HWT All-Terrain Tire Test

Updated Dec 11, 2014

Nitto EXO Grappler_BS20953On The Road With Nitto Exo Grappler AWTs

All-terrain tires take a step toward the cool side; gravel roads and winter driving conditions well-suited for the newest Nitto pickup tire

Gravel roads do a number on light truck tires, shredding off the miles and hammering rock chips deep into the tread.

Find a tire that has harder rubber slows the wear and tear, but then cold-weather performance suffers.

Mud-type tires’s heavy lugs provide excellent traction in mud and loose soil, and their open tread design sheds pesky rocks.  But they wear fast, are noisy on the open road, and don’t work that great in winter driving conditions.

All-terrain tires wear better, are quieter, and have better traction in wet or winterish conditions. But they lack the grip of a mud tire in many off-pavement work settings. 

Finding the right tire for work trucks, especially pickups, always seems to be a compromise.

But there may be a new light-truck tire that provides the best of both worlds – and takes winter traction a step closer to  that of a snow tire: the Nitto Exo Grappler AWT.

Nitto calls the newest entry to their light-truck tire line an “All weather traction tire.”  The target user: those whose journeys take them over gravel roads, farmlands and off-road trails – and road construction jobsites.

The Exo’s have an “alpine” three-peak mountain snowflake rating, indicating they meet the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association’s and the Rubber Association of Canada’s snow performance traction requirements, which is a step above the typical “M&S” ratings.

That improved winter performance comes from a special tread compound Nitto uses in the Exo they say improves it’s flexibility in sub-freezing temperatures – and special sipes, grooves and biting edges built into the tread design itself that help get a better grip in snow.

As for making the Exo’s better at shedding rocks while minimizing tread wear and chunking, these new tires incorporate high-strength polymers, natural rubber and other wear-resistant materials.

There’re also tiny stone ejectors and gear-shaped “steps” along the base of the center tread blocks that help prevent small rocks and rock chips from wedging in.

Traction comes in the form of a more open, aggressive “all-terrain” tread pattern with large sidewall lugs similar to what you see in mud tires.

Exo Grapplers do a good job slinging rocks and light mud. They also excel at providing traction on wet-pavement.Exo Grapplers do a good job slinging rocks and light mud. They also excel at providing traction on wet-pavement.

How do they work? We had the guys at Tire Factory Eugene (Oregon) put a set of LT265/70R17 Exo Grapplers on a 2004 Toyota Tundra 4×4 work truck, replacing a set of well-worn Nokian Vatiiva’s with 30,000 miles on them. The Nokian’s were passenger car style and the Nittos true LTs (light truck). 

We took the Tundra with the “stock” tires out on a loop over miles of twisty, paved country roads, BLM and Forest Service gravel back roads, up to a logging operation’s work site, and then out on the interstate.  

Then we repeated the same test loop with the Exo Grapplers.

The ride difference between the two tires was immediate. Even though the Nittos ride is slightly stiffer due to the stronger sidewalls, on the larger bumps, expansion joints and potholes, they seem to absorb the impact more and give an overall  smoother ride than the previous tires.

The Exos also improved steering response, which was especially noticeable on rain-slicked pavement and gravel roads, and improved the truck’s overall feeling of cornering stability.

As for road noise, the Exo’s exhibit a slight increase in tone, but not volume; our digital sound recorder noted no difference in noise levels between the old tires and new. (Nitto uses computers to design the tread blocks so they naturally keep harmonics and noise minimized at highway speeds.)

Work trucks that spend a lot of time driving on loose gravel or on road repair sites will find the Exo Grappler performs well.Work trucks that spend a lot of time driving on loose gravel or on road repair sites will find the Exo Grappler performs well.

When it comes to off-pavement/off-road traction improvement, as expected the overall difference is dramatic between the all-season Nokians and the all-terrain Nitto Exo Grapplers.

The Nittos excel at slinging light mud and rocks (as I found out while taking photos from the rear at a logging site!), and have no problem gripping loose soil and gravel.

While it’s not a fair comparison between all-season and all-terrain, used and new tires, we have tested enough new tires of various makes and styles to know the difference in the way the Nitto Exo Grapplers perform places them in the upper levels of premium light-truck tires.

But there’s more testing still to do. The winter snows have yet to fall in the area where I live in Oregon, but they are not far off.

When the roads do turn white, we’ll take a road trip into the surrounding mountains to see how well these new Nitto Exo Grappler AWTs live up to their alpine designation.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue our long-term testing of the Exos.