Transkei adventure puts General Tire’s new all-terrain rubber to the test

Published Dec 16, 2022


East London - Us South Africans enjoy our lifestyle vehicles. Whether it’s an SUV, double cab or MPV the great outdoors calls whenever we get the opportunity.

Some take it more seriously than others and enjoy getting really far away from the madding crowd, often requiring some serious off-road skills, and others prefer a more gentle approach but still don’t want to be overrun by the throngs.

To get there ordinary road tyres won’t do so most people fit a decent all-terrain tyre or, for when the going gets really tough, tyres with a more aggressive tread pattern and more often than not, mud tyres.

And then there are those that spend almost all their life on tar but want to create an image of being the toughest around.

Most of these vehicles are sold with highway biased rubber and it’s interesting to speak to tyre dealers who say that the first modification on the new vehicles they see is a set of new tyres with a more aggressive tread pattern.

Many South Africans unfortunately see it as a grudge purchase and opt for a cheaper option without thinking of the consequences to themselves, their family and other road users. For those who value what a tyre can do to their performance, especially in the wet, decent grip is a non-negotiable.

Keep in mind that it’s only the small part on each corner that stands between stopping in time or a catastrophe.

To this end General Tire, a division of Continental Tyre, recently fitted a set of their new General Tire Grabber ATX and AT3 on a bunch of Isuzu’s D-Max V-Cross bakkies and invited us to tackle some challenging terrain in the Transkei.

While much of the motor industry focuses on local vehicle manufacturers, we tend to forget that Continental Tyres South Africa has been producing tyres in Gqeberha for 75 years, including the full Grabber range made for the domestic market and global export.

We like to have white lettering on our chariots’ tyres, probably because we take our cue from the Americans which is why you often see rigs fitted with them. General Tire has come to the party as well now with the ATX sporting highlighted lettering.

The ATX comes in four popular off-road sizes between 16- and 18-inch diameters, 265 to 285mm widths, 65 to 75 aspect ratios and speed indexes of R (170km/h) and S (180km/h).

The AT3 comes with a choice of LT (Light Truck) or standard spec. There’s a considerable range within the AT3 stable with 31 construction sizes, ranging from 15 to 22-inch diameters, 205 to 275 mm widths, aspect ratios of 40 to 75 and speed ratings of S to V (180 to 240 km/h).

In heavy-duty LT specification the Grabber AT3 is available in 21 sizes spanning 15 to 18-inches, 215 to 285 mm widths, aspect ratios of 60 to 85 and carries an S speed index (180 km/h).

When we hear light truck we think mostly of single cab delivery-type bakkies or smaller type trucks we see on construction sites but that’s not necessarily the case.

When you opt for an LT tyre on your vehicle it has a stronger carcass, higher load capacity, a thicker sidewall and a deeper tread pattern making them the ideal companion when you’re often taking your car on rougher more puncture strewn terrain.

The speed rating is obviously not as high but anyone who has come close to 180km/h in an SUV or bakkie will tell you it’s not a good place to be.

With the technical stuff out of the way it was time to put them to the test as we headed from East London through Butterworth for our overnight stay at the Wavecrest Hotel on the beach.

The decay in large parts of the Eastern Cape is well documented and it’s only when you drive through that you get the full picture of years of mismanagement, infrastructure destruction and filth-lined streets that’s ultimately a fat middle finger to its residents.

It did however give an early indication of what the tyres are capable of. On the N2 they behaved well and quietly on the tar providing excellent grip and stopping ability and once we turned off, well, where once there used to be tar there are now gaping holes on essentially dirt roads made worse by heavy rains the night before.

That’s one reason alone to fit a decent set of all terrain tyres.

Dropping the pressures to 1.5 bar for the dirt roads ahead had a significant impact on the ride quality. The tyres assist the already decent D-Max suspension making road imperfections far easier to negotiate which had my driving partner make a few not so subtle comments on me not always avoiding them including some muddy pools.

Still, we were there to test tyres and driving in 4H both the D-Max and AT3s proved to be a combination well suited to the terrain.

Once you get out of the urban and peri-urban areas the Transkei must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The unspoilt green landscape, miles of deserted beaches, rolling waves and friendly locals make it one of the few areas in South Africa where you can still do adventure driving.

Day two had more of that including a few tougher obstacles that would require engaging low range.

We were on the more aggressive ATX tyres which made short work of river crossings and a few rocky inclines. At one section we crossed the edge of a marsh that saw some interesting mud manoeuvres.

With all four wheels spinning, the chunks of rubber that are set further apart on the ATX, did exactly what they were designed to do by clearing the tyres to ensure as much grip as possible.

I’ve often heard people standing around a braai fire boast about their own and their 4x4s ability with standard highway tyres to go places where angels fear to tread. I’ve also driven 4x4 routes with these guys and the short answer is no, you can’t.

You may have the latest and most modern all terrain systems in the world but without the correct tyres a stock Series Land Rover with rubber suited to the terrain will be all over you.

Crossing the Kleinmond River on the pont to get to the Morgan Bay Hotel I told a story about one of our extreme 4x4 trips to Lesotho. We’re a group of guys that like to test ourselves and our fairly modified 4x4s to the extreme, finding donkey spoors that cross mountains in winter when it sometimes gets to -19 degrees.

In summer it rains and slipping on a boulder could see you tumble down a 300m cliff so it’s safer albeit a lot colder.

Occasionally there’s someone who tags along and in this case he had a very sophisticated vehicle but couldn’t get the set of mud tyres he wanted fitted on time so opted for the standard ones.

The second time he had to be winched up a steep rocky river bank with tyres slipping and sliding and all systems setting off alarms, he admitted defeat and had to return to base following a more recognised route.

General Tire also caters for that kind of terrain and driver with their Grabber X3 comprising 14 sizes from 15 to 18-inches, widths of 205 to 285mm, aspect ratios of 60 to 85 and a Q speed index (160 km/h).

So, whether you’re going off-roading, on holiday in your SUV, or doing the daily grind in your sedan or hatchback, don’t skimp on tyres.

Oh, and be lekker, buy local.

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