reinga, decided to take a look down Te Paki Stream and go for a wander along Ninety Mile Beach. The stream bed, which is running water over sand, has the reputation of being a little treacherous, but the Highlander handled it with ease and soon we were on the beach. We thought we might get down to Ahipara, but we had left our run a little late, and we were forced to turn around at the bluff. A bit concerned that we wouldn’t make it back to the stream before the tide gotten, I let the Highlander have its head, and lifted it up to the speed limit (100 KM/H). The combination of all-wheel drive and the superb Cooper A/T3 tyres, with their fantastic traction and stiff sidewalls made it a breeze, and we drifted back into the mouth of the stream with only minutes to spare.
We both reckon that choosing these tyres was a great decision, and it has made a great SUV a truly superb machine for long road trips, on or off road. We can’t recommend them highly enough.
Now, i can’t wait for next winter. The next time a heavy dump of snow comes, I’m going to throw my snatch rope in the back of the Highlander, drop down the Hill to the village and go and rescue some of those shiny four-wheel drives on their ballet slippers…
Tony Bridge 2012