TIRES spell the difference between getting there and getting nowhere. And in places where getting stuck is not a particularly appealing option—the back country of the Sierra Madre range, for instance—these rubber donuts’ ability to grip is key to getting out of there. (Preferably, that’s back to the twisty mountain road that leads to the city, the same road over which sanity dictates one should have stuck to in the first place.)
Apparently, Wheel Gallery, seller of numerous high-end brands of alloy rims and tires, did not exactly have sanity on top of mind when it recently decided to demonstrate the capabilities of its new tire brand on pavement and—more important—on rugged, mucky, sandy terrain. And so it engaged the services of Beeboy Bargas of Landcraft Inc. (an off-road events company) to lead through the narrow, winding paths of Tanay, Rizal, a quintet of four-wheel drive Toyota trucks that have been fitted with Black Rhino wheels and Saffiro Tires.
Two of the vehicles—a three-door 70 Series Land Cruiser and an N60 Hilux SR5 (which Bargas drove)—were already kitted out for serious off-road action while that of Wheel Gallery chief Sammy Liuson’s, an FJ Cruiser, had already received bits of modifications, too. Expectedly, then, this trio tackled the trails—rock- and boulder-strewn in some places, muddy in others, and which crisscrossed a river—with virtually no difficulty. It was the present-generation Hilux and Fortuner, both of which loaned from Toyota Motor Phils., that spun a more colorful off-road adventure tale.
Except that they did not.
The Hilux and Fortuner were showroom-stock, their suspension neither raised nor modified for better articulation, their drivetrain completely unaltered. They do not wear snorkels. Their four-wheel drive systems were left untouched. The only things fitted to them that were not part of their wardrobe when they left the factory floor were their Black Rhino wheels (which are hub-centric, ensuring they won’t vibrate) and all-terrain Saffiro MaxTrac tires—of which Liuson said are “an answer for most off-road SUV owners who require quality and affordability.”
And yet, these proved enough. Set in their lowest four-wheel drive mode, the Hilux and Fortuner pair kept pace with the kitted-out trucks and clambered over the nasty stuff that littered the trails. They rolled through river crossings and climbed up the slippery banks. They crawled down slopes. They took on smothering dense foliage.
In the Fortuner, all I needed to do was to steer the sport-ute toward the ideal path and coax or mash the throttle as necessary. The tires, it was quite evident, clawed on whatever they got a got a hold of and found grip where there was so little of it, ensuring steady locomotion—even if a tad slow at times.
But then, that’s all right. Because it still means being able to get somewhere.