Sunday, February 01, 2009
Nitto may not be the biggest name in trail tires, but in this case, the tire's name is the longest we've come across. Perhaps in an effort to visually shorten the alphabet soup, one sidewall features a smaller, gothic-type font, which should appeal to the dune-running crowd at Glamis, California-not entirely surprising since Nitto is aggressively marketing its tires to that seemingly very affluent segment, and especially so with the Dune Grappler.
Another sidewall oddity resulted when mounting the Grapplers on Pro Comp 1059 wheels, as both have fake bead-lock bolts. Yes, there are "bolt heads" molded into the upper sidewall, which combine with the rim protector to mimic a bead lock. Unfortunately, the spacing didn't match that of the rim's fake Allen head bolts.
Granted, the new Smart Weight software for Hunter's superb GSP 9700 balancer is aimed at minimizing the amount of balancing weight needed by emphasizing the noticeable and downplaying the imperceivable amounts of imbalance, but we've never had a tire-and-wheel combination that didn't ask for any weights before. One of the Nittos didn't need a single ounce to run true and vibration-free down the road, and the largest group of weights used was a mere 4 ounces, this on a 32.8-inch-tall tire that's over 11 inches wide.
A somewhat unexpected bonus was that the Dune Grappler is quiet. While audible, this Grappler seems less noisy than most all-terrains, which is a great plus in daily-driver applications. Also, the tread doesn't readily pick up rocks from gravel roads and trails, sparing both paint and ears.
Having driven mostly on tires with circumferential grooves and/or a more open tread recently, it was a bit of an eye-opener when hitting a shallow puddle on the road and the vehicle wanted to pitch sideways. At just 50 mph and with a water depth of 3/8 inch or so, that puddle is usually barely noticeable, even with wider tires. Perhaps it was a fluke, because at freeway speeds the Grapplers did just fine in heavy rain, and also stuck to twisty wet roads, even when pushed hard. However, there aren't a whole lot of escape routes for water in the flame-shaped tread, so perhaps it's best not to mix too much water with the fire.
With excellent directional stability for an all-terrain, the Dune Grappler delivers road manners that are very easy to live with. Its two steel and two nylon belts absorb road irregularities very well, providing a smooth ride. We never noticed any tendencies of tracking, and steering input was swiftly followed by directional changes accordingly. Stopping was also a non-event, with the good grip afforded by the Grappler.
Basic hard-packed dirt trails are likely as far as Nitto had intended the average Desert Terrain to venture, but surprisingly, the tires slipped and spun more than we had anticipated on steeper hills. It wasn't much, it's just that we'd expected no slip whatsoever, and in looser dirt, the 17/32-inch-deep tread seemed more at home. Sand, of course, is what a Dune Grappler should be all about, but being a square-shouldered radial, it had the odds stacked against it. That handicap was not an issue, as it turned out, and even our portly test vehicle managed pretty well in deep sand. With a lighter vehicle and some power under the hood, the Dune Grappler could be quite fun in the dunes.