In a new-car market where SUV and dual-cab ute sales continue to soar, meeting the market’s needs is crucial. While recreational 4x4 owners are likely familiar with the Wrangler name, traditionally it hasn’t been the tyre of choice.
Amongst Goodyear’s full catalogue of SUV and off-road tyres, the Wrangler sub-brand covers everything from the 90 per cent road-biased Wrangler TripleMax, to the AP Adventure skewed evenly 50/50 between on-road and off-road use.
At the more rugged end is the DuraTrac, which Goodyear rates as skewed 70 per cent towards off-road use. And there's the flagship tyre, the MT/R Kevlar, which is about as hardcore as you can get with, as the name suggests, kevlar-reinforced sidewalls and a tread pattern designed to maximise traction in boggy conditions.
The SilentTrac sits towards the more civilised end, slotting in between the DuraTrac and the MT/R. A tyre designed to fit the on-/off-road split with a 70/30 skew.
By Goodyear’s own admission, this means it’ll fit perfectly for users who commute five days a week and head out of town in search of adventure on weekends. No surprises, then, that all the images of the tyre in action during its presentation featured dual-cab utes.
With eyes fixed on Australia’s two top-selling vehicles, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, Goodyear realises the huge market potential of tradies looking to up-spec their workhorses without compromising day-to-day liveability.
Currently, Goodyear offers a tyre to suit 97 per cent of Australia’s 17.5-million-vehicle car park. When it comes to SUVs and four-wheel drives, current sales figures show 65 per cent of cars fall into those two categories, yet Goodyear is off the pace with only 33 per cent of its sales split covering the still-growing segment.
As the replacement for the previous Wrangler AT/SA tyre, the new AT SilentTrac aims to make up lost ground.
The new tyre covers more sizes and has been developed specifically with the Asia-Pacific market in mind. This means that rather than taking a tyre designed to work elsewhere in the world, Goodyear Australia was able to contribute to a list of buyer demands for the new rubber.
After a market research phase that saw key buyers quizzed about their demands, Goodyear came up with the following demands for the new tyre: It must be quiet on the highway; have enough sidewall strength to survive off-road; and deliver long-running wear.
To demonstrate, the company flew its retailers, along with CarAdvice, to Brisbane to put the new tyres through their paces at the Norwell Motorplex. Putting off-road, sealed-road dry and sealed-road wet handling characteristics to the test.
Off-road and in the dry, there were no real surprises. Without an opportunity to cake the treads full of mud and test the wet-weather credentials, it’s a little hard to say definitively how adventure-compatible the SilentTrac is.
Certainly across sand, loose gravel, and splashing through water crossings, Goodyear’s newest did as you might expect. The fleet of old Jeep Wranglers they were fitted to stayed shiny side up and went where they were pointed.
From light off-roading into more tumultuous terrain, the outlook was similarly bright – scrabbling up and down simulated fire trails and finding grip in ascent and descent runs peppered with loose coverings.
As far as breadth of ability, the SilentTrac isn’t designed as a go-anywhere tyre, but still covers off-road duty well.
While Goodyear’s focus was skewed towards the ‘fun stuff’ off-road, a comparison set between the popular Bridgestone Dueler AT and the new Goodyear AT SilentTrac gave a glimpse into the on-road capabilities owners can expect.
The exercises here were simple: one a constant-radius sweeping bend at 60km/h and the other a 45km/h slalom. The vehicle of choice, Toyota Prados – hardly renowned for their dynamism and highlighting the work done by the tyre.
Running through first up in the Bridgestones was hardly a wild experience, but tipping into the sweeper saw the front end push wide and the tyres begin to howl in protest. Through the slalom, the results were similar. While it was possible to get through safely, there were plenty of complaints between tyre and road surface, and the need to adjust the line and vehicle speed to keep things in line.
All-terrain tyres being what they are, it’s no stretch to imagine the Wranglers would do the same. Given the comparison set-up, though, you’d expect the SilentTrac to come out on top. Firing the Goodyears through the same course showed improvement, and surprisingly so.
Through the sweeping bend, the hulking Prado rolled into the bend just as much, but its feet felt much more secure on the ground, with no wandering and no squealing. Lining up for the slalom improved things to the extent it was possible to carry a little additional speed between the cones much more confidently. Definitely a win for the Goodyears.
The one missing aspect from the drive day was a highway run. While claims of lower road noise were made, technical design features were all that were offered, rather than a hands-on experience.
Market research ahead of the development of the Wrangler AT SilentTrac encompassed rural and city drivers alike across Australia. Drivers revealed that their dual-cabs often functioned as a mobile office during the week, and needed to be as quiet and comfortable as they could be.
That work aspect also means their cars need to be ready to spring into action on worksites, or able to get away from it all on the weekend. There were also calls for a bit of styling enhancement, with white sidewall lettering often raised as an aspirational feature.
The result of that consultation is a tyre that features ‘durawall’ sidewall technology to resist cuts and punctures off-road, traction-notched tread blocks to enhance off-road ability, and a compound designed to resist tears and wear from abrasion, providing the requisite adventure capability.
Keeping noise low for the bulk of usage was also prioritised thanks to an angled block design for the tread, which introduces the tread to the road surface gradually. The result is less ‘slap’ that makes up tyre roar, without backing off on an aggressive-looking tread pattern.
A solid shoulder design reduces noise-creating air pumping, and a solid layer undertread keeps the tread blocks stable, lessening vibration and keeping noise levels down. Thanks to these features, Goodyear claims market-leading product performance in the area of highway noise.
Behind the scenes, the AT SilentTrac’s development work saw 50 engineers put in 24,000 hours of development work across 1250 laboratory and real-world tests, and 280,000km of road testing.
To ensure decent wear life, the tread volume has been increased, although Goodyear didn’t provide comparative claims for how much longer-lasting, nor how much quieter, the new tyres are compared to their predecessors or competitors.
The Goodyear Wrangler AT SilentTrac range is available in 23 sizes for 15 to 18-inch rims, with 14 passenger and nine light truck options, and is available now.