I muttered more than a few colorful words after I got a look at the passenger side front tire of our 2007 Ford Explorer. It’s ostensibly the family work truck – responsible for equipment hauling, dog shuttling, and the majority of the everyday driving my wife and I do in general. It basically needs to work 100% of the time, and that reliability was recently put into peril because of a tire problem.
Purchased as a replacement for our previous Explorer (rest in peace, 2003 XLT), this new-to-us model came with an almost-new set of Yokohama YK580s when we bought the truck a year and a half ago. 18,000 miles and at least one tire rotation later and the three of the tires were nearly done for, while the front-passenger one was already well past its expiration date, replete with a nail in the rubber that drew additional attention to a shoulder block that was almost ready to show its steel belts.
Clearly the nail was an issue that needed to be addressed immediately, but the uneven tread wear was also disconcerting, as was the surprisingly short tread life in general. The upshot of all this was that we were going to need a new set of tires after just a year of more-or-less normal street driving in Los Angeles. Keen to improve the situation in all aspects, if possible, I reached out to the folks at BFGoodrich to see what they could recommend.
Picking The Right Tool For The Job
While BFG offers a wide range of tires with OEM fitments for Ford Explorers, including performance-focused options like the All-Terrain T/A KO2, our Explorer is a Limited trim. As such, it’s outfitted with a unique 18-inch OEM wheel that necessitates a relatively oddball tire size of 235/65R18. That factor alone narrowed the search down substantially, eventually leading us to the Advantage T/A Sport LT.
Tires like the Advantage T/A Sport LT have a seemingly straight-forward intended application – on-road, all-season capability. But as BFGoodrich’s Andrew Comrie-Picard explains, the demands placed on this tire are actually more wide-ranging than that of, say, a high-performance summer tire, where the main focus is much narrower.
“The big challenge in designing tires are the trade-offs that have to be made,” he says. “It’s easy to make a tire if you focus on one aspect – the real challenge for engineers comes when you’re trying to do several things at once. When you want the tire to, for example, be tractable, quiet and good for everyday use, but also provide performance in a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, you’re suddenly trying to break every inherent trade-off involved in designing a road tire.”
In the case of the BFGoodrich Advantage T/A Sport LT, that led engineers to bake an array of distinct features into the tire aimed at providing a wide scope of capability. “BFGoodrich is, at its core, a performance tire brand,” Comrie-Picard says. “And even in an all-season application like the Advantage T/A Sport, that’s still part of the DNA. Most folks probably won’t be using these tires at the track, but that extra edge of performance is something that can come in handy when a ball bounces into the road and you need to brake in as short of a distance as possible, or you have to swerve around someone on their phone.”
“Some companies will say that they have ways to evacuate water out of the side of the tire – it’s bunk.”
But the design considerations go well beyond just maximizing dry grip. “There’s a lot of practical features built in as well,” he notes. “You’ll notice the tire has large tread blocks on the sides that wrap over the top a little bit. That’s there because of tire deflection, which is a situation where you’re going around a corner and the tire rolls slightly under the rim, as tires do. Beyond being a visual signature of BFGoodrich, those tread blocks promote more stability since there’s not an abrupt change in the performance characteristics from the contact patch as it transitions from section to section, and they also provide a bit of extra protection and durability when dealing with rocks and other objects that could potentially damage the sidewall.”
Comrie-Picard also points out that the design’s focus on low rolling resistance and minimal road noise levels equates to improved fuel economy as well. “You’ll notice that the center tread band design weaves back and forth. Not only does that give the tire complimentary harmonics to the other tread blocks, which in turn reduces noise as the tire rolls along the road, it also improves the tire’s uptake on the road. If what you’re trying to do is preserve as much energy as possible to improve efficiency, noise and heat are the enemy of fuel economy – both are the release of energy. So if you can minimize those issues, it will yield better mileage as well.”
And it should come as no surprise that BFGoodrich also took some measures to ensure the tire could hold its own in less-than-perfect weather. “In an all-season tire that’s going to see a broad spectrum of conditions, efficient channeling of water is crucial,” Comrie-Picard adds. “Some companies will say that they have ways to evacuate water out of the side of the tire – it’s bunk. You can evacuate less than five percent of the water that a tire hits on its face out of the side because of hydraulic pressure.”
Instead, you have to find places for that water to go, and that’s where the tread voids come in. “They give the water some place to go that isn’t the surface of the tread in order to prevent hydroplaning,” he continues. “There’s also a visual signature in the tread that we call the “Raptor claws.” Those are derived from the all-terrain side – they’re tapered in depth as you go down the claw, so as it gets wider it also gets deeper. That also provides a place for the water to go while keeping the tread blocks stable.”
So while the Advantage T/A Sport LT is asked to perform in a wide range of use cases, BFGoodrich has clearly put effort toward creating a diverse skill set to make sure it’s up to the task. To see if translates to better performance out on the road, I had the set mounted and balanced, and after having a front-end alignment performed for good measure, I headed out for a shakedown drive.
On The Road
The first immediate benefit of the BFGoodrich versus the outgoing set (aside from their far better condition) is the fact that they are the correct OEM tire size. Compared to the Yokohamas that the former owner put on, which were 245/60R18, the Advantage T/A Sports are slightly narrower and taller.
It doesn’t hurt that the beefed-up sidewalls of the Advantage T/A Sport LT give the Explorer an added dose of visual appeal.
Simply switching to properly sized tires can potentially translate to both improved ride quality, due to the additional sidewall functioning as part of the suspension, as well as marginally improved handling. The latter is a function of the sidewall deflection that Comrie-Picard pointed out earlier, which is an inherent side effect during cornering, and can be exaggerated when tires that are too wide for the wheel they’re mounted on are subjected to high lateral loads.
Los Angeles may be short on bad weather during the late spring, but it didn’t take long to note the benefits of the Advantage T/A Sport LT. Handling, particularly during initial turn-in, feels a bit sharper and more immediate on the BFGs, while overall ride quality has also benefited from the swap – and that’s despite the fact that those characteristics are normally at odds with one another from a design standpoint. And while it wasn’t a transformative change, both road noise and fuel economy registered tangible improvements as well.
It also doesn’t hurt that the beefed-up sidewalls of the Advantage T/A Sport LT give the Explorer an added dose of visual appeal. “Even with a tire that’s made for everyday use in a wide variety of situations, BFG’s design philosophy is still at the core,” Comrie-Picard adds. “That’s manifested in things like the wrap-around tread blocks, the versatility, and the focus on performance.”
Although the wet handling, long term durability, and tread longevity of the Advantage T/A Sport LT still remain to be seen, the initial findings are encouraging. Now, if BFG could just invent a technology that deflects errant nails in the road, I think we’d have all of our bases covered.