If there’s a market that has evolved a great deal in the past few years, it’s been the tire market. So many companies offer so many different options for so many different applications; it can really make one’s head spin sometimes.
A subset of the tire market is the mud terrain segment – big, brash, and bold, these tires are chiefly concerned with off-road prowess, often at the sacrifice of road manners and treadlife. One tire that might change all of that is the Firestone Destination M/T2.
The tire has not yet reached the market (it’s set to launch July 2017), nor have we received a set to throw on a vehicle and test out around our office. For this tire, Firestone went next-level and invited us out to lovely Middleburg, Virginia to put the Destination M/T2 through its paces. I were all for it. All I had to do was say, “YES!” and I was on my way.
Background of the Tire
The Firestone Destination M/T2, the first mud-terrain by Firestone since the launch of the original Destination M/T in 2002.
Firestone’s connection with the off-road scene has sprouted some interesting examples of tires. Current models include the Destination A/T, Destination A/T Special Edition, Transforce AT2, and Destination M/T.
The last of these has been on the market for quite some time, as we learned during the product presentation. Justin Hayes, a product manager for Firestone, schooled us on the development of the M/T2.
“The Destination M/T launched in 2002,” he said. “It’s held its ground and proven itself, but tire years are kind of like dog years, so it’s gotten pretty old. When we think about how much technology has changed since then, it’s been a great deal. And where it concerns tires, the evolution in computer-aided design has enabled us to do incredible things.”
Now, in 2017, Firestone’s aim has gone toward the customer; or, as Justin referred to them, “the Boss.” In the case of the M/T2, the boss is the “work-hard, play-hard” individual – a hard-charging and enthusiastic off-roader that needed capability more than anything else.
Some of the features of the Destination M/T2 were its 23-degree attack angle, three-ply sidewall, and unparalleled chip and tear resistance.
To that end, the M/T2’s features were tailored to off-road performance more than anything. First was the 23-degree attack angle, which dated back to the old-school tractor paddle tires; Hayes called to mind the image of farmers in the early 20th century, driving tractors around on their farms, with tires that had the distinctive overlapping paddle tread blocks.
As Hayes explained, “Over the years, we discovered that if tread blocks were angled at 23 degrees, the tires would achieve maximum traction in dirt conditions. Our consumer tire engineers borrowed this discovery from our agricultural department and put it into the M/T2. This is how we got the term ’23-degree attack angle.'”
The Destination M/T2 will be heading for sale to the public by July 2017.
Another feature of the M/T2 is its three-ply sidewall construction. Hayes made a point to mention that while some tires only run one or two plies in the sidewall, “a tire that’s expected to go off-road benefits from a third ply, as it will help prevent punctures.”
A third feature of the M/T2 was its chip and tear resistance factor. Hayes stated that lugs suffer a lot of strain when starting up fast through gravel from a standstill. However, during testing on the M/T2, Hayes claimed that it was the first tire to ever survive the chip and tear test and retain every single one of its tread blocks.
Was the Destination M/T2 ready to propel the mud-terrain segment to the next level? Read on to find out.
Trail Time Warm-Up
Our testing area was a confidential plot of private land about an hour or two away from Middleburg. Our group consisted of some off-roading experts, but also a fair amount of
“influencers” from YouTube and Instagram. By and large, the influencers were unfamiliar with the ins and outs of driving Jeeps. Some of them had never even been off-road before.
Given this situation, Firestone wisely hired a special group of four-wheelers, known as the Overland Experts (OEX), to coach all of us on off-roading with minimum error and maximum safety. We had a convoy of 12 Jeep Wrangler JKU Rubicons, all given a two-inch lift and 17-inch wheels. In groups of four (three testers and one OEX member) to a Jeep, we set out for adventure.
Our first adventure was on the "NVG Trail", which OEX uses to train military personnel on while using night-vision goggles. Our Jeep performed just fine with the Destination M/T2s.
Our day began with a warm-up trail, where one or two drivers cycled through on a Jeep. We got a tutorial on the virtues of single-gear driving, such that the Jeep did not run in “Drive”, but rather in its gear-select mode, which would prevent the vehicle from hunting for gears and leave the driver in better control.
Coinciding with this was firm OEX instruction that we keep our hands on the 5 and 7 positions on the steering wheel, as well as acclimate to using our left foot for braking. We were also forbidden from using the locking differential, and Traction Control was turned off at all times.
OEX staff were on hand for all aspects of off-road driving. One was always in the passenger seat, while others were outside spotting for vehicles in various obstacles.
Within these constraints, it was a double-edged sword; we weren’t allowed to “get wild” with the Jeep and see how the tires really performed under stress, but we also made it through every obstacle without ever getting stuck and requiring a recovery.
Another odd factor surrounding this experience: half of the Jeeps ran on BF Goodrich KM2s (presumably brand new), which Firestone expected us to compare with the Destination M/T2 and see that the latter was a definite improvement; more on that later.
Here was the first water crossing ditch I had to conquer. Note the MaxTrax just up ahead; definitely not my idea of free-wheel off-roading, but they prevented the Jeep from getting stuck.
The first driver of our Jeep made it to the first serious obstacle of the trail – a water crossing/ditch. The entrance and exit were not in a perfect line with each other, which meant that the driver would have to keep his momentum, while also making precise steering movements. After the third attempt, he made it through.
For the hill climb, the driver used 2nd gear. The Jeep made it up easily, avoiding trees on either side. After this, we circled back to base camp and stopped for lunch.
The Challenge Heats Up
The second trail would have way more challenges to it than the NVG trail. Chief among them was this ravine section, with several snaking turns and slippery mud throughout.
Now that all of us (even the newbies) had some off-road experience under his or her belts, it was time to run through the second trail. This one had a lot more obstacles, including a gnarly, snaking ravine with standing water – and therefore, plenty of mud!
At various points, OEX staff spotted for drivers. Hand gestures – right, left, easy throttle, brake – gave perfect direction. Yours truly drove a KM2-equipped Jeep, and got some behind-the-wheel time.
Drivers got the opportunity to test out both KM2-equipped Jeeps (left) as well as Destination M/T2-equipped Jeeps (right), providing an honest comparison between two mud-terrain contenders.
After making it through the ravine, there was a water crossing leading to an uphill trail to my left. The OEX member told me to apply the brake and “load” the wheels. This meant that they would all grip better when I let go of the brake.
I did so and made it through the stream, no problem; however, I noticed afterward that OEX staff had put MaxTrax for this section, which no doubt gave a leg up to us Jeep drivers. This led to a switchback, a decline, a sharp right turn, and uphill to another switchback.
It was here that I found some large, jagged rocks before a left uphill turn. I took instruction from the OEX guide and eased up onto the rocks, but the KM2s kept slipping. Most likely, this was from leftover mud on the tires and rocks. The guide eventually decided to guide me around the rocks and back onto the trail proper.
The only issue I could find with the KM2s was a tendency to slip on rocks. Other than that, they performed flawlessly (and sometimes with the aid of MaxTrax).
The KM2s pleased me in what they could handle. With the exception of the rocks, the BFGs passed through every obstacle. It should also be mentioned that they did this with no underinflation; all of the Jeeps, whether fitted with KM2s or M/T2s, ran at 37 psi, the recommended stock tire pressure (according to the door code).
I hitched a ride on another Jeep and got to experience the trail again, this time with the M/T2s. Still going slow and steady, and always under the watchful eye of OEX, I made it through all obstacles. There was no section the M/T2 could not conquer (aside from the rocks, which were now completely off-limits), and in that regard, the M/T2 proved itself a worthy mud-terrain.
To be completely honest, the parameters for this tire “test” were puzzling. We never took the tire on-road; we weren’t allowed to take anything faster than 10 mph; and professional spotting meant we made perfect passes through every obstacle, without fail.
If I was supposed to be blown away by how the M/T2 performed, I would say Firestone failed in that regard. Having the competition’s tire there to be compared against was odd, but I respect the spirit of the decision, since it meant that this entire experience wouldn’t just be centered around the M/T2. Rather, it would test the M/T2’s merits against a popular rival, and also show that the M/T2 was capable of doing all of the things its marketing team said it would.
Both tires (KM2 left, M/T2 right) had equal mud-clearing ability. The M/T2's stone ejectors seemed to help a little more with ejecting mud, but that could have been based solely on observing one of each tire. The M/T2 also appeared to have deeper tread depth, and thereby carried more mud than the KM2. Regardless, mud would cake onto either tire, which could lead to reduced performance.
However, while the M/T2 did not surprise me, they did substantially impress me. At 37 psi, the tire took on multiple obstacles and consistently maintained grip. Even in sections where I thought it would certainly bog down, the M/T2 came out victorious.
The M/T2 certainly had the chops to be a serious off-road tire. It looked great, performed finely, and showed itself to be a serious contender in the off-road tire market. The M/T2 will launch in July of this year, and be available in sizes up to 37 inches in diameter. For more information on Firestone’s other offerings, check out the company’s website.