Updated: Mar 21, 2021
A desktop review the heavy-duty AT tyres available for the 200, and why I chose Falken.
Over many years of outback driving and a lots of trial and error, I've developed a solid formula that seems to work: a quality, light truck construction, all-terrain tyre.
(Read about how to choose tyres for outback touring here)
For the 200 Series and its quirky 285/65R17 size, there aren't as many choices that fit this formula as in the more popular sizes, but there are still a few good options. They're all quality brands, they all have a load rating of 120 or better, and they're all within cooee on price.
I narrowed it down to six which meet my criteria (left to right, top to bottom in the image):
Bridgestone Dueler A/T D697
Cooper Discoverer AT3 LT
Falken Wildpeak AT3W
Goodyear Wrangler AT Silenttrac
Mickey Thompson All Terrain 38
Toyo Open Country ATII
Looks are an interesting thing when it comes to tyres. Not so long ago, the biggest choice to make was whether you fitted the white sidewall lettering facing the street like a psychopath, or discreetly facing inwards, like a normal person. Now, lots of companies actually list "attractive tread design" as a marketing feature. I've read reviews where, I shit you not, the journalist claims that he catches people "craning their necks" to check out the tyres he's reviewing.
Aaah.... wot? Who the hell looks at the tread pattern on someone else's tyres and says "ooh, wow, look at those sipes!". No one you want to get stuck talking to at a party, I'll tell you that.
I eliminated the Mickey Thompson and Goodyear upfront, because they're both new designs with little real-world reporting behind them. They might be great or they might be awful, and I don't want to be the first to find out. I don't really have a great track record on picking winners in the new product market - I mean, I signed up for a Google Plus account and I have a shelf full of HD DVDs. I've learnt my lesson.
That left the Bridgestone, Cooper, Falken and Toyo. Frankly there wasn't much to split these up. They each have their own marketing claims: Bridgestone claim the Dueler is designed to resist stone chipping, Cooper can't wait to tell us how they developed their AT3 on Aussie roads, Falken claim the Wildpeak has some kind of magic sidewall cooling system in it, and Toyo claims the AT2 is made under the light of a full moon by sylvan nymphs or something.
If you dismiss all that as bullshit, which 90% of it is, in real world reviews they all seem to be perfectly good tyres.
Real world impressions
I said buying tyres based on looks makes you an idiot, but let's talk about it anyway...
To me, the Falken looks a heap more aggressive than the others in the marketing photos (back at the top of the page) and the Bridgestone looks a bit like a highway tyre. But often real-world impressions don't match the brochure, so I tracked down some real-life pics of the four candidates (left to right, top to bottom: Bridgestone, Cooper, Falken, Toyo).
I reckon the Bridgestone, Cooper, and Toyo all look more aggressive in real life - especially the Toyo! - and the Falken (bottom left) a little bit less. So they're all kind of similar after all. That was a waste of time, wasn't it? This is why you don't buy tyres based on looks...
What would Shane do?
To help me decide I did something crazy... I asked a professional.
I picked up the phone to a local tyre shop and I asked the bloke there for his opinion. I didn't quite catch his name but he sounded like a Shane to me. I imagined Shane displaying two inches of arse crack and being good at recalling rugby league stats. But he knew all four tyres without looking them up, and it turns out Shane has a 200 Series too, so he is clearly a man of good taste.
Actually, Shane's place was the third tyre shop I spoke to. The first one said "mate, I don't have time for this", and cost himself a sale. Shame, he was the closest. Now I can never go there again, just in case he remembers my voice - I can imagine him hanging up after my call, calling in the boys from the workshop, and saying "lads, can you believe this guy? He wanted to ask about fucking tyres! What a dickhead!" and them all laughing at me. It's the curse of the imaginative introvert.
The second shop had a young female receptionist who seemed determined to reinforce every negative stereotype about young female receptionists you could imagine, starting by introducing herself as "Traci-with-an-i". She seemed to have run out of the will to live long ago, so everything I said was met with a sigh and a long pause. She did not appear to know anything about tyres, and was perplexed when I said I wanted six, because, like, cars only have four wheels?
Eventually Traci-with-an-i agreed to go and get The Boss to answer the perplexing riddle of this six-wheeled car. The Boss didn't let me talk much before trying to talk me into fitting 285/70s (read about why I don't want to do that). When I said I wanted to stick with the standard size, he seemed to lose all interest in the sale and gave me back to Traci-with-an-i. I hung up.
So, that's how I ended up with Shane. First, Shane told me to forget the Toyo - reckons he gets a lot of them back in with "problems". He didn't elaborate on what "problems" he might have meant - Fast wear? Rooted sidewall? They're triangular? - but he didn't like them.
Next, Shane described the Bridgestones and Coopers as "alright I guess...", with an unspoken "...if you're into that kind of thing" left hanging in the air, like a disapproving redneck trying to act pleased his son got into dance school. But I couldn't shut him up about how great the Falken was, how they're selling like toilet paper in a pandemic, and how they were (by an amazing coincidence, I'm sure) the only option he had in stock and they were on sale.
Now I'm pretty confident Shane wasn't exactly giving me impartial advice, but his views more or less align with what the internet and my own gut was saying, plus my five year old son thinks they "look cool".
So, Falken it is.
One of my overlanding icons, Andrew St Pierre White from 4xoverland.com, has also chosen the Falken Wildpeak AT3 for his latest project. That's probably the best endorsement I can think of, even if he did get his for free.
I'll post up photos and reviews as I get some miles under the tread.
Every brand/model of tyre has a slightly different design and construction. Some respond to pressure changes differently. After fitting new tyres, take the time to learn the right pressures for them - both visually, and with a TPMS/temperature monitor.
When you hear guys say "I swapped to a Brand X tyre after years of using a Brand Y tyre, and instantly I got five sidewall stakes", you're actually hearing someone tell you they heard once from Old Mate what pressures they should use, and have never bothered adjusting them since.
I've had some tyres that seemed very stiff and liked lower pressures, and others that have seemed quite pliant and preferred higher.
What's your favourite tyre for the outback? Leave a comment!