Very few things can change the look, feel, and usability of a Jeep as much as a new set of wheels and tires. Sure, there are other things you can do here and there, but they just aren’t quite as transformative as swapping stock rims and tires for something with a little more, um, oomph.
Installing a lift is a close second, but by itself still falls short of the gain-per-dollar curb appeal of putting on some bigger meats. Of course, done properly, changing wheels and tires not only changes the look, but also gives an actual, tangible performance improvement. How much improvement, and where, depends on the tires and wheels of course. In this article, and the accompanying video, we’ll take a look at the wheels and tires I chose for my 2015 JKU Willys Wheeler. I’ll tell you the benefits I see, and expect to experience, and I’ll give you my first impressions. However, expect a follow-up once I have had time to put some miles on them and put them through the paces in a few different conditions (on and off road).
First, the tires.
Here’s what I knew I wanted:
Size: This was easy! 35X12.50R17 — because that’s the biggest tire I was comfortable (at this time) with on the stock Dana 30 /3.73 I have in the front diff. It’s also the go-to size for Jeepers who are looking to go big, but not crazy. The 35’s also fit with the 2″ leveling kit I already have installed. Going bigger, like say 37’s, complicates things because I’d need a bigger lift to get them to fit. I’m not saying that’s out of the question, but just not right now.
Performance: I want something that is awesome on the trails. I want something that dominates on the rocks and in the mud. What I need is something that is well-behaved on the street in both wet and dry conditions. Let’s be real, here. My rig is a daily driver and an occasional weekend warrior. So what I want and what I need have to come to some sort of compromise. A tire that is quiet and strong on the pavement, but can tackle the tough weekend terrain with gusto is a good choice for me. Very rarely do you find a tire that excels off-road and also on the pavement.
Good thing for me, Mickey Thompson has exactly the tire I was looking for. It takes care of the “needs” and still delivers on the “wants”. The Baja ATZ P3 is expected to deliver the goods on the highway and on the dirt, and I’m excited to put it to the test! Here’s what Mickey Thompson has to say about this tire:
The Baja ATZ P3 has a unique ‘hybrid’ design between an all-terrain and mud terrain to give you the grip you need for your weekend adventures and the smooth ride to get you down the road in comfort. Features an extra wide footprint and beefy tread blocks for great all around traction. All sizes feature PowerPly
3-ply sidewall construction.
- New compound with improved cut and chip protection
- Deep, aggressive sidebiters for improved protection
- Multi-draft grooves for self-cleaning and improved wear
3-ply sidewall construction
“This is one of the most progressive all-terrain tires Mickey Thompson has engineered,” stated Ken Warner, VP sales and marketing, Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels. “The design elements and technology make this an exceptionally rugged off-road tire with a quieter, more responsive ride on the street than you’d expect.”
So to summarize: Excellent tread wear, dry and wet pavement performance, braking, and handling, with the added benefit of solid Mickey Thompson off-road performance and amazing, aggressive looks? And they are quiet? Yeah, that’s the tire for me!
So I’ll tell you more about how they live up to my long term expectations in a future article. The teaser is during this first week they are quiet! I don’t hear any more tire noise than I heard with the stock tires, top on or off. A few days after the installation, I drove down to Ocean City for Ocean City Jeep Week 2015, and there was no noticeable compromise on the road. In fact, my miles-per-gallon seems to have increased by about a gallon and a half since the install (calibrated speedometer of course). I’m running them with about 28PSI on my Jeep, and the ride is nice and soft, and handling feels solid. Also important, they look awesome! I get lots of compliments on them.
Next, the wheels.
As soon as I saw them, I knew I was going to be putting on a set of Mickey Thompson’s new line of rims, dubbed the Metal Series. This new series has only been released within the last few weeks as of the time of this writing, and they are sure to be a hit. There are actually 5 styles to choose from in this series, so finding a look that fits your preference should be “wheely” easy!
For me, it was the MM-366 that made the final cut to the Jeep, but I will say, I went back and forth between those and the MM-245s. I am happy with my choice, but I still think the 245s would look pretty awesome too!
First, I’ll tell you what Mickey Thompson has to say about these wheels, and then…I’ll tell you what I am surprised they didn’t say about them!
M/T Metal Series MM366 features 8-spoke design, milled lip, 2-stage matte black finish, and pop-top center cap; 17- 20-inch fitments.
- Matte Black Finish
- Clean 8-spoke design includes unique swept-back spokes and Milled Lip detailing.
- Corrosive Resistant Pop-Top Center Cap.
- 1 Year Warranty for finish and a Limited Lifetime warranty for Structural defects.
All good stuff for sure. I’ll translate a couple of things for you. First, “Milled Lip detailing”. That’s code for the simulated bead-lock look in case you are wondering. It’s a very popular style at the moment, and I personally find it to be very appealing. Not everyone needs bead locks, or wants to deal with all of those bolts, so a “milled” design gives the look without the cost or the hassle. Secondly, “Corrosive Resistant Pop-Top Center Cap” is simply a black plastic center cap. It’s held on by a few bolts, and even comes with a hex wrench for removal when necessary.
What’s surprising to me is that Mickey Thompson chose to use their precious product description real estate to tell you about all of the cosmetic features, but nothing at all about some of the design features that actually make this a very likely contender in the off-road shooting match of wheel options. I guess they’ve realized that we shop with our eyes…so maybe they are on the right track there. So we are going to help them out by telling you a couple of the things that they didn’t mention.
These rims come with a fairly pronounced drop center. While its not the deepest we’ve seen on a rim, it is a fairly significant change for Mickey Thompson rims when you look at the Classic III or other legacy wheels. The value in the drop center is added strength, weight reduction (thanks to the added strength), and what might interest the off-road enthusiast, easier field repair with regular hand tools (especially when it comes to getting the tire on and off). It also allows for more travel of the deflected tread area when going over rocky terrain.
Bead Retention Ribs:
This is actually a pretty great thing, and really bridges the gap between the bead-lock and standard rims. These wheels have additional bead ribs on both the inside and outside edges of the rim. This helps keep the bead in place when you are aired down on the trails, basically acting as a support for the bead, should it experience a little extra side loading which so often results in a bead that pops off the rim. Without all of the normal air pressure pushing the tire against the outer rim, it takes less force for things to fall apart. The added bead ribs give a little extra incentive for those beads to stay where they belong.
Finally, the install.
Having the most awesome wheels and tires is great and all, but only if you can actually get them on the Jeep. Finding a trusted shop to mount and balance the combo was important to me, so I loaded everything in the Jeep and drove out to Adams Jeep in Aberdeen, Maryland. John Loucks and his team really know what they are doing and in a matter of a couple of hours had my Jeep transformed, taking care along the way to make sure that my nice looking wheels stayed that way! I won’t hesitate to take my Jeep there for any work, and after you watch the video below…you’ll understand why.