Nitto’s new Nomad Grappler grants off-road grunt to “soft-roader” SUVs

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It’s no secret that the light SUV and crossover market in the United States is thriving. Many crossover buyers choose a taller vehicle for ease of ingress and egress, better outward visibility, and of course, added cargo capacity compared to a sedan or coupe. Others appreciate the added ground clearance and the opportunity to explore beyond the end of the pavement. Nitto Tire saw the huge market as an opportunity to offer enthusiasts a tire that can help crossovers get to their off-road destinations without resorting to a light truck tire that would a stiff ride along with its higher load rating. Nitto’s newest offering, Nomad Grappler, is aimed directly at crossover and small SUV customers that want to make the most of their off-road capability without compromising on the quiet ride and on-road handling they expect from a daily driver.

Nitto invited us to try its newest crossover and SUV tire in Gorman, California, at Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreational Area, a park crisscrossed with more than 130 miles of sandy trails and sandstone hill climbs. To test the tire, we picked a Ford Bronco Sport and a Subaru Crosstrek, two popular choices for off-road enthusiasts. Before hitting the trail, we aired down the tire pressure to around 17 psi. The lower pressure sacrifices just a bit of ground clearance but increases the contact patch for improved traction and also provides a softer ride.

The tread design of the Nomad Grappler isn’t quite as aggressive as that of a light-truck all-terrain tire, but the tread blocks, which are about half an inch thick, are packed with siping and readily conform to rocks and terrain, especially when filled to a lower pressure. Like Nitto’s light truck tires, the Nomad Grappler is bi-directonal and uses two slightly different patterns of sidewall tread so drivers can pick whichever one they prefer to be mounted toward the outside. No matter which option is selected, the sidewall tread helps provide additional grip. The Nomad Grappler also boasts load ratings of around 1800–2600 pounds per tire, so it’s better suited for crossover use, even if said SUV happens to be loaded up with camping gear.

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Most of the trail miles we traversed could be handled by just about any road-going car; but getting to those easy miles often required some tight maneuvering or some rock-strewn sections. In the tough segments the Nomad Grappler showed its mettle. While piloting both the Bronco Sport and the Crosstrek, we headed up steep, slippery climbs that proved to be no issue for either vehicle’s all-wheel-drive systems.

Sizing up the steepest grades, we were certain that our Subaru would be scrambling and clawing its way up. Instead, the Subaru, in its off-road “X-Mode,” stayed in low gear and pulled back on the throttle a bit to keep the tires from losing traction. A less-aggressive tire, meant for the pavement only, might have provided a lot more drama or required multiple attempts. We’d rather not have to deal with backward slides or tread-chunking tire spin, so kudos to Subaru and Nitto for making some aggressive climbs very easy.

After some of our climbs, we wondered if crossover owners ever imagined their vehicles could maneuver over such terrain. Subaru drivers surely do; the brand’s marketing has touted its rally heritage and off-road prowess for decades. The same could be said about the Bronco Sport and Ford’s marketing its ties to its bigger brother. However, Nitto also had a RAV-4 on the same trails; while we never got behind the Toyota’s wheel, it also seemed to clamor over all the obstacles with ease, proving that a modicum of ground clearance and some decent traction can defeat some imposing terrain.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to put any highway miles on the Nomad Grappler, so we can’t vouch for its street manners or road noise characteristics. Its tread pattern certainly doesn’t have the huge voids of a mud-terrain, so it’s probably pretty safe to assume that it behaves as well as Nitto’s all-terrain light truck tires. For now, the Nomad Grappler is available in 17-, 18-, and 20-inch wheel sizes to fit most popular crossovers, with overall diameters as tall as 31.57 inches. Many crossover drivers will be well-served by the factory tire. Those off-road enthusiasts looking for an extra level of grip on the trail, however, will likely find that the Nomad Grappler was built just for them.

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