STOWE, VT – The view from the 3,200-foot peak of this mountain is spectacular – and will be even more so in a few weeks when the lush green foliage covering the landscape makes its transition to blazing autumn colours. There are no roads to the top of this popular ski slope – the only way one usually gets to this viewing point is by chairlift. This day, however, I’ve driven to the summit.
Michelin decided to demonstrate the capability of its new Defender LTX M/S tire by challenging the rugged terrain of this ski slope, even though this popular light truck tire line is primarily intended for street and highway driving.
Michelin’s engineers have improved the toughness and durability of the Defender line with the addition of 'EverTread'. This stronger, advanced tread compound is designed to hold up longer in tough conditions while delivering competent performance in all seasons, as well as improved fuel efficiency.
When it comes to tough conditions, it’s difficult to imagine anything more demanding than the rocks, sheer granite outcroppings, mud, water and forest debris we encountered in this exercise.
Accompanied by expert instructors from the Michelin 4x4 Centre based in Bolton Valley, Vermont, our convoy of Jeep Rubicons – all fitted with the new Defender LTS tires – clawed its way to the summit and back without a single incident.
Despite varying degrees of off-roading skills within this group of journalists, no one got stuck or needed a winch to get them moving – and not a single Jeep was damaged during the exercise.
The tires, too, stood up well against the abuse, which included rocks that distorted the sidewalls significantly, holes that literally swallowed the wheels and mud that filled the tread.
The only evidence indicating we were riding on street tires came on some slippery rock faces and mud holes, where physics overpowered the tires, allowing the vehicle to slip sideways. Although they kept on churning, a pure off-road tire would have delivered more stability in those situations.
Quiet and Stable
An off-road tire, however, could never match the quiet, stable ride the Defender delivered on the highway. There was almost zero tire noise emanating from the contact with the road surface. And on gravel-covered secondary roads, the Defender provided excellent grip without sacrificing ride comfort.
Michelin engineers attending the event conceded the off-road challenge was an extreme test for a tire designed for more “conventional” use, but it did demonstrate that this product is more than capable of occasional off-road use.
A farmer needing to drive onto the fields to check crops or livestock; a construction worker who has to get to a job site; a family heading to a remote campsite for the weekend or hauling watercraft or ATVs to a backwoods location – all can do it with the confidence these tires will get them there without issue.
The Defender line, which also includes models for passenger cars, is the most popular family of tires under the Michelin banner. The Defender LTX has been a leader in the replacement market for light trucks and with this new model, the sizing has been extended to include most SUVs and crossovers.
Because the Defender LTX has been so successful, Michelin engineers were careful not to mess things up when they set out to improve it. So rather than remake the tire, this new version is more of an evolution of its predecessor.
Steve Peters, the brand’s marketing manager, said in particular, the changes that have been made are in response to the increasing torque being generated by today’s light trucks and SUV/CUVs.
“Because of the increased torque these vehicles are now producing, we needed to build a tire that was stronger so it would last longer,’ he explained. “Trucks have continued to produce more torque over the last 20 years. In the early 1990s when the Defender was launched, heavy-duty trucks were producing around 400 lb-ft of torque.
"Today, some are generating 900-plus, yet consumers are still expecting to get 50-60,000 kilometres out of their tires. That’s why we needed a tire that could meet the demands of current trucks but still have the extended tread life consumers expect.”
The addition of the new EverTread compound, as well as stronger sidewalls plus other improvements give this new-generation Defender the capabilities Michelin engineers wanted, without compromising ride quality.
Testing in extreme conditions has shown the new tire lasts 10% longer than its predecessor, while its improved traction allows it to stop 10 metres shorter. At 80 km/h, the new Defender LTX stopped in 41.6 metres, which outclassed three competitive light-truck tires, including the Firestone Destination LE2 (44m), Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza Plus(49.6m) and Goodyear Wrangler SR-A (52m.)
Endurance trials over 3,000 kilometres of rough, gravel roads in Spain demonstrated the new tire’s ability to resist the cutting and chunking of its tread. In fact, one of those test tires was fitted to a Jeep we used in our mountain climb – and the tread still looked like new.
The eco-friendly MaxTough construction of this tire puts more tread in contact with the road to evenly distribute the forces of acceleration, braking and cornering, resulting in improved wear and maximum longevity.
The Defender LTX lineup, which has an 80,000 to 115,000-km warranty, will be launched in Canada in September, starting with 23 popular sizes. Additional sizes will be phased in throughout 2015 and into 2016.
Overall, the Defender LTX will be offered in 69 sizes – 45 E-metric sizes for SUVs, crossovers and light trucks; 24 sizes for ¾-ton trucks. Rim sizes range from 15 to 22 inches, with up to 35 inches available in the future. Pricing will be announced later.