PEARSALL, Texas — Plans often fail in the execution — sometimes because they were bad ideas in the first place, other times because they were trumped by something better.
My plans to write about the 2010 Infiniti M37 luxury sedan for this column were changed by the opportunity to visit the sprawling Cooper Tire & Vehicle Test Center here to see how professional drivers and engineers evaluate vehicles and the tires they ride on.
We spent much of the day in 2010 Jeep Wrangler Sport 4x4 models riding atop Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ off-road radials.
Marion Lee “Mickey” Thompson was a famed off-road racer who also enjoyed a career as a designer of tires, wheels and other automotive components. His tire and wheel setups are known worldwide for their off-road prowess.
Unfortunately, Thompson’s plans to do even greater things were cut short March 16, 1988, by two thugs who gunned down him and his wife, Trudy, in the driveway of their home in Bradbury, Calif.
Plans are sometimes changed at the barrel of a gun in the wrong hands.
Cooper Tire & Rubber, an American-owned company, long a tire-development and production partner with Thompson, eventually acquired the Mickey Thompson tire brand. As evidenced by the daylong experience here, the company continues to build those tires to Mickey Thompson’s super-tough standards.
We climbed rock-strewn and mirror-smooth inclines, crawled rocks, traversed mud, sand and gravel — all parts of Cooper’s mostly man-made, nearly two-mile off-road facility.
At the end of numerous loops through that mess, accompanied by the unwanted company of black widow spiders, fire ants, scorpions and rattlesnakes, I concluded that the Jeep Wrangler Sport 4x4 was the only vehicle worth taking off road, and that Mickey Thompson rubber was the best way to ensure a reasonably safe and successful off-road trip.
That, of course, was the marketing purpose of the trip. As such, it was only a part of the story.
You would not, for example, want to equip a Jeep or anything else with Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials for sustained city or highway driving. The deep grooves that help channel water and mud, sidewall “teeth” that bite into sand and gravel, and overall tough construction that help you climb rocks are all useful for genuine off-road driving. But they are generally lousy for paved-road ride, handling and fuel economy.
Much of the same is true for the Wrangler Sport 4x4, which is great for off-road driving but completely nonsensical for regular city commutes. Wrangler ride and handling are brutal and clumsy on city roads. Its fuel economy of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway is pathetic for city-suburban trips. It’s a special-purpose truck, not a sedan.
Buy a Wrangler Sport 4x4 only if you intend to use it mostly off-road, or to employ it in climes where roads frequently are covered by gravel, mud, rocks or deep snow. There are many off-road tires out there. But here’s strongly suggesting that you include Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials on your shopping list.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Good off-road ride and handling, at least as good as can be expected on muddy, rocky roads. Our driving was done mostly in first and second gears. Accelerating wasn’t our priority. Speed, in fact, is neither safe nor sensible in most off-road exercises involving rocks, hill climbing, and deep, muddy ditches.
Head-turning quotient: It’s a pugnacious little truck. It doesn’t get much love from the general public.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front/solid rear), anti-lock brake control, electronic braking assistance, electronic stability and traction control, and front air bags with deployment based on weight in protected seats and speed of crash. Please keep in mind that off-road driving inherently involves heightened driving risks.