The decision to transform a vehicle intended for street use to one with capability off-road isn’t always as straightforward as it would seem. For traditional pickups and most body-on-frame SUVs, there is usually a semblance of off-road function baked into the design, even if it’s from a different trim level or platform mate. For example, taking a standard 4×4 F150 and adding knobby tires and lift is barely going to require any concessions to livability with the vehicle. That truck is a utility vehicle meant to handle more than the average street car.
Modifying a crossover, however, requires more concessions than traditional off-road platforms. If you purchased a Highlander instead of a 4Runner for ride comfort, that difference becomes increasingly negligible with traditional all-terrains. The same can be said for mileage, reliability, and other facets of the daily driving experience.
In the same way that lowering a car improves handling and adds a spirit of sportiness to a vehicle, raising it largely does the opposite. All-terrains, or mud-terrains, look great, but on a 4 cylinder crossover, the added weight and height are going to have some very noticeable effects on the on-road experience.
Released in 2017, the second generation Ridgeline was designed before the recent soft-roader trend. Other than Subarus, off-road prepped crossover based vehicles were very much a novelty if they existed at all, and certainly weren’t being seriously marketed in a way that encouraged anything more than pulling into a campground, or dropping a kayak off at a lake. The Ridgeline was designed to function as a modern midsize pickup, building on the Honda Platform, with attention given to the relevant areas of the vehicle and very much made it a competitor in its respective space.
Turning the Ridgeline into a Trail Rig
Taking the Ridgeline further into the off-road space, however, has been a more recent endeavor for many owners. Sitting in a space between the crossover and more traditional trucks, most owners have turned to traditional products. Originally equipped with old school classic style all-terrains, my Ridgeline certainly looked the part, but handling, comfort, and efficiency were affected to a point that it felt like whatever reason I had for buying a Ridgeline had largely been muted. After all, if the goal was to be off-road performance all along, why not start with a Tacoma or Colorado?
A Tire Made for the AWD Crossover
When Nitto released the Nomad Grappler crossover-terrain tire for the burgeoning adventure ready crossover market, I knew that they could be a great fit for the Ridgeline platform. Retaining the aggressive looks of an all-terrain, the Nomad Grappler was designed to expand a vehicle’s performance capabilities without ignoring its original design.
I decided to stick with the same size as my all-terrains, 245/70/17, which sit about an inch taller than the OEM 245/60/18s. After installation I could immediately tell the difference on-road with less noise, less vibration, and an all-round better, more precise, driving feel than the general purpose all-terrains I removed. The Ridgeline is not, and never will be a sporty car, but it is certainly more athletic on-road than a Tacoma; and the Nomad Grapplers don’t detract from that.
Tire Pressure Matters!
Interestingly, over the first few fill ups, my mileage went down, but I kept I feeling like something may have been amiss. I got the old tire gauge out, and as it turned out, the tire shop had filled them to a much lower PSI than the Ridgeline’s recommended PSI, and upon correction, I saw my miles per gallon restored, if not improved, over the previous A/T tires.
The Off-Road Test
The first test for the Nomad Grapplers off-road was a trip up the Georgia Adventure Trail, nearly 600 miles of sand, dirt, clay, and gravel from Florida to North Carolina. The tires performed well, never missing a beat through the varied terrain.
The fine South Georgia sand probably presented the most interesting challenge of the route, giving the Ridgeline a somewhat loose footing at speeds above 25mph or so. The Nomad Grapplers allowed for a little sideways movement in the big crossover, but always grabbed traction before things got unpredictable.
Wet Weather Traction
When things got wet, the crossover-terrain tires had no issues pushing forward. Wide circumferential zigzag grooves evacuate water and triangular sipes provide biting edges for improved wet traction. When Georgia clay gets wet, it can quickly gunk up a tire’s tread, but the Nomad Grapplers cut right through it without issue.
All-Terrain vs Crossover-Terrain
There’s no doubt that the Ridgeline could have certainly been fitted with something more aggressive, like Nitto’s Recon Grappler all-terrain tire, and many CUV owners have gone that route without complaint. What the Nomad Grappler offers, however, is an opportunity for crossover owners to get both the aesthetics and capability of an all-terrain tire without giving up the on-road manners and fuel economy inherent in the vehicle’s design.
With the 60,000 mile limited treadwear warranty on my Nomad Grapplers, I know that I’m not going to have to mess with them for years, other than the regular maintenance associated with any tire. For a vehicle that spends 95% of its life in on-road dad duty, the Nomad Grapplers have been a huge improvement over traditional all-terrains. And when the opportunity presents itself to go past the pavement, I know that my crossover is more than ready for whatever lies ahead.