I was fascinated by Land Rovers as a kid. I never saw one in person but they looked very cool on TV. The first time I saw one was in the movie Born Free. Then I saw them (and Jeeps) in a John Wayne movie called Hatari, the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom series (where Marvin did voiceover commentary from the comfort of an air conditioned studio while Jim got his ass kicked in the field), the TV show Emergency when Roy and Johnny swapped personal vehicles, and finally the Camel Trophy Series races. To me, Land Rovers were the ultimate adventure vehicle. Dependable and unstoppable.
I love cool cars and I have been fortunate to have owned many of them over the course of my life. I spent a fair amount of time and money modifying slash accessorizing each one to get it just the way I wanted. Tires, wheels, lifts, exhausts, speakers, fire extinguishers, two-way radios, bedliners, etc, etc. I have a lot of fun finding the exact right things and putting them together to make a good rig even better, sharper, and more capable. Then I sell it and move on to the next one. You would do when to get one of my used cars.
I went a little nuts this time though. I couldn’t decide between a fast sports car or decked out 4×4 and I didn’t want two separate vehicles. So, I found the best of both worlds in one. I came across a super clean, low mile Ranger Rover Sport HSE Lux for a great price and I couldn’t pass it up. It isn’t the utilitarian Defender series trucks of my childhood fantasies but it is a modern Land Rover. The finest, most advanced all wheel drive system in the world wrapped up in handsome good looks and all the luxury appointments that make screaming across vast landscapes comfortable. I refer to it as my all weather, all terrain, luxury sports car, er, truck. Capable, fast, and very cool. I love driving it. It also gives me a new project and something new to write about.
I am a little disappointed in one thing though. As good as Land Rovers are off road, if you don’t know how good they are you should check out some YouTube videos, they are bought mostly by country club members and mall cruisers that never ever use their impressive capabilities. Land Rover, in response to consumer demand, dresses these incredible vehicles in 20 inch rims. 20s might look nice but the low profile tires that go on them make for a rough ride and they don’t do well off road. The Overland Journal guys in Prescott address this issue by switching to 18 inch rims but my Sport has these big ass Brembo brakes to bring the 6000lb beast to heel and it would require some modifications I am not willing to do. I am also not interested in going the Johnson Rod route to lift the truck (at least not yet).
Look, I want two things from this set of tire/wheels – 1) a smooth, quiet, safe ride on dry, wet, or snow covered pavement. 2) to make effective use of the four wheel drive systems in light to medium off road applications. Basically that means long stretches of highway with access to snow ski areas and trailheads. Seems reasonable, right?
My Range Rover Sport, that’s “RRS” in Land Rover message board parlance, came with Pirelli P Zero tires in size 275/40ZR20x9.5 (28.7 inches by 10.9 inches). According to my Discount Tires guys they are high speed summer tires that run about $400 a pop. Insert loud BUZZER sound here please! Not what I need or want so in typical Wade fashion I have done a bunch of research trying to find the best highway slash terrain tire alternative. I would like some more sidewall height to soak up the freeway expansion joint jolts and protect the rims from rock dings. I could also say I that I want to be able to air down the tires for better contact while rock climbing but I just don’t expect to be doing that kind of thing anymore. According to what I read on the web I can go to a 31inch tall tire without rubbing at normal ride height (Land Rovers have an air suspension that goes from East LA low rider access height to extreme off road height – almost 6 inches of total travel at the flip of a switch) but not even a tenth of an inch more. Basically, that equates to sizes 265-50R20 and 275-45R20.
I have found three tires in that size that work for me.
Cooper A/T3 – Not much explanation is necessary here because I have already told you how much I liked this tire on my F150. The 265/50 size was just added and it works out to be 30.5inches by 10.9inches. Pretty close to perfect. My only question, is it good enough on the road at speed. The Cooper reps say it is, the A/T3 was designed to sit between full on AT and HT tires in the Cooper line, and I thought it did fine on the highway. They were certainly much quieter than my BFG ATs.
Nitto Terra Grappler G2 – What Discount Tire recommends. The latest iteration of the TG checks all the boxes and it fits. I have run Nittos before with good results but it was on small, fast movers and that was a long time ago.
Nokian WRG3 SUV – The thinking out of the box choice. I knew the Nokian Hakkapeliitta enjoyed a fanatical near cult following in the winter tire category and it is my understanding that it is well deserved but that was about all I knew about this Finnish tire maker. Turns out they make what is called an all weather, not all season, tire made specifically for high end SUV and crossover vehicles. The WRG3 SUV carries the coveted mountain snowflake symbol for severe winter service but it is also rated for 149mph on dry pavement which means it can handle high temps. The Nokian people have been nice about answering my repeated questions. They say that this tire is designed for extremes on either end of the thermometer and it is made to be worn year round. It is not an off road tire per se but it seems to have all the attributes I am looking for. It comes in 265/50 and 275/45 sizes which is 30×11 and 31×11 respectively. Sounds like a great tire but I don’t know anybody that runs them. It would be a leap of faith to go with these but then again so was the decision to go with the Coopers on my Ford and that worked out pretty well (for me and Cooper).
The one tire that I would do in a minute without any reservation is the Michelin LTX A/T2 which is what came stock on my F150. It was a great highway tire and surprised me with its off road and snow chops. Problem is the closest size is a 275/55 which is a touch too tall without some mods. Bummer. It is a great tire.
A little irritating that there are not more choices available to allow the LR to do what LRs are really made to do but I will figure it out. It is part of the process and I like process. So I have a choice to make. Stay tuned.
In the mean time, I will use up as much of those Pirellis as I can and have a shit ton of fun doing it. Road trip!
UPDATE – Well, it looks like I am going to go with the Nokians in size 275/45R20. They are on their way I should be riding on them by the end of the week. Looking forward to it.
UDATE 2 – Maybe not. So I went in to tell my guys at Discount to expect a shipment from Nokian Tires with my name on it and tell them what I was doing. They proceeded to do an intervention on me. They warned me, sternly, that just calling a winter tire an all weather tire doesn’t change the fact that our summer heat is going to smoke that rubber compound resulting in a drastic decrease in tread life. I went back to Nokian to tell them what my trusted tire dealer was telling me, again, and to reiterate/clarify our previous discussions. And their response…crickets. Tha’s not good.
Nokian has a great reputation for winter tires and the WRG SUV might do just fine as a year round tire if you live in Denver or Seattle but not Phoenix. I think I will pass.
Looking again at the Cooper AT3, Toyo Open Country HT, Michelin Defender LTX M/S, Michelin Latitude Tour HP, and the Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06. Jeez. It shouldn’t be so difficult to find a tire as good as the vehicle it is going on. I think Land Rover needs to get with somebody and come up with something that nails it.
UPDATE 3 – I got it. Finally. The Michelin Premier LTX in 275-45R20. It is not an all terrain tire but it is an all season that is rated superior in all performance categories, especially rain and snow.