If you need a tire that can take your truck or SUV on a long interstate trip, or a long crawl through sticky mud, experts recommend the Cooper Discoverer A/T3 (*Est. $200) .
The Discoverer A/T3 beats a dozen other all-terrain tires in one road test. It's sure-footed on dry or wet pavement, plows through snow and rides quietly and comfortably. It carries a 55,000-mile treadwear warranty -- notable, because many all-terrain tires carry no tread warranty -- and its tread lasts a long time in an independent test. The Discoverer A/T3 gets mediocre scores for ice grip and rolling resistance, which can mean lower gas mileage, but those are common weaknesses for all-terrain tires.
Off-road, the well-mannered Discoverer A/T3 proves surprisingly tough in tests. When Cooper invited journalists from a bunch of off-road enthusiast publications to its Texas proving grounds to wheel the tire through some deep mud, the writers left impressed.
"Imagine our surprise when the A/T3 showed itself to be amazingly capable in the goo," writes Ken Brubaker at Four Wheeler magazine. Driving an A/T3-shod Jeep Wrangler TJ at length through Cooper's 500-foot mud hole, Brubaker was "impressed by the tire's ability to clean itself and get a fresh bite with each rotation."
Petersen's 4 Wheel & Off-Road magazine runs its own test -- no mud-bogging or rock-crawling, but "loose sand and dirt were no issue" for Fred Williams' Dodge Ram 3500 with the Coopers on. Williams uses the truck as his daily driver and trailer-tower, and he says the Cooper works great for that: "The Cooper Discoverer A/T3 is an aggressive all-terrain without the noise and reduced tread life of a mud-terrain tire."
The Michelin LTX A/T2 (*Est. $210) loses to the Cooper by a hair. The two tires perform almost identically in one road test: The Cooper grips a little better in snow and rides a little more comfortably, while the Michelin delivers a bit less rolling resistance and a bit longer tread life, with a 60,000-mile treadwear warranty. Mediocre ice grip is these tires' only performance flaw in that test. Owners at TireRack.com award the Michelin high overall ratings on all road conditions, even ice and snow -- although some owners disagree, saying the Michelin slips on winter roads. TireRack.com doesn't sell the Cooper tire, so it doesn't get owner ratings there.
Off-road, Four Wheeler magazine's Jimmy Nylund tests the Michelin LTX A/T2 against a few other all-terrains, but not the Cooper. He says it "managed to take us up slopes and enabled restarts on steep trails where some other tires had struggled a bit, or even nearly failed." But on-road, Four Wheeler calls it "floatier than others" and "sideways cushy," with a ride that "was a tad harsher than expected, rolling resistance higher than the others in the group, and there were hints of tracking." Nylund says he got used to the floaty feeling after one day, and the tire behaved better once it was broken in and the weather got warmer.
The Hankook Dynapro ATM (*Est. $305) ekes out a good rating for ice braking in one major test -- quite an accomplishment for an all-terrain tire -- but it's just very expensive. The Cooper tire grips every bit as well on dry, wet and snowy pavement, and experts judge it a little quieter and more comfortable on-road than the Hankook. Off-road, testers at Petersen's and Four Wheeler like the Hankook, especially on sand-covered rocks, a tough trial for any all-terrain tire, but we found no tests of this tire in deep mud, where the Cooper impresses critics the most.
The BFGoodrich Rugged Terrain T/A (*Est. $170) is a milder tire designed for people who mainly drive their trucks and SUVs on-road, but who venture off-road now and then -- for example, for hikers, dirt bikers or ATV riders who need to reach a trail head. Tests at Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road and Off-Road.com find the Rugged Terrain T/A quiet on the highway and capable on dirt and gravel roads, rocky slopes, shallow streams and snow. In another on-road test, the Rugged Terrain T/A delivers good dry-road grip and handling, with long-wearing tread and a 50,000-mile tread-life warranty, but it can't quite match the top-rated Cooper Discoverer A/T3 for snow traction, hydroplaning resistance and ride comfort.
The cheapest all-terrain tire recommended in reviews, the Kumho Road Venture SAT KL61 (*Est. $145) , matches or outperforms the top-rated Cooper Discoverer A/T3 in one road test. The Kumho has shorter braking distances on dry roads, resists hydroplaning a bit better and is a little quieter, although the Cooper gets slightly better snow traction and rides more comfortably, testers say. The Kumho's tread wears out faster than the Cooper's in the test, but the Kumho does carry a 60,000-mile treadwear warranty.
The main trade-off is ice-grip. The Kumho tire does a poor job braking on ice in the test -- a notch down from the Cooper's fair ice grip. Off-road, TireRack.com owners praise the Kumho's traction on trails and dirt roads -- one reports no problems with "soft mud about 1 foot deep." But none of our professional review sources has tested the Kumho off-road.
Mud tires are best for extreme driving on large rocks and in deep mud. Mud tires are not suitable for most drivers because they're louder and ride more harshly than all-season or all-terrain tires on paved roads. Some are greatly oversized to increase their ability to go over rocks and ruts, which raises a vehicle's center of gravity and makes the vehicle more prone to tipping over in normal driving.
One exception is the Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar (*Est. $210) . It impresses experts and owners not only with its rock-crawling, mud-bogging and sand-floating prowess, but also with its surprisingly mild highway manners and capable traction on dry, wet, snowy and icy roads. It comes in normal (not monster) sizes, too.
Goodyear reinforces the sidewalls with Kevlar, the same material that's in bulletproof vests. Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road magazine finds that it performs "exceptionally well" in deep mud and soft sand, and it crawls sharp rocks with ease. "Not one of our new Wrangler tires failed or experienced a sidewall tear after a day of wheeling tough terrain in the Mojave Desert," says reviewer Kevin McNulty. At Off-Road.com, the MT/R with Kevlar performs "flawlessly" during a full day of steep rock climbing on the Moab Rim Trail. This tire also shines in on- and off-road tests at TireRack.com, Truck Trend and Four Wheeler magazine, where it places second in a test of 10 mud tires.
"The MT/R [with Kevlar] is the do-all tire that Goodyear claims it to be," Four Wheeler concludes. "It's like having both an aggressive mud-terrain and a mild-mannered all-terrain wrapped up in one attractive package."
The surprise winner of Four Wheeler's shootout, the Hankook Dynapro MT (*Est. $210) , outshines the Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar on mud in that test. It's a surprise, testers say, because the Hankook's chevron-shaped treads look "simplistic, even retro by today's standards," and testers were afraid the relatively closely spaced tread blocks would gum up with mud. But they didn't. The Hankook "absolutely schooled all the other tread patterns in terms of traction" on a slippery, two-mile, mud-test loop in the rain, and it had a smooth street ride.
In a test at Off-Road.com, the Hankook Dynapro MT handles slippery New England mud and the rocky Golden Stairs slope at Moab, Utah, and it covers the 5,000 highway miles in between smoothly and fairly quietly. "To put it in perspective, you can talk on your cell phone at 80 mph with the windows up and still hear who you're talking to," reviewer Rob Sutter writes. The Hankook Dynapro MT performs well enough on mud and rocks to satisfy reviewers at Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road magazine. Owners rate it slightly higher than the Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar at Offroaders.com; the Hankook's average rating is 9.5 out of 10, versus 9.1 out of 10 for the Goodyear, although the Goodyear gets more reviews. Less is known about the Hankook's real-world, on-road performance. People who post at Offroaders.com concentrate on off-road performance, and the Hankook Dynapro MT isn't included in TireRack.com's valuable on-road owner-ratings charts.
Petersen's 4Wheel & Off Road rounds up five mud tires for its shootout, and the Dick Cepek Mud Country (*Est. $235) places second. "No matter if it was a dead stop, a low-speed pass, or a high-rev plunge, the tires worked well and slung dirt consistently throughout the test," editors write. It finishes behind the $270 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ Radial, "but just lacked that little bit of mud prowess to edge out our number one." (The Mickey Thompson tire is not a top pick of any of our other sources.) Owners at Offroaders.com also count the Dick Cepek Mud Country as one of their favorite off-road tires, but we found little information about this aggressive tire's on-road behavior.
Finishing fourth in Four Wheeler's mud-tire test is the Nitto Trail Grappler M/T (*Est. $300) , with above average but not outstanding performance in mud. It pleases testers at Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road on a small rock pile and loose, sandy hills, growling on the highway but with no irritating drone. Owners at Offroaders.com say they love this pricey tire off-road, but a few say it feels unstable on the freeway.
Landing at the bottom of Four Wheeler's mud-tire test are the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 (*Est. $235) , Pro Comp Xtreme Mud Terrain (*Est. $435) and Maxxis M8060 Trepador (*Est. $420) . Despite their high prices, all of these tires slip, spin or otherwise disappoint Four Wheeler's testers in the mud. They all do better in rock-crawling tests at Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road, though, and the BFGoodrich tire earns the highest scores in its class for on-road performance in owner reviews at TireRack.com.
Another mud tire that gets high marks for on-road behavior is the Firestone Destination M/T (*Est. $220) . This specialized Firestone tire handles mud, rocks, snow and rain, according to owner reviews at TireRack.com and Offroaders.com. David Freiburger of Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road magazine runs Destination M/Ts on his own Dodge Ram 2500 and reports no problems on dirt, gravel, mud, snow or mild rocks. Although it gets compliments for looking particularly tough, the Firestone Destination M/T comes in normal (not monster) sizes.
The Pit Bull Maddog (*Est. $355) gets mixed reviews, despite its steep price. The bias-ply version is a favorite of owners at Offroaders.com, and an expert at Four Wheeler magazine finds it quiet on-road and great on the trail. Off-Road.com likes the radial version on sharp rocks and snowy trails. But testers at Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road find the bias-ply Maddog way too stiff on rocks, "a bit of a dog" in the mud and -- like the radial version -- howlingly loud on the highway.