Some of you are probably wondering how I got here, writing about how truck tires worked out on a budget electric crossover like the Bolt EUV. So, let’s play Baba O’Riley in our heads (or, play it for real on YouTube) while I explain all this.
Why Put Truck Tires On A Crossover EV?
The sad truth about most of today’s “SUV” offerings is that they’re really not much of an SUV. Mechanically speaking, they’re usually just really big cars, with truck-like styling. Crossovers don’t have a frame like a truck, and have the same transverse front-wheel drive layout as a sedan or hatchback. Sure, crossovers often are available with all-wheel drive, but that usually just means the transmission has an extra output shaft to give some power to the rear wheels (and often only at low speeds). Aside from unusual cases, like Subaru, it’s just a chunky car that looks sort of like a truck.
The good news: For most crossover owners, none of what I mentioned in the last paragraph matters. At all. Not one little bit. Nada. Zilch. 零. Any other word for “nothing” or “zero” fits nicely here.
Most people who buy a crossover do it because they like the styling, the ease of getting in and out, and visibility (sitting higher). They don’t tow trailers, drive on bad rural roads, or do other things a truck or a Jeep would be needed or even wanted for. The cheaper transverse drivetrain layout (and its attendant weight and space savings) works out just fine if all the “SUV” will be doing is tackling mall parking lots, HOA speed bumps, and the other common features of suburbia.
Most of today’s electric crossover offerings don’t come with truck tires, either. Sure, you’d get better tires for off-road if you put truck tires on, but you’d also lose a significant portion of your range compared to more eco-oriented low rolling resistance tires. The average electric crossover buyer doesn’t care about doing truck stuff, so vehicles like the ID.4 and Bolt EUV come with eco tires.
But, some of us want to have our cake and eat it, too. Real electric trucks, like the F-150 Lightning or the Rivian R1T (and the SUV version, the R1S), don’t come cheap. Earl of Frunkpuppy jokingly (I think) calls Model 3 owners “peasants” because their cars are a lot cheaper than his Model X. Me? I’m not even a peasant. I’m a super peasant, who has to buy a Chevrolet Bolt EUV (and before that, a Nissan LEAF). I’m actually paid fairly well for my writing work in December 2022, but I’ve also got a lot of family obligations that keep real electric trucks and body-on-frame electric SUVs out of reach.
Could I have afforded a gas-powered truck or SUV? Sure. But I wanted something electric, and not purely for environmental reasons. I’ll get into those more in a bit.
It didn’t take me long to get myself in way over my head with the Bolt EUV. Only about a week after buying the EUV, I decided to go sight-seeing in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. I left the pavement for some very nice gravel roads. And then the gravel got rougher. The occasional rock appeared, some with sharp edges. By then, I was more than half way through the loop from Portal to Paradise and back, and I was like, “What the hell, let’s keep going. It can’t get much worse than this.”
What I didn’t know was that the U.S. Forest Service describes the roads I was on thusly: “Note: High clearance vehicles are strongly recommended. 4WD also beneficial, if available.”
But, then it got worse. I found myself going over streams, craggy rock piles, and terrain that the Bolt EUV could barely, barely get over without scraping. The rocks got sharper, and the washouts got looser and deeper. It dawned on me that the tires the Bolt EUV came with from the factory just weren’t meant for what I was doing. They’re great eco tires, and they’re even self-sealing — if you pick up a nail or a big thorn. I was out of cellular service, probably couldn’t reach a repeater with my ham radio, and didn’t even have a spare tire.
But, the Energy Saver tires survived, and the smooth, controllable low-end torque of the Bolt EUV helped me claw my way through things most people wouldn’t even consider trying in a Bolt with the face of an SUV. But, I knew that if I wanted to regularly do things like this in the EUV, I needed some better tires that weren’t at such risk of getting shredded by the wrong rock. Plus, the Energy Saver tires didn’t have very deep tread, which meant there was a fair amount of wheel spin-and-catch as I made my way through Paradise (Arizona).
A few weeks later, I found out the hard way that the Energy Saver tires had another weakness, and this time I got stuck.
At the edges of Red Sands near El Paso, Texas, I drove down a road I used to go down with my grandfather to go target shooting. But, since then, the sales of UTVs to anybody with a pulse and a 600+ credit score has led to some bad things out in the desert. Normally passable road had been churned up and busted up, and right around a blind corner. The EUV quickly sunk to the frame, and I couldn’t get it out. Fortunately, some really nice guys from a Facebook group came and pulled me out.
On top of my fear of sharp rocks and the lack of tread for sand and mud, I knew it was time for the Energy Saver tires to spend some time in my shed and give some truck tires a chance. But, I needed tires that didn’t make all sorts of road noise and completely demolish my EUV’s highway range. Plus, they needed to come in 215/50R17. And, all this while giving me some better off-road grip and rock resistance.
Fortunately, Michelin had the answer, but you’ll have to read more about that in Part 2.
Images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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