Bridgestone Tyre Test

Bridgestone All Terrain (A/T)

© Simon Bayliss 2015

The old shoes on the trusty Kluger are coming to the end of their life, and while I could probably get another 10,000 km out of them, there is nothing like new tyres and a full tread pattern. As I often say, much to the chagrin of those around me, "it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it"; and that is especially true for tyres.

But before heading down to the local tyre store, my first step is to determine exactly what I am going to use the car for and what options that will best suit.

Looking back at the many adventures I have had over the years covering most states of Australia, the reality is that probably 80% of my driving has been on bitumen, with 15% on unsealed roads, and maybe 5% has been in situations where a 4x4 is needed.

Bridgestone Tyre Test - Tom Groggin, Simon Bayliss

New Bridgstone A/T 697

Now in the Kluger being an AWD, that 5% 4x4 will be transposed to unsealed, taking that driving element to 20%. So do I actually need an All-Terrain for unsealed roads?

The first thought is often that increased traction with a more aggressive tyre tread will help when these roads are wet and muddy after rain. But the reality is in many situations, these roads are closed by local councils after rain to prevent damage and the added expense to regrade them after being chewed up. So in reality, an A/T is not necessarily required to do this sort of travel. But there is another important element to an A/T tyre and it becomes apparent if we look at the other options.

Bridgestone SUV Options

Like many things in life, we like going with what we know and what we have used before. I am not adverse to new products and/brands, not by a long shot, but I have had Bridgestone tyres on many vehicles in the past and feel it better, especially for this type of vehicle, to go with something I know and trust. While many of us think we know a lot about things (me included) and don't like to ask... directions when lost comes to mind as a male... let's explore the options by asking an expert.

Before going and asking for a tyre size, width etc, we need to be able to decipher what the numbers and letters mean on the side (sidewall) of the tyre. First up, we need to know what type of tyre we require. Tyres are really shoes for cars and as such, we often like the 'look' of a tyre as it can represent some aspirational element to our beloved SUV. There is nothing wrong with that but it should be done with some sense of functionality.

So what types of SUV tyres are there?

Broadly speaking there are 3 types of SUV tyres, but let's eliminate one straight away, as the mud terrain (M/T) as it is specifically designed for serious off-roading; something that the modern AWD SUV is not designed or is unlikely to do.

So that leaves us with two broad types of tyre, Highway Terrain (H/T) and All-Terrain (A/T). Note, some manufactures, including Bridgestone, further segment the H/T with an H/P (Highway Performance) which are tyres designed for on-road performance and not 'off the bitumen' driving. Best suited to the more performance oriented SUV's (BMW, Audi, VW, etc), these tyres may have a slightly softer compound for increased grip, but due to the softer compound, they can wear quicker and be more prone to punctures in an off road situation.

Bridgestone Highway Terrain (H/T):

bridgstone highway terrainHighway Terrain tyres are designed for highway driving and occasional off-bitumen tracks and trails. Designed for limited off-road, (<10%) these tyres are generally tough but with a tread pattern shallower than an All-Terrain tyre, these will be tested under muddy, grassy and sand/beach situations. H/T tyres are best for the vast majority of SUVs and provide a more comfortable ride but these tyres generally have a thinner sidewall (for flexibility) than an All-Terrain and can be more prone to sidewall punctures/splits in rougher off-bitumen situations.

Bridgestone All-Terrain (A/T):

bridgstone all terrainFor those who intend to do more off-bitumen adventures, and have the vehicle suited to that type of driving, the All-Terrain with a deeper and more aggressive tread pattern should be considered.The A/Ts have a tougher construction and advances in technology enables a tyre that can provide sure-footedness on both on and off road situations. A light-truck construction is also available in many sizes that will provide an even tougher tyre, especially in sidewall strength, for better off road touring. A L/T construction but can also compromise on road comfort which will be more evident in the SUV than it would be in your average 4X4. While the A/T can 'beef up' the appearance for your SUV, always consider the reality of how often you will need the extra grip and also what it says to a future buyer of your SUV.

My main consideration when driving the outback is not that I necessarily need extra traction provided by the A/T, but I do want some extra puncture protection from the outback unsealed roads that I love so much; it is the only place I have ever had punctures in over 20 years of driving and it is normally from a small stick or slither of rock.

The added protection from an A/T comes from a tougher construction and the actual tread being a thinker depth. For even more protection, I could opt for an L/T (Light Truck) construction but that may not be a viable option as it may not come it the correct size for the 17" Kluger rims.

Crunching the code, numbers and letters:

So what do the numbers and letters mean on the side of the tyre? If you are wondering what tyres will fit your car and struggling to decipher the code on the side of the tyre, an easier way to know what tyres are specified for your SUV is to look at the specification label normally placed on the inside of the door-well or better still, look in the owner's manual. While it may be tempting to 'pimp your ride' by upsizing tyre sizes, unlike 4WDs, SUV have much stricter guidelines and differ from state to state. In NSW, a non-4WD SUV cannot increase the Outer Diameter by more than 15mm. Your local tyre dealer will be the best person to ask.

Bigger rims are all the trend:

Modern SUV's, like many things we purchase, reflect a bit of who we are and as such can follow a design trend.

At the moment, the trend is leaning towards bigger rims and smaller profiled tyres to provide a much sportier look (and ride). But are they any good for an adventure? It goes without saying that the bigger the rim the smaller the tyre profile (height of the rubber from the rim) must be if it to maintain the recommended rolling radius of the vehicle.

While for some it just looks cool, for others it can improve handling, but it does come at a cost when venturing off the bitumen. With a lower profile, there is less distortion of the sidewall when cornering as there is less 'leverage' on the sidewall to bend it and more force is transferred to the more solid rim; thus more surefootedness when cornering.

That is why you see very low profiles on racing cars. The downside to low-profile tyres is that there is less tyre sidewall height to absorb bumps, so the ride will be harder, and many would argue it puts more wear and tear on your suspension through increased stresses as more of the 'bump' force is transferred to the rim, and then to the suspension.

While this effect might not be too noticeable around town, it certainly will be when driving on unsealed roads and also be more prone to wheel damage from road debris like potholes and stones as there is less profile to absorb these objects. Add to that, if going off-road or on the sand where lowering tyre pressure is a technique for gaining more traction and reducing puncture potential, a low profile will limit that dramatically as there is less ability to increase the footprint of the tyre. A further consideration should be the availability of replacement tyres when away from the city as the further you go the less the availability for a replacement tyre if you are running 19" or 20" rims. So, if your adventures don't involve going off-bitumen or sand driving, then large rims are fine, but it you seek more adventure than the bitumen can offer, be careful about large rims. They may look 'cool' but decidedly not if stuck in the outback with a puncture.

My choice, Bridgestone A/T 697:

My experiences in the past with A/T tyres on a 4x4 is that they can be produce a bit more road noise so I was initially a bit hesitant going with that option. Even though the A/T would provide better puncture protection, and an L/T construction would provide even more. Checking the tyre-size placard, I see that the recommended tyre size is a 235/65/17, and as I am going with a Bridgestone tyre, and that the vehicle is not a 4x4, and in NSW this means I can only increase the Outer Diameter of the tyre by up to 15mm, the sizes available for the L/T construction is not, legally, an option for the Kluger and would require fitment of smaller (16") rims. A costly exercise and I am confident the non L/T construction will withstand the type of outback travel I intend to do.

So, the A/T it is.... now which one? Bridgestone offers 4 A/T tyre variants in their range which are suited to a range of on/off road mixes; but for the Kluger and its wheel size, it is down to either the Dueller A/T 697 or the Dueller A/T 693. After describing what driving I was intending to do, the Bridgestone technician suggested that the 697 was probably more suited to what I needed and the type of vehicle I was driving. So with the new shoes fitted to the Kluger, it's time for a bit of a road trip and my impressions of the Bridgestone's.

The Test Drive:

With the new Bridgestone tyres on, it seems only fitting that a bit of a test drive is in order and as I already have a trip planned for the High Country, why not kill two birds with one stone. So it is off to Tom Groggin. (Story here)

The road trip will be a three day loop through the High Country with a mixture of highway, winding country roads, and some fire trails to give the new tyres a good workout.

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Leaving the confines of Melbourne, it is a straight highway run along the Hume to Wodonga on the Vic/NSW border before heading along the upper Murray to Corryong then Khancoban and onto Tom Groggin Station.

Once on the Hume, the first impression of the tyres is that they are in fact quiet at highway speed and absorb noise and vibration from bridge joins and lane-markers very well. Early Klugers are a thirsty breed and the 3.3-litre V6 won't win any fuel economy prizes, but getting to Wodonga, the 3 hour run returned a 9.5l/100km average which is an improvement from a previous highway run (10.2l/km). Great news!

From Wodonga, I headed east through the northern section of the Toowong shire with a bit of a zig-zag route between the Murray Valley Highway and Murray River Road towards Khancoban. This route has some exceptional hill roads made up of mostly of dry stony and sandy gravel; the new A/T's were very sure-footed.

And even around some of the corrugated bends there was never any sense of trepidation as the old girl handled these with aplomb. I am not talking rally speeds, but nor am I talking 'Grandpa Joe'.

As morning turns to afternoon I arrive at Corryong, for the run from Khancoban then up to Scammell's Spur and down into Tom Groggin. No sooner had I started the ascent, the rain clouds open, but fortunately it was not the torrential downpour. Perfect for the new shoes. The handling on the section up to Scammell's was exceptional. The route down from Scammells was a good gauge of the tyre dynamics.

The Kluger is best described as 'built for comfort and not speed' in terms of cornering dynamics, but the Bridgestone A/T were certainly surefooted under braking downhill and through the twisties and the car felt like it had lost a bit of its penchant for understeer. Safely down and arriving at Tom Groggin Station with the rain setting in, the forecast for tomorrow was for clearing weather, so dry weather and wet tracks will be the order for day two. Perfect!

First order of day two was a run to Olsens Lookout, which is a track that can get sticky in parts and Bridgestone's loved the workout. Then it was off to do some incline and decline testing on the slippery stuff, and while the Kluger is no 4x4, the added traction of the A/T's was evident when it made light work of our test track. It was up against a Freelander2 and Subaru Outback and left them behind (admittedly, they were both running H/T's) but they also had, reputably, better AWD systems. Needless to say, I, and the others were suitably impressed.

But this is only the first part of the test for these tyres as Bridgestone A/T's will need to stand up to the rigors of the outback gravel roads; I am confident they will and will report back on how they handle an outback adventure.