“The market is changing, and so is the consumer,” said Marco Crola, chairman and CEO of Pirelli, while introducing the company’s latest tire offering, the Scorpion A/T Plus. For a company that built its reputation producing high-performance tires for the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche, continuing to produce an all-terrain tire like the Scorpion might seem a bit out of character. But with nearly 60 percent of all new vehicle registrations in the U.S. now SUVs and light trucks by Pirelli’s estimate, the segment has become impossible to ignore. “We’re changing as a consequence,” Crola adds.
While pickups and SUVs might not be Pirelli’s usual battleground, it’s a segment they intend to become a bigger player in over the coming years. “We are not introducing the A/T Plus just for the sake of a new product,” explained Pirelli’s Andrea Clerici. “It addresses a specific gap in the market.”
To get a better sense of exactly what that entails, we headed out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to put the Scorpion A/T Plus through a battery of tests on- and off-road to see how Pirelli intends to make inroads in this rapidly evolving segment of the industry.
As opposed to most of Pirelli's offerings, the Scorpion A/T Plus is for SUVs, trucks and crossovers.
Pirelli Gets Dirty
The Scorpion A/T Plus isn’t Pirelli’s first foray into all-terrain. The new tire builds upon the lessons learned from its predecessor, the Scorpion ATR, an all-terrain tire which Pirelli readily admits was often overlooked by consumers in this segment.
To get noticed, the Scorpion All Terrain Plus not only benefits from a next-generation compound that Pirelli says is optimized for durability, traction and wear while delivering balanced performance in both on- and off-road driving situations, but also a new, more aggressive tread pattern and upper sidewall design that’s been developed to bolster capability and provide the kind of beefed-up visual aesthetic that truck and SUV owners in this segment are looking for.
Indeed, the All Terrain Plus has a much more purposeful, chunky look in comparison to the ATR, highlighted by an overall increased width due to its significantly redesigned upper sidewall. Pirelli says that not only gives the tires more visual presence, but also provides added protection against impacts and potential punctures on rocky surfaces.
However, Pirelli is quick to point out that when it comes to all-terrain tires, statistics show that roughly 95 percent of their use is on-road rather than out in the dirt. That means attributes like dry handling, road noise and ride comfort have played heavily in the Scorpion All Terrain Plus’ development as well, changes that Pirelli also sought to highlight during our time on the various courses that they set up throughout the LVMS facility.
High Speed On-Road
It’s not often that you’ll find full-size SUVs clad in all-terrain rubber being hustled around a road course, but with the A/T Plus’s expected use, Pirelli is well aware that providing on-road capability is a crucial element of this tire’s skill set. With that in mind, they set us loose on a section of the infield sports car course to evaluate the tire’s at-limit dry handling.
Though it’s unlikely to be confused for a summer tire by any experienced driver, the new Scorpion rubber was admirably predictable here, providing lots of auditory warning as we approached the limits of grip, giving way progressively and allowing us to easily recollect the vehicle from beyond the brink by backing off the throttle.
Perhaps of greater importance was the noted lack of tire noise –- an issue often found when traveling at high speeds on pavement with rubber that features an aggressive tread design. But that expected roar was nowhere to be found at a pace which often exceeded freeway speeds, a testament to Pirelli’s efforts to keep this tire as on-road friendly as possible while still bolstering its capability where the pavement ends. “The internal structure of the tire is closely related to noise and comfort levels, and that’s something the customer evaluates every time they get in the vehicle,” Carpino noted. “It’s the first thing they will notice when they roll out of the shop.”
Pirelli also put together some courses that utilized the varied terrain of the facility, giving us a chance to see how the tire fared during low-speed, low-grip maneuvering, as well as faster transitions between mud, standing water, gravel and pavement. Pirelli noted that off-road capability was an area where there was room for improvement with the ATR, but they’re quick to point out that it’s not the Scorpion All Terrain Plus’s main focus. “Everybody is introducing a mud tire these days,” Carpino said. “But that’s not this product.”
Still, as an all-terrain tire, the Scorpion A/T Plus scores a number of off-road enhancements versus its predecessor, like deeper tread grooves that incorporate conical stone ejectors into their design that force small stones out from the tread. Snow traction has also been improved enough to earn the coveted three-peak snowflake sidewall marking.
While testing the latter was understandably impossible on a 90-degree day in Las Vegas, the stone ejectors seemed to be doing their job, as we noted hardly any sounds of rocks being thrown into the wheel wells during fast transitions between muddy gravel and pavement.
When it comes to outright off-road grip, it can be often difficult to determine how much of the work is being performed by the tire and what can be more accurately attributed to the traction and stability control systems of the vehicle (which we could not disable on our test vehicles), but suffice to say that the Scorpion All Terrain Plus held its own despite our ham-fisted inputs.
We tested the Pirelli Scorpion tires at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Our last test station brought us to a muddy off-road course with a collection of stadium racing-style jumps, washboard sections and other features designed to test the Scorpion All Terrain Plus’ prowess in the rough stuff at higher speed.
Though Pirelli expects this to comprise just 5 percent of the tire’s use throughout its service life, providing consumers with a higher level of off-road confidence was a central goal with the Scorpion All Terrain Plus, as well. “When our customers need to go into the woods, we want them to have the confidence that this tire will be able to get them back out,” Carpino said.
While we discovered an overzealous right foot could quickly overwhelm the tires on corner exit, stability through deep, mud-filled ruts and slippery washboard sections at pace gave us enough confidence to push harder with each successive lap –- to the point at which we caught up with some of our colleagues who had been sent out on course before us, prompting some radio-based finger wagging from track officials.
We tested the Pirelli Scorpion A/T Plus tires on road and off.
Is the Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus a standout tire in the segment? Without competitors’ tires on hand for direct comparison, that was difficult to accurately assess. And if we’re honest, Pirelli’s emphasis on the visual overhaul indicates that the look of the tire is, in this segment (or at least for some buyers), every bit as important as the actual capability they provide. “When the customer is looking to make this purchase in a tire store or on a website, the visual aspect is hugely important,” Carpino said. “We just need a few seconds to catch the customer’s attention.”
Fair enough. Testing ambiguity aside, the tires performed as expected in the rough stuff while providing predictable, quiet and comfortable on-road performance. Pirelli wagers that’s enough for most folks. “The customer is not asking if it’s the best tire on the market, they’re asking if the tire is meeting their expectations,” he added.
That may be true in some cases, but given the Pirelli’s expected premium price point, that can sometimes prove to be one in the same.