Cooper Tire Unveils New All-Terrain and Off-Road Tire
Itís not everyday that we get invited to a tire companyís test center, so we jumped at the chance when Cooper Tire invited us to its $13 million dollar facility just outside of San Antonio to test two new truck and SUV tires for 2011. Cooper invited Off-Road.com and other media outlets to its 100-acre testing facility in Pearsall, Texas, allowing us to test its new product while also showing us exactly what goes into each tire the company produces.
Cooper Tire is a replacement tire company. Period. Thatís why Cooper has focused its efforts on not only producing high-quality tires at an affordable price, but also on making its presence even more known to truck and SUV owners looking to replace their OE (original equipment) tires for a fresh set.
Before we were unleashed in the mud and dirt, Cooper Tire provided us with a little more about the companyís background. The U.S. tire manufacturer is actually the fourth largest in the U.S. and the ninth largest globally. In the replacement tire realm, the company accounts for about 13 percent of overall sales U.S. tire sales. Cooper Tire also tells us that although it does have plants in both Europe and Mexico, about 78 percent of its tires will be produced in the U.S.
Its testing facility in Pearsall was purchased back in í99, and this is where Cooper literally tests and re-tests until arriving at the proper combination for the tireís specific purpose. The Texas location was chosen since its weather allows for year-round testing. The facility is awesome, including everything from a rock garden, purpose-built mud pits, a 30-degree-slope hill climb with three different surfaces (smooth concrete, brushed concrete and imbedded rock), a 2.2-mile track oval track, a smaller 1.3-mile high-performance track with chicanes and figure-8 turns, an off-road track and more. Thereís also a controlled wet track that can have a water depth up to a 1/4-inch. The testing facility truly offers a wide range of testing possibilities, and Cooper puts in hundreds of hours testing different rubber compounds and tread designs before a tire is complete.
Cooper Tire is offering four new tires for 2011, but of specific interest to off-roaders are two truck and SUV tires designed for the on- and off-road realm. Cooperís 30-plus-year Discovery line, which ranges from on-road tires to mud and winter tires, has two new additions this year. The Discovery A/T Maxx, which was launched at the start of the year and is available now, is designed for more aggressive and demanding off-road use while still offering great on-road characteristics. For truck and SUV owners that need a with a little more all-around use, Cooperís new all-terrain Discovery A/T3 will be available in April of this year.
When it came to put the new tires through their paces, we first were able to test the Discovery A/T Maxx in a few different off-road situations. Cooper tells us it designed the tire with the more serious off-road enthusiast in mind. The tire compound is designed to be cut and chip resistant so as to not deteriorate in the off-road environment. The enhanced buttress design of the S/T Maxx provides added traction in off-road terrain, and the tread is designed with specific stone ejector ribs so as not to retain rocks while on the trail. Cooper also explains that the tires are designed to be durable yet versatile, offering great off-road traction with its 4- to 5-rib tread design larger surface pads area for good grip and quiet on-road driving.
We were able to test the Discovery A/T Maxx on a purpose-built rock garden, which is thoughtfully constructed to feature small and large gaps along with tough climb angles to simulate real-world conditions that we scaled in a Jeep Cherokee. We were then taken for a high-speed ride in a Ford F-150 desert-style pre-runner on a course that covered everything from soft, sandy sections to firm rocky roads. In both instances, the Discovery A/T Maxx performed very well. We even had the chance to tackle the hill climb on both the smooth, wet surface where the Maxx climbed with surprising traction in spite of its off-road capabilities.
Cooper Tire also gave us a sneak peek of its new Discovery A/T 3, an all-terrain tire that will hit the market in early April of 2011. This tire is also designed for the truck and SUV owner that wants to be able to go off-roading but also spends a fair amount of time on-road. Stability, predictable dry handling, great wet traction and wet handling, and durability in off-road environments is what Cooper feels this buyer wants.
Cooper has worked to provide this all-around package in the Discovery A/T3 via the tire compound that offers all-around capability, durability and even tread-wear. Cooper engineers came up with 5-rib tread design that features a broken center rib to blend on-road performance with off-road capability. It also features an aggressive shoulder design on the sidewalls for traction in softer off-road surfaces, such as sand or light mud. The tire will be available in over 30 truck sizes and 30 SUV sizes and will come with a 55,000-mile warranty.
Cooper Tire had a new battery of tests for us gauge the Discovery AT3ís abilities. First, we went to the wet course, driving three Chevy Silverados equipped with three different all-terrain tires: Toyo Open Country A/T, BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO, and the new Cooper Discovery A/T3. We took to the course in each vehicle, testing Cooperís competitors first by running timed laps on the wet course. We then ran the same course on the AT3s, with the new Cooper tire showing a surprising improvement in control and traction in this situation, which was also confirmed by lap times a few seconds faster than the Toyo and BFG. While Cooper notes that each tire has its strengths and weaknesses in different areas, itís clear the Cooper AT3 has an edge in the wet-traction department.
We then ventured over to test the A/T3 in the mud pits. While all-terrain tires and necessarily known as being great mud tires, even Cooper was a little surprised to see how well the new AT3s performed in deep mud. The tires tracked straight throughout the deep mud of the 100-yard course, never sticking even when coming to a complete stop in the deepest mud sections.
Overall, both tires performed well in each test we put them through, which came as no surprise to the Cooper engineers and testing crew. The team has performed these same tests literally hundreds of times with hundreds of different compound and tread variations before finding the right combination for each tire.
The event itself was great, as it not only allowed us to test these new tires but also showed great insight into what goes into each new tire design. Although we only tested the new truck and SUV tires, Cooper had also introduced two new on-road tires the day before our testing. We even had the chance to take a hot lap (or two) with Johnny Unser in the race course in a Mustang. Between that and the off-road lap we did with in-house tester Ali, the hand-on testing we did, the event was a blast but also insightful into how tires are made.
For more information on Cooper Tires, visit the companyís website at CooperTire.com.