Why go to the effort and expense of removing your standard 4WD tyres for some new ones? Because they're better. Not in every sense, but in the ones that count.
After a big few days getting an ARB GVM upgrade, bullbar and winch, along with the Norweld tray and canopy installed onto our 2018 Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series, it wasn't long until it was booked in to Solve Offroad in western Sydney, the preferred dealers and specialists in BFGoodrich tyres.
On the menu for the 'Cruiser was a set of new BFGoodrich mud-terrain tyres, known as KM3. We've had them fitted onto the factory alloys, in a size slightly wider and taller than the factory-spec tyres: 285/75 R16.
The KM3 tyre takes over from the long-serving KM2. It's BFG's most aggressive road-going tyre, and gets made in either Tuscaloosca, Alambama, or Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A mud terrain tyre for a touring 4X4?
An all-terrain tyre is arguably a more logical choice for a touring 4X4. They're going to give you better on-road performance, and still provide an impressive improvement off-road. All-terrains handle sand, rock and dirt well, but start to clog up and fall over when faced with mud.
Tyre technology moves at a fast pace these days, and BFGoodrich reckons its new mud-terrain tyre is one of the most refined and composed choices on the market, while remaining a true mud-terrain tyre in terms of off-road performance. We wanted to put that to the test.
BFGoodrich reckon this KM3 has five per cent better grip in mud and eight per cent better performance on rocks, which is difficult to verify or prove. The older style mud-terrain (still available to buy) is a fine tyre with great off-road performance, and so is the new one. And from my seat-of-the-pants experience, I reckon the new one is better.
We've driven through rivers, taken on steep climbs and tackled muddy tracks in the CarAdvice LandCruiser since fitting up the new rubber. We drove from Australia's highest point (Mount Kosciuszko) to the lowest (Lake Eyre), with the LandCruiser serving as crew vehicle along the way. A total distance of around 5500km of loaded-up 4X4 touring.
During that time, the tyres have done nothing other than impress. On the Davies Plain Track in the Victorian High Country, they gripped and gripped on rutted climbs without any issues. And on local runs in the Blue Mountains, sloppy bog holes were easily conquered. From an off-road point of view, it's hard to raise any kind of finger against them.
BFGoodrich talks about the new 'Krawl-TEK' compound it uses for the KM3 rubber, which combined with the new tread pattern, offers up more grip. We can't really prove or disprove this, or delve into the science behind compounds with any kind of expertise. All we can offer is our experience over the last (nearly) 20,000 kilometres, which has been firmly positive.
Perhaps the toughest challenge for a 4WD tyre is not the low-speed, low pressure antics of off-roading, but rather the long days of driving. Hundreds of kilometres per day of hot, potholed bitumen, which turns into dusty corrugated tracks pock-marked with their own dangerous gems: sharp rocks, washouts and spindly hardwood roots all wait patiently for their next victim. Not to mention, you are often doing this loaded to the hilt with gear.
Standard tyres don't put up with this kind of abuse, at least not for long. This is especially true when you're trying to keep to a tight filming schedule...
A good quality off-road tyre like this BFGoodrich KM3 takes it all in its stride. This is because of stronger construction through the carcass and sidewalls. This is not something unique to BFGoodrich; every tyre brand has its own marketing guff that explains different constructions and strengths. What's important to see listed on a tyre sidewall is Light Truck load rating and a three-ply sidewall rating. This will be your biggest defence against stakes, punctures and abrasion, compared to a passenger-spec tyre.
A lot of technology goes into the rubber compounds of an off-road tyre, in an effort to reduce chipping and splitting after hard off-roading. Easily the most impressive thing about these tyres is that they still looked good after that 5500km pounding out to central Australia and back, which included thousands of kilometres of rough and corrugated dirt. We shouldn't be surprised; BFGoodrich tyres are frequently seen taking the chequered flag at the Baja 1000 and Mint 400 off-road races.
Of course, the 79 doesn't just live a life off-road. There is also plenty of time spent commuting and cruising down the highway. And when you're doing that, you don't want your vehicle to sound (and feel) like there is a Chinook just outside your window.
The LandCruiser is a good candidate for mud-terrain tyres because it's noisy and ponderous already, and fitting more aggressive rubber doesn't massively change the experience behind the wheel. Do it to something like a high-spec V6 Amarok, and your experience will likely be different. Tyres with an off-road focus are never going to be as compliant and refined as what they replace; you will lose points with steering feel, noise and wet bitumen grip compared to something tailored to on-road driving.
I've driven on a pretty big variety of mud-terrain tyres over the years, fitted up to a wide variety of vehicles. On my own 4WDs, I have had Bridgestone, Mickey Thompson and Maxxis mud-terrains fitted up for long periods. With that experience and without any kind of objective testing, these new BFGoodrich tyres seem to be the least noisy and compromised on-road. We've played around with tyre pressures, and now find the LandCruiser to be decidedly un-harrowing to drive... for a 79 Series LandCruiser, anyway.
For those coming from a road car or highway-oriented rubber, these will no doubt be a backwards step in on-road refinement and will require a recalibration of 'normal'. But once you are used to it, or if you've had experience with off-road tyres already, you'll find these KM3s relatively pleasant. Typical sore points in braking performance and lateral grip in wet conditions are there, but they aren't nearly as bad as other tyres.
Of course, fitting up some tyres like these and never taking them off-road is kind of like buying a beautiful chocolate cake, and not eating it. Sure, it's nice to look at, but you're missing out on the best part of the experience. After watching these tyres claw mud and rock expertly off-road, you're a little more predisposed to forgive them on-road.
Wheels from 17-20 inches in diameter are well catered to with the KM3, as the main bread and butter of 4WDs these days. For those more traditional 4WDers amongst us, there's still plenty of the classic and niche 15- and 16-inch size. Even the original 7.50 R16 is still there, for your old LandCruiser, G60 or Land Rover. In fact, there are a total of 60 sizes of the KM3 listed on the Australian BFGoodrich website.
In terms of wear, we've put around 19,000 kilometres onto these tyres since having them fitted. Interestingly, the fronts seem to be worse off than the rears, as we haven't done a rotation yet. There is no chipping, but some of the tread blocks have some small cracks starting to develop. After that number of kilometres, and the kind of life these tyres have had, I don't think it's too much of a big deal.
The BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM3 is an impressive tyre. While it's still a compromised thing on-road, you need to experience its ability off-road and over long distances to really appreciate its strengths.
Pricing is another thing to consider, because BFGoodrich rubber is rarely cheap. Pricing will depend on what size you get and where you go, but this option will always be at the higher end of the cost spectrum. There is stiff competition in this space these days, such is the popularity of 4WDs and modification. The new-generation BFG mud-terrain is still a safe bet, however.