For most truck and sport-utility owners, Pirelli is not a name that immediately springs to mind when they’re considering all-terrain tires for their rides. But that’s something the Italian performance tire manufacturer is looking to change.
“The market is evolving, and so is the consumer,” said Marco Crola, Chairman and CEO of Pirelli, while introducing the company’s latest tire offering, the Scorpion A/T Plus. “We’re changing as a consequence.” By Pirelli’s estimate, nearly 60 percent of all new vehicle registrations in the US are now SUVs and light trucks, making this a segment that the brand simply cannot ignore.
To that end, Pirelli is looking to bring a premium tire to what they consider to be an under-served niche of the market. “We are not introducing the A/T Plus just for the sake of a new product,” explained Pirelli’s Andrea Clerici. “It addresses a specific gap in the market.”
We headed out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to put the Scorpion A/T Plus through a series of tests on and off-road not only to get a firsthand look at exactly what that gap entails, but also to get a better sense of Pirelli’s overall strategy in finding a foothold within a part of the industry that’s already populated with a number of trusted, well-established players.
Form and Function
While Pirelli is looking to make inroads into the truck and SUV market, it’s worth noting that the Scorpion A/T Plus is not the company’s first foray into producing an all-terrain tire. The A/T Plus is the successor to the Scorpion ATR, a tire which Steve Carpino, Pirelli’s head of research and development, says was originally tied too closely to an automaker’s specifications for its own good. “That doesn’t always translate well to what the replacement market is looking for,” he noted.
Carpino says that’s not only a matter of capability, but of aesthetic as well. To address those issues, the Scorpion All Terrain Plus gets a next-generation compound that Pirelli says is optimized for wear, durability, and traction, while delivering balanced performance in both on and off-road driving situations. The new tire also gets a revised look as well, with a more aggressive tread pattern and upper sidewall design that’s been developed to not only bolster capability, but also provide the kind of beefed-up look that truck and SUV owners in this segment are looking for.
It’s a significantly chunkier, more capable vibe than the ATRs, due in part to an overall increased width from the redesigned upper sidewall. Pirelli says it not only gives the tires more visual presence, but it also affords additional protection against impacts and punctures. “When the customer is looking to make this purchase in a tire store or on a website, the visual aspect is hugely important,” Carpino said. “We have just a few seconds to catch the customer’s attention.”
Pirelli notes that when it comes to all-terrain tires, statistics show that roughly 95 percent of their use is on-road rather than out in the dirt. That means attributes like dry handling, road noise, and ride comfort were important considerations in Scorpion All Terrain Plus’s development. These were attributes that Pirelli sought to highlight (along with the tire’s off-road prowess) during our visit to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Tackling The Terrain
While an all-terrain tire like the Scorpion A/T Plus might spend the majority of its time on pavement, Pirelli is well aware that many of these customers will do their fair share of motoring where the pavement ends. Our first test brought us to a course filled with steep terrain and loose surfaces, giving us a chance to see how the tire fared during low-speed, low-grip maneuvering. The Scorpion All Terrain Plus has a number of enhancements versus its predecessor for this kind of work, such as deeper tread grooves, which have conical stone ejectors that force small stones out from the tread.
Pirelli also points out that snow traction was improved enough to earn the coveted three-peak snowflake sidewall marking. A day spent in the Nevada desert didn’t offer much opportunity to put that particular claim to the test, though.
When considering a tire’s overall grip in loose terrain, it can be tricky to ascertain how much of the work is being performed by the tire versus the vehicle’s traction and stability control systems. Still, both the late model Ford F-150s and Ram 1500s we used in these technical sections felt sure-footed throughout this course.
The second phase of our mixed terrain testing brought us to a course designed for faster transitions between mud, standing water, gravel, and pavement. Here, the stone ejectors proved their worth. We noted very few rocks being tossed up into the wheel wells after transitions from muddy gravel to pavement at high speed.
The tires offered confidence here, too, recovering quickly from the over-zealous cornering maneuvers we tried in the rut-filled, muddy sections. They also had stability and grip on the dry, high-speed pavement sections situated around the course.
Next, we headed to the road course. With these all-terrain tires’ expected use, providing on-road capability with solid ride comfort and minimal road noise was crucial to the Scorpion A/T Plus’s success. To that end, Pirelli set us loose on a section of the infield sports car course to the put the tire’s dry, high-speed handling to the test.
Keeping in mind that the A/T Plus is an all-terrain tire rather than a dedicated road tire, its behavior on-course was admirable. It provided plenty of audible warning as we approached the limits of grip and gave way predictably. This allowed us to get the vehicle recomposed quickly with minimal throttle and steering correction.
While stability and predictable handling at pace are fundamental attributes for any tire, noise and comfort levels are of central importance too. “The internal structure of the tire is closely related to noise and comfort levels, and that’s something the customer evaluates every time they get in the vehicle,” Carpino said. “It’s the first thing they will notice when they roll out of the shop.” Considering the Scorpion A/T Plus’s beefed-up tread pattern and sidewall design, the lack of tire roar was impressive, especially since our pace often exceeded that of typical freeway speeds.
Though Pirelli expects this kind of use to comprise just five percent of its service life, providing consumers with a higher level of off-road confidence was a central goal with the Scorpion All Terrain Plus as well. “When our customers need to go into the woods, we want them to have the confidence that this tire will be able to get them back out,” Carpino commented.
With that in mind, our test session took us to a muddy off-road course with a collection of stadium racing-style jumps, washboard sections, and other features. These obstacles would demand every bit of the all-terrain tire’s capability for drivers who like tackling the rough stuff with a heavy right foot.
The Scorpion A/T Plus’s stability through deep, muddy ruts and the slippery washboard sections gave us enough confidence to push harder with each successive lap. We dipped deeper into the throttle on corner exits and laid into the brakes later and with more force as we saw that the tires were up to the task. Early throttle application out of the corners in our Tacoma tester would of course send the back end out, but the truck never felt out of its element or really struggling to find traction, even on fast, mid-corner bumps.
We couldn’t help but wonder if some of that was by design when Carpino noted that “the customer is not asking if it’s the best tire on the market, they’re asking if the tire is meeting their expectations.” That may be true for a significant portion of the buyers in this segment, yet there’s an argument to be made that Pirelli might be underestimating the demands of truck and SUV owners who specifically seek out all-terrain rubber for their vehicles.
On the whole, the Scorpion A/T Plus delivers a significantly beefed-up look compared to its predecessor, and the addition of the three-peak snowflake certification should give drivers in colder climates some peace of mind when it comes to the tire’s ability to handle severe winter weather conditions. Pirelli’s design emphasis on delivering ride comfort and low road noise levels over outright off-road capability might disappoint buyers who are seeking a more performance-focused package, but that’s what mud tires are for, right?
The Scorpion A/T Plus is available now in 15 different sizes ranging from 16-inch to 20-inch wheel diameters, with an additional eight sizes joining the range by the third quarter of this year.