Snow whirled out of the darkness, disappearing into the night as quickly as it came. My weary headlights were hardly up to the task, and the mountain roads seemed to curve sharper and harder as the weather raged on. We were in Colorado, and just a few hours ago I had asked my girlfriend, now fiancé, to marry me. Still somewhat in a daze, I looked over at her. She was slumped in her chair, lulled to sleep by the repetitive crunch of ice on the wiper blades. Smiling, I turned my attention back to the road and felt my blood run cold. Brake lights flashed before me and seemed to blur into headlights as the car in front of us spun. I pumped the brakes hard and cursed myself for not paying attention; we were too close. I braced for an impact I was sure would come, but to my surprise our tires held, and the Excursion began to slow. I directed it to the softer snow on the shoulder and brought it to a stop. The sedan in front of us had hit a snow drift and was now sideways, but safe. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and put the truck in park. That was not the sort of tire test I had in mind.
I’ve never liked the label of mud terrain. It suggests that for some reason a tire with an aggressive tread pattern is only suitable for mud, while its more mild brethren can tackle all terrains without limitation. Obviously, this is not the case. While the M/T tires of old may have struggled on surfaces like snow and pavement, newer generations are able to do more than just cope with these conditions—they thrive in them. Just about every company has brought their own version of these modern mud tires to the market now, but one of the most notable was the Wildpeak M/T from Falken. This tire has been in development for some time, and after several iterations and repeated delays, we finally got our chance to evaluate a set on our Ford Excursion project vehicle.
Whether we like it or not, the majority of us spend 90 percent of our time on pavement, so it would make sense that we’d want our tires to work well on it. Unfortunately, this is where M/Ts traditionally performed poorly, but thanks to modern tire technology, this is beginning to change.
Instead of focusing on just the off-road aspects of the tire, tire engineers are putting considerable effort into sculpting a product versatile enough for daily driving, and the team at Falken tire is no exception. They started by using a low void ratio (the proportion of tread block to the space between them) to keep a larger portion of rubber in contact with the ground at all times. This improved traction on hard surfaces considerably, giving the tire improved cornering, braking, and acceleration characteristics on dry roads. It was the performance in wet and icy conditions that impressed me more though. A rain storm or heavy snow on pavement was pretty much the kiss of death to a traditional mud tire, but the Falkens maintained grip surprisingly well, and even saved my butt in the snow scenario I mentioned in the introduction. While traction will never be as favorable on snow or in rain as in dry conditions, these M/T’s handle the situation better than I could have hoped for.
Another common problem with mud tires is the outrageous howl they produce on the highway. It’s easy to notice, and hard to fix, yet Falken’s variable three pitch tread pattern did wonders for correcting the issue. While I don’t think any M/T can be considered quiet, the Wildpeak was substantially better than the mud terrains I ran on my first four-wheel drive years ago. (Update: As we’ve driven thousands more miles on these mud terrains their howl has increased above when this review was written. This is to be expected from any M/T with time, but they’ve also become harder to balance inducing some vibration in the ride. It should also be noted that we ran the Falkens on a 7″ wide wheel, despite the minimum wheel width being 8″, which could have been part of the problem. – Chris C.)
Additional road performance was gained by adding heat diffusers into the sidewalls. These help to dissipate the high temperatures that build up at speed or when towing, keeping the rubber cooler, and therefore more stable and predictable. This is a big deal for anyone who hauls a trailer, but especially for those of us with full-size vehicles hauling heavy loads.
Since we took our Excursion from 255/85s and no lift to a 4-inch lift, 35-inch tires, and a front bumper with a winch, I can’t objectively evaluate the impact on fuel economy. However, our contributor Chris Ramm has reported a 1.5 mpg drop on his Cherokee after switching from a set of Cooper AT3’s to Wildpeak M/Ts. That’s not surprising, given how heavy these tires are. Comparing 315/75/R16 models, the Wildpeak M/T is nearly 9 pounds heavier than the Cooper STT Pro, and over 11 pounds heavier than the BFG KM2. They weigh in at 77.8 pounds per tire without the wheel. That’s a whole lot of mass to rotate.
So now the moment of truth: How do they perform off-road? After all, that is why you’re buying them right?
As you may have guessed from my introduction, snow performance is quite good for an M/T. Despite the reduced contact patch of the mud terrains versus traditional tires, the Wildpeak M/T’s low void ratio helps it retain traction, while the tread pattern ejects excess build up from between the blocks. While I expect to see any tire worth its salt clear itself out, the Falken did so faster and more completely than I had expected, even at full air pressure.
On dirt and gravel roads, the Wildpeak M/T’s are predictable and comfortable. They refrain from drifting or stepping out on heavy corrugations, and they respond to steering inputs without excessive movement in the sidewalls. They even do a great job of ejecting rocks stuck between the lugs. This is due to their step down tread blocks, which Falken claims increase rigidity and stability while reducing the chances of rocks becoming lodged in the tread voids. It seemed a little gimmicky at first, but I guess you can’t argue with results.
Mud performance is obviously excellent, and I’ve yet to encounter a situation that I couldn’t drive through with ease. As with snow, the grooves between the tread blocks clear out quickly, giving the tire a clean bite with each rotation. Their traction is so good that I went through an entire trip before realizing my Excursion’s four-wheel drive was not functioning, despite several mud holes and deep sand.
Above photo by Sarah Ramm
In technical situations, the M/Ts were equally proficient. They grip well on slick rock despite the change to a firmer compound during development, and the aggressive tread pattern helps them to ascend ledges and other obstacles more easily. When aired down, they do a great job of conforming to the terrain, and their sidewalls remain solid enough to drop air pressure considerably without rolling the bead.
I was impressed by the improvement in lateral traction over my old BFGs though. The Falken’s offset block pattern and smaller gaps help the vehicle to track straight, and I found the Excursion to be much more stable in off-camber situations. This was especially welcome on shelf roads, where the pucker factor is highest.
Cherokee photos by Sarah Ramm
Of course, we can’t talk about off-road performance without mentioning durability, and this tire has it in abundance. Remember all that weight? This is where it pays off. The Wildpeak M/T features Falken’s proprietary Duraspec three-ply sidewall with an additional two-ply turn-up for reinforcement against tears and punctures. On top of that, a series of shoulder blocks are offset against the top portions of the sidewall, which grant even more grip and protection on the trail. I’ve dragged the sidewalls against ragged stone edges, rolled over glass, hit sharp rocks I thought would surely puncture through, and even performed an unintentional torture test of dragging the tread against a misinstalled suspension bolt, but I have yet to experience a single leak. I did, however, manage to take a chunk or two out of the rear tire tread blocks when I spun against some rocks. No critical damage was done though, so I can’t fault them too much for that driver error.
Tread Life and Wear
Since November of last year I’ve put just under 14,000 miles on these Falken M/Ts while crossing terrains stretching from California to Texas. They’ve seen dirt, mud, snow, sand, and rocks like you wouldn’t believe, with large doses of pavement in between, and so far they’ve handled it quite well. We have seen some cupping and feathering now that the tire is approaching 15,000 miles, and that has lead to some increased noise and vibration. Still, at 14,000 miles driven since install, our tread depth is coming in at an average of 17.25/32″. That means that given the purchase tread depth of 21/32″, and a minimum replacement of 4/32″, we’ve used 22 percent of the tire’s lifespan. For those doing the math, that would mean a total lifespan of 63,259 miles, but don’t count on that. I suspect deterioration rates will increase with time, but even so, I’m thrilled with the tread life they’ve displayed thus far.
At the end of the day, the Falken M/Ts are a pretty good choice for an M/T. They look great, have tackled everything I’ve needed them to off-road, are tough as nails, and are still comfortable enough for commutes and long trips on the road. They’re even cheaper than the competition, coming in at $222 a tire in 315/75/R16 on Discount Tire’s website. Compared to the current list price of the BFG KM2 at $277 or the STT Pro at $307, you could be saving a decent chunk of change.
So if you’re looking for an aggressive off-road tire that handles the challenges of the trail without breaking the bank, the Falken Wildpeak M/T is hard to beat.
For more information, take a look at Falken’s website here.