Get a grip
07 December 2017
New boots are essential upgrades for your 4x4 if you want to take it into its natural habitat. Dom Holtam gets down and dirty with the latest 4x4 tyres from General Tire.
The rise and rise of the 4x4 continues unabated. Once rugged and utilitarian, modern machinery is increasingly aimed at the premium sector or the school run. Instead of diff-locks and snorkels, we have sat-nav and wall-to-wall leather upholstery. Even the legendary Defender has bitten the dust as Land Rover continues its shift from the Chilterns to Chelsea.
However, the shooting market, like the farming community, remains a true 4x4 segment. Unlike most, our off-roaders are exactly that. They will be tackling field and stream, moor and mountain and we can’t afford for them to let us down.
If you get stuck on the pheasant shoot it is embarrassing. If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere at 3am after lamping, it’s a whole new level of inconvenience.
The biggest issue with modern 4x4s and SUVs is the footwear. In the pursuit of on-road performance, low noise and good fuel economy, tyres have got less aggressive with their tread patterns, more conventional.
But to perform where it counts, a tyre needs a very specific set of skills – like a rubber version of Liam Neeson in Taken. They need to be able to shed claggy clods to stop the tread pattern from getting overwhelmed. They need to resist rocks cutting and damage from rocks and loose stone surfaces.
They need aggressive shoulders to give extra traction in deep mud. And a true all-rounder needs to do this without compromising on road performance or being unpleasantly noisy. No mean feat.
As of November 2016, tyre manufacturers had to comply with strict new noise regulations that made it extremely difficult to produce a tyre that combined aggressive off-road design with superb on-road performance. The result has seen many manufacturers simply produce a much milder all-terrain offering to ensure compliance. But not General Tire...
The Grabber AT3 certainly looks tough with open tread shoulders that help self-cleaning efficiency and give added traction in the mud. Traction ribs and multi-angle sipes give plenty of biting edges to deliver outstanding loose surface traction.
DuraGen technology features with cut- and chip-resistant compounds to improve tread life in rugged terrain and offer enhanced damage resistance. The reinforced treadblocks reduce deformation under load while the stone bumpers protect the groove bottoms from cuts by releasing stones.
Comfort Balance opitmises block orientation in the centre of the tread and continuous sipes offer smoother surface interaction.
The uniformed block geometry, meanwhile, offers a comfortable and quiet on-road driving experience.
The key improvements over its predecessor are:
- 15% improvement in the snow
- 7% improved mileage
- 5% quieter on the road
- 5% irregular wear improvement
- 5% more traction in mud
- 5% cut and chip improvement
- 3% improvement on wet grass
We experienced the AT3 on the road (albeit at relatively sedate pace) and noise suppression was excellent – you were barely aware that this was not a road tyre. But of course, our main focus was off-road performance and the AT3 was absolutely superb.
General have a great reputation for producing plenty of Land Rover size options. However, with the demise of the Defender, they are acknowledging that many people in the farming and shooting world will be switching to pick-ups, so included a few Toyota Hilux double cabs as well as Disco 5s and Range Rover Sports from the Jaguar Land Rover stable.
For me, the most impressive performance of the day was a leisurely mooch around in the Range Rover Sport. It literally felt as if I just stuck it in Drive and went for a potter but the inclines, the mud-strewn descents and the thick, swampy sections should have provided a really stern challenge. So dismissive was the Rangie of the terrain, with barely so much as a flicker of traction control lights, that I assumed we were shod with the extreme X3 mud tyre. But incredibly, it was the AT3. It’s hard to imagine many users subjecting their vehicles to tougher challenges but this really is a ‘do everything’ tyre.
That it could ferry us back to our hotel base without compromising on the Range Rover’s refinement or on-road manners is testament to this.
The Grabber X3 is an extreme mud terrain tyre, designated as a POR (professional off-road) model and so making it exempt from EU noise regulations. It is q-rated (up to a speed of 99mph) and designed to perform in the toughest of places. If you’re running estate vehicles and spend more time off the road than on it, this is the model for you.
Extreme mud: The tread is designed to self clean, and quickly sheds even thick clay as the wheel rotates, allowing it to find maximum purchase. Alternate shoulder scoops provide additional grip.
Extreme dirt: The challenge of loose surfaces is dealt with via special chamfers on the tread blocks, and ‘traction notches’ that are designed to provide additional biting edges. The new tyre also features special ‘stone bumpers’ on the out-tread grooves which help to release stones and debris, improving puncture resistance.
Extreme rock: The X3 features something called DuraGen technology. This is a three-ply construction available on all sizes (with the sole exception of the 255/55 R19), which gives outstanding cut and chip resistance.
The key improvements over its predecessor include:
- 10% improvement on rock
- 10% handling improvement in snow
- 5% handling improvement on dirt, loose rock and sand
- 3% quieter on the road
- 2% better wet weather handling.
We gave the X3 a serious test around Aldermaston in the excellent Land Rover Discovery 4. Our instructors tried to incorporate as many different types of terrain, from slick and greasy gravel side slopes, to deep swampy wading stretches, to axle-busting ‘elephant’s footprints’ to slimy ascents criss-crossed with gnarly roots.
Nothing came close to stopping the X3, and even when thick mud momentarily clogged the treads, the new design allowed it to quickly shed the sludge while the aggressive shoulders provided additional traction.
Yes, you will get extra road noise from a mud-terrain tyre. No, you won’t get the same level of on-road grip, or handling balance. However, if you are a forester, keeper or estate manager who spends more time in the rough than you ever do on the road, the X3 is well worth a closer look.
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