A key battle off-roaders tend to find themselves waging – beyond trying to find that infernal oil leak in their rig, of course – is attempting to find a tire capable of successfully getting them into and out of the rough stuff but not beating them up on the drive home. Save for a few of the most hardcore wheelers, most people tend to drive their machines to the trailhead; and these days, many continue to drive them throughout the week.
Knowing these customers exist is why tire companies plow untold square acres of effort into research and development. Some drivers see tires as nothing more than a commodity, one left ignored until replacement time. But gearheads (including you, right?) know better. Sure, all tires are black circles but modern technology separate the contenders from the pretenders more now than ever before.
Sitting in the off-road arena is this set of Hankook Dynapro AT2 Xtreme tires, a newer offering from the South Korean company which has North American development and manufacturing facilities. Building on its previous offering in this segment, the AT2 Xtreme has been reimagined with a more aggressive shoulder design, speaking to the fact that certain customers consider a tire’s rugged appearance with equal importance as its overall performance – even if they never use the things to their fullest capability. Look no further than parking lots filled with burly SUVs as further proof of this phenomenon. And these Hankooks do look good, with strong-featured blocks on their sidewalls and white lettering which can be turned in or out depending on your preference.
But, as with other aspects of life, looks will only get you so far – quite literally, in the case of off-road tires, a product whose performance is dictated by both molecular and mechanical attributes. The former is a closely guarded blend of compounds which comprise the tire’s rubber, permitting the thing to flex and grip as it should in the right conditions. This is why some hilariously inexpensive off-brand tires look great but end up providing the traction of flip-flops in Flin Flon. The mechanical half of the equation? That’s the tread pattern and its associated components.
Just like Gordon Ramsey won’t divulge the real recipe for his Beef Wellington, tire companies won’t reveal precisely what’s in their rubber compounds. What we can tell you after running these things in your author’s favourite off-road testing site is there is enough pliability in them to grip through loose and washed-out parts of a trail, maintaining traction even when two of its compatriots are no longer in contact with Terra Firma. This was not possible with the SUV’s factory Firestones when pressed into a similar situation last year. Hankook says high-depth sidewall blocks and shoulder design also help off-road traction whilst prevent cuts and abrasions. We certainly experienced no leaks even after hammering over razor sharp outcroppings left by this year’s torrential Nova Scotia rains. We’ll note that while the tire was good at evacuating mud from its tread voids, it wouldn’t kill Hankook to mold in a few stone ejectors like those found in the BFGoodrich KO2 line.
It’s that aforementioned pliability which is apparently part of the formula permitting Hankook to apply the three-peak mountain snowflake logo to the sidewalls of these tires, branding them as fit for winter duty. Multi-directional grooves and a bevy of sipes will also help matters when Jack Frost visits and should assist in evacuating water on pavement during downpours. Snow is in short supply during August, even in Atlantic Canada, so perhaps we’ll report back on that facet of the Dynapro AT2 Xtreme tires in a few months.
Tires with an off-road bent are, by their nature, generally louder on dry pavement compared with less aggressive styles thanks to their chunky tread blocks. Hankook attempts to dampen this, to a measure of success, in the Dynapro AT2 Xtreme by designing ‘tie bars’ which reside between some of the blocks near the tire’s shoulders, blocks which also have a bit of a step in them instead of being flat like a tabletop. Imagine putting partitions up in a wide-open room to diminish ambient noise and you’ve got the general idea.
In practice, it works – to a point. These tires are indeed louder than the Cherokee’s stock Firestones (imagine an extra low hum like an electrical generator in the next room) but seem quieter than competitive rubber in similar conditions. Unofficial measured sound readings didn’t discern much difference beyond a couple of decibels but, as any teacher in a school will tell you, it is often the type – not quantity – of sound that can rankle. Those ‘tie bars’ also seem to connect and firm up the tread blocks a bit, helping these tires to avoid the squishy feeling some off-road meats impart on dry pavement.
There are a total of 75 sizes available for the Dynapro AT2 Xtreme, many of which are new this year, covering about four-fifths of the all-terrain market. Hoops range from the 17s shown on this Cherokee Trailhawk to burly LT-grade meats for pickup trucks plus a few flotation sizes such as 35’s for 17-inch and 20-inch wheels – all of which should get most drivers through their trials on the trails but not cause a headache on the way home.