RUBICON TRAIL, Calif.—They say that learning to off-road by taking on this eight-mile adventure through the Sierras is like learning to boogie board at the Banzai Pipeline. It was a double-sided introduction: my first time off pavement. Goodyear's marketing czars, showing that they didn't have rocks in their heads, trotted out Goodyear's new premiere mud, rock and snow tamer, the Wrangler MT/R by gathering the media in Lake Tahoe to take on the legendary Rubicon.
The MT/R (MT=Maximum Traction; R=Reinforced) will be on display at the SEMA Show/International Tire Expo in November and will be formally introduced in January at Goodyear's dealer conference, both in Las Vegas. The tire features a new tread design for improvements in traction, self-cleaning and uniform wear.
Notable are large tread lugs and wide shoulder blocks for off-road acceleration and braking and a design that puts the sidewalls to work when the best (or only) path is to clamber up, between rocks and drive the vehicle ``Spiderman'' style, wedged between the rock surfaces.
The all-season, off-road tire's 3-ply sidewall construction relies in large part on a proprietary silica-carbon black formulation for strength, durability and puncture resistance.
Dubbed ``Durawall,'' the sidewalls are 35-percent less vulnerable to puncture. Goodyear said the MT/R showed a 15-percent improvement in dirt, gravel and grass, 7.5-percent better snow traction and 5.5-percent more grip in water.
Engineers literally shaped up the MT/R, calling for a square footprint that the manufacturer claims delivers 74-percent more tread life.
The MT/R will be available in nine sizes: 3029.50R15, 31210.50R15, 32211.50R15, 33212.50R15, 35212.50R15, LT235/75R15, LT245/75R16 E, LT285/75R16 D and LT235/85R16 E.
Naturally, Goodyear wouldn't let the media wring out its newest Wrangler without making sure they'd perform. Prep school for the ``R'' began last fall when veteran racer Walker Evans, supposedly known as ``Mr. Wrangler'' around Goodyear, used them in competition in Crandon, Wis. They were shown off at Moab, Utah, and the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis.
But even Goodyear's Jim Alexander was surprised at the MT/R's mountain-goat prowess. ``Isn't this something?'' he asked a reporter as he piloted a Jeep TJ, stock except for skid plates and the MT/Rs, over and between boulders.
I had the good fortune of riding shotgun with Mr. Alexander, marketing manager of Goodyear's racing tire division. Though the MT/R was designed for ``extreme'' off-roading (part of the MT/R launch is Goodyear's sponsorship of the Extreme Rockcrawling Series) we both preferred drinking in the beauty of the Sierras, and appreciated the vistas the Jeep/Wrangler combination allowed us to take in as we climbed—and in some places, crawled—up regular roads, granite boulders and mud.
As Sugar Fields, a 65-year-old grandmother and Cincinnati-area off-road advocate, explained, four-wheeling is not just about testosterone-laced risk-taking. ``This is about family. When a child grows up with a mommy and a daddy who do this stuff, they'll want to do the same thing with their family.
``When you're 424-ing, you're not riding past the mountains, you're riding inside the mountains. There's an education that can't be gotten anywhere else.''
It'd be tempting to call the MT/R the Charles Bronson of tires: rugged looks and quiet toughness. But—time to let the air out of another macho stereotype—behind this tire was 33-year-old tire engineer Stephanie Brown, who, after overseeing various aspects of research and development, was on hand for the ``debut party.''
In the end, several writers from the serious off-road magazines made it a point to congratulate Ms. Brown and her colleagues. Out on the trail they tried to find a weak spot in the MT/R, driving them against sharp rocks. These journalists—hard-core enthusiasts themselves and jaded by marketing claims—were amazed that they couldn't produce a single permanent blemish, let alone a blowout due to a sidewall cut or puncture.
Two Goodyear dealers who were along on the trip—Scott Creighton, of Colony Tire in North Carolina, and Chris Mitsos of Mountain View Tire in California—also lauded the new tire.
About the only thing missing are cleats on the Goodyear winged-foot logo. And while the company says the ``R'' in MT/R is for ``reinforced,'' to this off-road newbie, it'll always connote ``Rubicon.''
Mr. Yip is a freelance writer based in California.