OUTBACK TEST: COOPER TIRES AT3
THE CORNER COUNTRY IS BRUTAL, MAKING IT THE PERFECT LOCATION FOR A FINAL TORTURE TEST OF THE ALL-NEW AT3 BEFORE IT HITS THE MARKET.
i T’S BLOODY hot. Even in the shade of the Cameron Corner Store’s veranda area, this February day’s heat is hard to escape. This short respite for lunch interrupts what has been a rugged four days of punishment for not only drivers and vehicles but, most importantly, for the all-new Cooper Tires AT3 tyre. In fact, that should be plural. Responding to consumer demand – and in a claimed market first – Cooper Tires is releasing three variants of the AT3. Yep, off-road tourers are seriously over-indulged by the US tyre giant.
“Research has revealed that consumer preferences for all-terrain tyres vary with the size of the tyre,” says Andrew Collings, Exclusive Tyres’ marketing manager (Exclusive is Cooper Tires’ Australian distributor). “After extensive research and testing, Cooper decided to offer the AT3 in a lighter duty P-metric and heavier duty Light Truck configuration, depending on the consumer’s need.
“The new AT3 line includes three distinct all-season, all-terrain configurations; for SUVS (AT34S), utes and heavy-duty 4WDS (AT3 LT and AT3 XLT).”
The AT3 LT offers what Cooper Tires dubs Durable-tread Technology, where its new coupled silica tread compound – designed to optimise resistance to cuts and chips, as well as increase traction and extend the life of the tyre’s tread – is combined with the tyre’s particular tread pattern. The AT3 XLT adds “rugged traction shoulders” (read: sidebiters) in some larger sizes for extra grip in extreme off-road terrain such as mud-filled ruts, as well as extra puncture and staking resistance.
Brisbane-based Exclusive Tyres has brought a big team out here that includes two Cooper Tire & Rubber Company’s US engineers – Ken Reuille, a regular visitor to Oz, and first-timer Martin Kaufman – to see if this latest incarnation of one of the company’s most popular hoops is a step up from the previous-gen AT3.
The route encompasses a 985km sealed road run to Thargomindah, then looping through Innamincka, Cameron Corner, Bulloo Downs and Tibooburra – and will, by week’s end, have totalled just over 4000km. It means the tyres cop a stern test in country they’ll be used in.