The automotive industry has never been shy about making bold claims and grand proclamations. Every industry does this in marketing and sales pitches, but the automotive world especially filled with products hailed to be “the toughest,” “the most capable,” or “the best yet.” The Nitto Ridge Grappler makes its own bold proclamation by offering a tire that promises to walk the line between an all-terrain and a mud-terrain to provide the best of both worlds: great traction on trails with an aggressive, wide-void tire; and smooth and quiet on-road performance.
The Nitto Ridge Grappler promises great things with its “best of both worlds” pitch, giving off-roaders who spend lots of time on the highway but still off-road on the weekend exactly what they want. But does the tire actually deliver on its promise? We spent the past few months looking to answer that question.
Hybrid Off-Road Design
With Nitto looking to walk the line between all-terrain and mud-terrain with the Ridge Grappler, the tire may be best described as a hybrid that blends elements of each tire type. Traditionally, an all-terrain tire is a Jack-of-All-Trades that offers the ability to perform in a wide variety of different terrains. On the other hand, a mud-terrain is a tire more purpose-built for aggressive off-road traction in areas it is crucial to success, such as mud, rocks and sand.
The Nitto Ridge Grappler uses a high-void tread pattern to provide that aggressive grip off-roaders demand, but Nitto also engineered it with a variable pitch design that features alternating shoulder grooves to create a zig-zag pattern to reduce noise. Nitto also uses alternating tapered edges in the tread pattern for added bite and grip on the trail. Between the tread voids Nitto employs stone ejectors to help rid the tire of unwanted rock hitchhikers picked up on the trail. For added stiffness, Nitto reinforces the tread blocks at the foundation to reduce unwanted tread flex, because rigidity is especially important since the Ridge Grappler is offered in an optional F-load rating that is intended for the hefty demands of heavy-duty trucks.
Part of what gives the Nitto Ridge Grappler its aggressive look is the wrap-around sidewall design. Nitto always offers two different sidewall patterns on its Grappler tires, and on the Ridge Grappler there’s a more traditional design with extended blocks that reach deeper into the sidewall, or there’s a more modern, aggressive design that we tend to prefer because it looks a little edgier and helps gives the tire a bold look.
But the sidewalls aren’t just for show, as the additional rubber adds valuable trail protection for the most vulnerable part of your tire, especially in demanding, rocky terrain. The sidewall is engineered to provide traction as well, and as the tire transitions from tread to sidewall Nitto uses staggered shoulder lugs to function as small traction scoops. Whether aired down for the trail or at full highway PSI, both the shoulder lugs and the sidewall tread are designed to provide additional grip and bite for the trail.
For sizing, the Nitto Ridge Grappler will offered in direct replacement options and upgrades for modern SUVs, half-tons and heavy-duty trucks, with 30 sizes available for wheel sizes 17” up to 22”. The downside is that vehicles with 15s and 16s don’t have any options at present. In terms of load range, options include C, D, E and F, and the largest tire size option at present is a 37”.
Walk the Walk?
The Ridge Grappler makes the lofty claim of giving off-roaders the best of both worlds, but does it actually deliver on that promise? In terms of its highway ride, we have to say it does. The Ridge Grappler shouldn’t be confused with a pure on-road tire that will offer a nearly silent highway ride. Some road noise is to be expected with an aggressive off-road tire, but the Ridge Grappler sounds surprisingly civilized on the pavement. In wet and dry conditions, the Ridge Grappler offered a smooth and confident ride, and we never felt the tire was lacking in anyway on the pavement in terms of traction and performance.
We’ve spent time on a few different high-void mud-terrain tires as of late, and the Nitto Ridge Grappler is no doubt far quieter than a traditional mud. It’s probably about on par, or maybe just slightly louder, than an aggressive all-terrain (we note “aggressive” all-terrain because there are some pretty road-friendly tires badged as all-terrains that we would consider more of a road tire). The Ridge Grappler is also notably quieter than Nitto’s Exo Grappler, also a sort of hybrid tire but intended as more of an all-weather truck and SUV tire.
In some ways, one could consider a smooth and quiet highway ride being the tougher goal to achieve for an off-road tire, but the Ridge Grappler is intended for off-highway performance and therefore it better have impressive grip on dirt, sand and rocks. Fortunately, the Ridge Grappler feels right at home when the pavement ends. We tested two sizes of the Nitto Ridge Grappler, including an E-load range 35 x 12.5 and a D-load range 37 x 12.5. During high-speed desert driving the tire is solid and confident. In softer terrain, like mud and sand, the Ridge Grappler’s high-void tread digs in and provides great grip. On more hard-packed trails, the Ridge Grappler isn’t lacking for traction either – we never noticed a section where the tires hunted for traction or was spinning to find grip. To get an honest assessment of an off-road tire, shifting into two-wheel drive can provide a truer test of a tire’s grip, and even when we did so on steep, hard-packed trails, the Ridge Grappler provided the traction we needed to scale the section.
Although we wouldn’t necessarily view the Ridge Grappler as a full-blown rock-crawling tire, we were impressed with its performance in rocky, technical sections. Sure, an off-road tire needs wider voids to grip rocks, but in the Ridge Grappler’s case it’s clear the alternating groove pattern gives it bite in the rocks. The additional grip of the sidewall tread plays a key role in the rocks too. For one, the sidewall tread provides added peace of mind that a tear in the sidewall won’t easily occur when the tire slides over a rock; and two, the tread actually offers additional traction whether the tire is aired down or fully aired up.
Being that we’re just saying goodbye to summer, snow isn’t something we had the chance to test the Nitto Ridge Grapplers in, though we did spend time in muddy trail conditions on more than one occasion. Though not a true mud-terrain, the Ridge Grappler can hold its own in the mud. The tread cleans out relatively well in mud, and we didn’t experience any mud caking into the tread – which is something all-terrains can be guilty of at times. We wouldn’t necessarily rely on the Ridge Grapplers for hard-core mud bogging, but their performance on muddy trails is going to be above and beyond what most enthusiasts require.
The Balancing Act
Nitto set some pretty lofty goals for its Ridge Grappler, and in the end, we really can’t find a weak spot in its on-road or off-road performance. It wasn’t so long ago that Nitto unveiled two new tires, the all-terrain Terra Grappler G2 and the heavy-duty all-terrain Exo Grappler AWT. What surprised us at first is the Ridge Grappler is actually similar in concept to the Exo Grappler, with the key difference being the Exo’s all-weather slant. But we now know why Nitto has been crafting the Ridge Grappler over the past four years: It’s a great all-around tire that will satisfy the demands of the trail and also make the family happy your truck or SUV isn’t bumping and howling down the road. In spite of the fact that it’s more aggressive than the Exo, it’s also quieter overall.
The reality for many is that the off-road rig on the weekend also doubles as a daily driver during the week. The Nitto Ridge Grappler doesn’t require a huge tradeoff for truck and SUV owners, proving you don’t need to compromise having a bumpy, loud ride around town for the sake of a tire with great off-road performance. Marketing pitches will always appeal to our every want and need, but in Nitto’s case, we’re happy the Ridge Grappler actually delivers on its promise.
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