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First Aussie Drive: David Wilson's Impressions of Open Country A/T III

David Wilson has dedicated decades of his life to seeing parts of Australia that few others have, exploring the continent’s most remote and hard-to-reach places. He’s done the majority of this exploring atop Toyo tyres, including almost every pattern in the Open Country range, making him uniquely-placed to praise the brand new Open Country A/T III as a worthy successor to a lineage of legendary off-road tyres.


I’ve been a fan of Toyo’s Open Country range and their M55F for nearly two decades - a returning, paying customer and a champion of the brand. That allegiance wasn’t hard won, it was actually very easy, because in Toyo Tires I found a tyre manufacturer with a range of products that (in my humble opinion) are superior to any competitor 4WD tyre range sold in this country.


I’ve got a bit of skin in this game. Whilst I’ve been mucking around with 4WDs privately since the mid-seventies, I’ve made a living out of them during the last thirty years via a professional driver training career based in Adelaide with my business, Adventure 4WD and a media presence courtesy of Loaded 4X4.



To me, tyres are hugely important. In the classroom I devote an equal amount of time to explaining tyre science, as I might do explaining how to engage a vehicle in 4WD. Tyres are the essential bit that makes the connection with the track and critical to trackside success.


Toyo has this happy knack of making patterns that grip, carcasses that repel punctures and tread compounds resilient to decay. It allows me to focus on teaching driving technique - tyre pressures and driving styles that I’ve refined over hundreds of thousands of kilometers of driving, and verified by tens of thousands of happy customers. Toyo Tires make me look good when endorsements matter.


Talking about looking good, I’ve been trialling the new Open Country A/T III during the last 12 months. This is a tyre with a big responsibility to the brand, because the tyres that came before it had a huge and deserved reputation.


When Toyo told me it was their intention to refresh the Open Country A/T II, I told them to leave it alone! It was a gamble trying to fix something that I didn’t think was broken, but humbly I’ll admit, they’ve made it better.



I recently tested the new Open Country A/T III across five common road and trail types - bitumen, high-speed dirt, sand, mud and rock at various locations here in South Australia in a bit of a combined torture test to validate what I’d observed this last year. Here is what my notes have told me.



The new Open Country A/T III has a more aggressive tread pattern than its predecessor, which usually spells trouble on the blacktop with regards to NVH (that’s Noise, Vibration and Harshness). 


You see, an open-block tread pattern will have plenty of wind rushing in between those tread voids, generating a harmonic that will be heard inside the cab. Those same tread blocks, unless they are interlocked, can create squirm, which in turn creates a rumble of its own and if the tyre’s carcass is too stiff and rigid, you can expect the ride to be harsh.


Open Country A/T III is none of that. The tyre hum is no louder than the Open Country A/T II which was only barely louder than the OEM rubber supplied new on my Isuzu D-MAX. We’re talking only a few percentage points of difference here, so noise isn’t a concern.


From a vibration and harshness perspective, Open Country A/T III has achieved All-Terrain rolling nirvana in my mind - stiff enough to maintain integrity when cornering at speed, but supple enough to soak up the bigger bumps if you let it. 


Emergency stops and chicane-style changes in direction are the new Open Country A/T III’s forte. This tyre is brilliant on bitumen, steering like a dream and during this mega-test South Australia was also drenched with rain. Open Country A/T III evacuates water from the road and offers great grip when Huey sends down a torrent.


High-Speed Dirt

I’ve spent a lot of my life on dirt roads and I’ve seen other tyre makers products fail miserably in the stability stakes - falling off the camber, wagging the dog mid-corner on corrugations with bump-steer, or ploughing on ahead with terminal understeer.


That won’t be your experience with Open Country A/T III.



Using my placarded pressures as a starting point, Open Country A/T III - even with its 10-ply rating carcass - offered a comfortable ride, just as the previous Open Country A/T II had done. Watching video playback of the vehicle on corrugations showed that the new Open Country A/T III has a sidewall that will flex, which no doubt contributes to ride comfort.


This was further enhanced when I employed my ‘20% Rule’; that is, if you’re going to be on a dirt road all day, or for days, dump 20% of the tyre pressure and slow down by the same margin. 


Open Country A/T III stopping distances are incredibly good on the dirt. At 80km/h, the backroad I did the testing on allowed a number of emergency stops that were within a metre’s distance of what I’d achieved on the bitumen an hour earlier. Whilst the road’s surface was hard and compacted, it was still a commendable comparison, when a vehicle’s stopping distance usually increases by at least a car length on unsealed road.


Changes in direction were secure in 2WD, but brilliant in 4WD. And there’s a tip for you; running down any dirt road should always be done in 4H. It’s much safer and is the foundation-stone of every remote area business engaged in mining or infrastructure delivery. It should be your policy, too. 


At the end of 10,000 kilometres in this last year with these tyres, the tread blocks look perfect, with no chips or tears to be seen.



When I can find some spare time, you’ll find me at or near a beach. I've got salt water veins and catching a wave or a fish is my idea of chilling. Toyo’s Open Country range has always been good at this task, offering great flotation and great stability when aired down.



The tread pattern on the Open Country A/T III has a new, irregularly-regular central block area, that evacuates material quickly and doesn’t dig massive holes (although I’m sure if you got your technique horribly wrong it could do that), which is important to stay on top of the sand.


I noticed that its steerability was really good and light, particularly when intersecting other driver’s ruts, requiring subtle and minimal steering inputs for corrections instead of big changes in direction.


Again, and this could be pressure-related, trialling the tyre’s efficiency against the interference often encountered with modern traction and stability controls, the sections of beach I set my test on showed less engagement by the vehicle’s safety nannas. 


I’m not suggesting that this would be the case every time, because there are a lot of factors at play like sand density, moisture content and gradient, but compared to the OEM rubber used on the same vehicle at the same location, there was a marked improvement. Fewer autonomous braking inputs by the vehicle equals less driver frustration and less opportunity of a stranding.



I managed to get myself horribly lost in a section of dunes, where the track I remembered from around a decade ago petered out with new vegetation overgrowing the path. Try as I may, I couldn’t find a way around a particularly dense section and it meant traversing plenty of dead timber before I found an opening. That’s usually the moment a tyre might be spiked, but the combination of Open Country A/T III’s light-truck, 10-ply rating carcass and a realistic pressure saw a dual happy-ending - no slashed sidewalls and a way out of the maze. 



Mud is always challenging for an All-Terrain, because it’s a surface that’s beyond the scope of a pattern designed to do everything else. It’s one of those ‘can’t have your cake and eat it too moments’, but Open Country A/T III may have rewritten that playbook.


In that same lost moment in the dune field I found myself looping back through a samphire grass swamp, a tidal area that gives the appearance of being firm, but the surface was slick and devoid of grip.



With no alternative, I had to follow a pair of tracks across this gluepot and based on past experience I was steeling myself for an inevitable bog and deployment of the MaxTrax. Unbelievably, my lower-pressure strategy, combined with Open Country A/T III’s new tread pattern, saw barely any slip and offered plenty of grip. It had no right to be that easy!


Now, that was just one surface with a really good result, so I don’t want you ditching your muddies if you live in a particularly waterlogged environment. What I am saying here is that the new Open Country A/T III has made moments like being on a wet clay road in the Outback a much better prospect than before. It’s a tyre that punches above its traditional All-Terrain weight and I intend to research this some more.



South Australia is blessed with 4WD locations aplenty and one of my favourites is our Flinders Ranges; a majestic range of ancient hills that stretches from the foot of the Fleurieu Peninsula near Kangaroo Island and weaves north almost 1,000km to terminate near the Strzelecki Track.



I often find myself training at a property a little closer to home in Adelaide called Eagle View because, as its name implies, the views from atop its hills are astounding and very reminiscent of the Flinders.


The tracks scrabble uphill, with plenty of emerging rock shelfs and steps. The passage of other vehicles inflicts wear and tear trackside, coupled to the effects of the weather, when rain leaches out the fine grits and screes. It’s a surface that’s unstable in places. It’s technical, but that’s not all. 


Near-track is littered with plenty of rock debris, the kind that will tear out a rear sidewall of a vehicle that doesn’t show them enough respect. This is an environment demanding critical carcass strength.


I’ve championed another tyre rule I’ve called the ‘120 Rule’, and it’s all about selecting a tyre with a load index that’s got substance. 120 = 1,400kgs carrying capacity and it’s my barometer of tyre strength. My previous Toyo tyres have always matched or exceeded this benchmark and I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I’ve never had one fail me in the field due to a penetration.



When I guide a dozen vehicles up and over these hills and I’m standing trackside pointing their drivers around the obstacles to avoid typical tyre-killing moments, you realise the punishment that’s meted out to treads and sidewalls.


Nestling up against shales and quartzites is less terrifying if you’ve ditched your passenger car rubber with their feeble load indices and replaced them with a quality light-truck tyre branded with 120 (or greater) on its sidewall.


Open Country A/T III is perfectly at home in this environment. Aired-down, as I do, will provide a perfectly grippy tyre that can deal with the loose stuff, mould itself to the boulders and soak up the deflections to provide a comfy ride. I love days like this, validating the skills in the hills I like to impart and confirming to me that my favourite tyre brand is up to the job.