Now that we’ve brought Project XtremeJ to the pinnacle of its Jeep perfection, it’s time to get the rig out in the dirt and see how it does. We’ve done the suspension, drivetrain, rooftop, and everything in between. Now, the cherry on top (or bottom, to be blunt) is the footwear – Dick Cepek Trail Country EXP tires (PN 74752) and Dirty Life DT-2 wheels (PN 9304-7973MB12).
From the beginning, we always pictured XtremeJ as a Jeep that could go out and conquer the terrain. It’s been given just about every advantage imaginable, from Bilstein shock absorbers to Currie axles to Eaton lockers. All of the accessories – rooftop storage, lighting, bumpers, etc. – are taken care of. All that’s left is to make sure all of the torque can get put to good use, and that’s where the tires and wheels come into play.
Knowing is half the battle, as they say. And we know that all-terrains like the Trail Country EXP have a better track record of making a difference in the wilderness, compared to highway tires. So let’s dive in and see what makes these tires tick.
We spoke with Joe Podlovits, VP of Marketing for Dirty Life’s parent company, The Wheel Group. He was able to explain what goes into the wheels and the testing procedure involved.
“Our Dirty Life Dual-Tek wheels are manufactured using 356-T6 aluminum material,” he said. “It’s a resilient alloy with excellent mechanical and thermal properties and is also the most widely used alloy for one-piece cast-aluminum wheels. The wheel is manufactured using a low-pressure die casting (LPDC) method. This is a more precise method of manufacturing which reduces oxide formation and prevents porosity in the wheel.”
Testing the DT-2 was also an important part of the development process. “We spend countless hours field testing our Dual-Tek series,” said Podlovits. “We test in both the standard mounting method along with beadlock mounting positions, ensuring the wheel holds up under virtually any use in any condition. We’ve tested with desert race teams, rock crawling teams, hardcore trail enthusiasts and weekend warriors alike. The end result is a wheel that is proven in the harshest conditions by some of the most skilled drivers.”
As for the tire, it’s no slouch either. As we learned from Ben Anderson, a member of the Dick Cepek Product Development team, the Trail Country EXP is meant to give off-roaders the confidence to take on the trail less traveled. “While the Trail Country EXP is considered an all-terrain tire, it is truly an all-terrain/mud-terrain hybrid, offering many of the benefits of both tires,” he said.
The EXP’s capabilities start with a silica-reinforced compound. “This compound is good against wear, as well as cut and chip resistance,” said Anderson. “It also offers excellent performance on wet roads.”
Building onto the compound are the tread blocks. “The EXP’s tread elements are much larger and there are fewer of them, which creates wider voids,” commented Anderson. “Also, the high-tensile body ply cord is engineered to be very durable, lightweight, and promote better ride comfort.”
On surface streets, the Trail Country EXP had no trouble getting around. If anything, it was the rest of the Jeep that was having problems. Going over some of the newly minted potholes and cracks in the asphalt, the XJ would do an impression of Jell-O and wiggle front to back for several feet afterward. We weren’t sure what the problem was, but it wasn’t the tires’ fault.
On the contrary, the tires performed flawlessly. We had solid traction going into and coming out of corners. It was impressive how poised and confident the Jeep could be coming to a stop. It’s probably for the best that the 4.0-liter I6 isn’t powerful enough to spin the tires, because we would have tried!
Road noise was slim to none. I was able to keep the XJ up at a decent speed and found the noise was unobtrusive. I could talk with my coworker and not have to shout over the sound of the tires. All in all, the Trail Country EXP has road manners befitting a gentleman.
Honestly, you can’t take a Jeep out just to get groceries. Project XtremeJ was built to take on rough terrain, and we were determined to get it out and up on some mountains, sand, rocks, and more.
Once we were done taking on the brutal pavement of Southern California, we headed to some local trails and put the EXPs through their paces. We maintained tire pressure going from the street onto the dirt, just to see how grippy the tires could be. To our appeasement, the EXPs held their own.
Out at Daggett Creek Path in Perris, California, we took the Jeep up considerable inclines. No doubt the Eaton Detroit Locker came in handy, making sure the rearend was getting power to both wheels, but the EXPs followed their orders. We found rocky patches with loose gravel and took the XJ up without issue, even as rocks began to slide over each other. Slow and steady is always the name of the game when it comes to rock crawling.
We brought the Jeep back to our office to test out some sand traction. Sand has a notorious way of getting vehicles stuck, especially soft-packed sand. It moves almost like water, displacing the pressure over trillions of grains of sand and preventing a solid contact patch from forming. Airing down helps here, but we opted to see how far the tires could go at normal pressure.
The answer – we didn’t go as far as we wanted to. Thankfully, we didn’t get buried, but we quickly realized that the tires reached their limit in soft-packed sand. Engaging the lockers and 4-Low, we managed to get out of trouble, and pressed on.
For some higher-speed testing, we found a straightaway that would let us keep our speed up. It was about an eight-mile of dirt on level ground, with occasional divots and holes to encourage a little steering input.
We managed to get XtremeJ up to about 40 miles an hour on this narrow, bumpy trail. Driving with a focused mindset was essential here, as we had a couple of close calls, but the tires gave us sure footing as we scooted around holes and other hazards.
Dick Cepek made a new all-terrain worthy of praise. The Trail Country EXP has on-road refinement that will make a daily driver/4×4 driver happy.
On-road, the EXP has all of the comforts one expects from modern-day tires. It offers good grip and turning ability, as well as stopping performance. Best of all, it won’t butt into the conversation or drown out the radio. Off-road, the tires outdid themselves, giving us traction when we needed it most. Even in soft-packed sand, the bane of every rig’s existence, it got us out of trouble and back on firmer ground.