My first car was a shitbox. I know what you’re thinking. Most first cars are garbage. Yet mine was truly exceptional in its unabashed shitiness. It was a pre-owned 1972 Subaru FF-1: a 1,400 lb FWD tin can with 61 HP and an interior that had been partially eaten by the previous owner’s Irish Setter. (lead photo by Dave Burnett @PuppyKnuckles)
The worst thing about the FF-1? It had inboard brakes up front. Like in a racecar. The concept is good; reducing unsprung weight aids performance. Except the FF-1 had aluminum heads that tended to warp and leak oil…onto the brakes. I immediately knew when one of the heads was leaking. I would hit the brakes and the car would jerk violently to one side or the other. Fun times.
Fortunately I survived my youth and I’ve owned a couple of other Subies over the years, the last being a 2002 Bugeye WRX Wagon. Great car. As I was looking for a new daily driver, the 2018 Crosstrek seemed to check most of the boxes. AWD, hatchback, decent ground clearance and most importantly, an optional manual transmission.
Like most of my cars, modifications would begin with wheels and tires. My goal for the Crosstrek was to drop down from the 17-inch stockers to a 15-inch package, retaining the same overall diameter yet with taller sidewalls. I wanted an all-terrain tire I could run year-round that also had an aggressive look. I quickly settled on the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2. The KO2s look like they could tackle Baja…because they can. The street legal KO2 tires are actually raced in both the Baja 500 and Baja 1000. (See sidebar) Need more proof? The KO2 is standard equipment on the 2018 Ford Raptor and 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Jeep’s most capable off-roader.
For my needs, the 215/75 15 size was a good fit, closely matching the width and rolling diameter of the stock 17-inch tires. Living in the Northeast, I’ve always run winter tires on my cars in the cold months. But with the KO2’s Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake Rating, I could actually use these tires year-round. The nice folks at BFGoodrich sent a set of freshly-minted KO2s to get my modifications off to a great start.
Now I needed wheels. Being a bit of a rally nerd, and having had my share of bent and broken rims, I wanted wheels that not only looked good, but also had the durability to stand up to off-road trails and on-road potholes. Method Race Wheels seemed the obvious choice since their Rally wheels are used by Subaru’s Championship-winning USA Rally Team. My initial selection was Method’s 501 VT-Spec. Coming in at only 16.9 lbs. the 501 would nearly negate the weight increase of the heavy-duty KO2 tires.
There is a good rule to ALWAYS test fit new wheels on your car prior to mounting up your tires. On the lift at SpeedSport Tuning in Danbury Connecticut, we did just that. While some folks had been running the 501s on first generation Crosstreks, the new platform was a different animal. With a +48mm offset, the 501s made contact with the caliper and the strut, so no go.
The car was so new, the folks at Method were unaware of the issue with the redesigned suspension. But they happily replaced the (unmounted) 501 VT-Specs for a set of matte black 502 VT-Spec wheels. The 502 is a bit heavier, coming in at 19.4 lbs, but it also has a higher load rating of 2,100 lbs. The 502’s offset of +15mm not only cleared the brakes and suspension, it also pushed the tires out for a more aggressive stance versus stock. So in the end, I’m glad the 501s did not fit because I love the look of the 502s. The tolerance to the inside of the 15-inch wheels and the calipers is close, so the tech at SpeedSport made sure to use low-profile wheel weights.
Considering the open tread pattern of the tires and the offset pushing them out of the wells, I definitely needed some mud flaps. ROKBLOKZ shipped us a set of their Rally Mud Flaps. Custom-designed with unique fitments for a wide variety of vehicles, the ROKBLOKZ flaps are flexible, yet seriously durable. The installation was surprisingly quick with easy to follow directions that only required drilling one small hole in the inner plastic fender liner. I went with simple black, but there are eight flap colors and six logo colors to choose from to match your ride or your mood.
With the initial mods completed, it was time to do some testing at my playground of choice—Monticello Motor Club in NY’s Catskill Mountains. As track enthusiasts know, this private automotive country club is built around 4.1 miles of some of the best racing asphalt in America. But MMC also has a serious off-road course. Used primarily for MMC’s new Polaris RZR Experience, the miles of trails feature steep hills, rocky sections, open sweepers, fast straights and water crossings. To see what the Crosstrek could do, I joined up with some friends from Road & Track who were testing the ridiculousMercedes-Benz G550 4x4².
Following the G-Wagon in the Crosstrek, we tackled increasingly steep hills, deep ruts and mud. The tires were flawless, providing exceptional grip even in the slippery stuff. Climbing the first steep uphill gave me a quick reminder: always confirm the traction control is off. I had shut down the car to get some photos and then went after the hill without hitting the VDC button again. I was nearing the top when the driver’s side front wheel came off the ground. This immediately cut power and killed my forward momentum. Doh. I slowly backed down the embankment, hit the button and climbed back up the hill with no problem. The stock tires would have been no match for this slippery slope but the KO2s were in their element. On a rocky descent, the tall stiff sidewalls eliminated the stress of damaging the wheels. Even though the Method wheels are designed for abuse, I would like to preserve the nice finish if possible. Here’s a downhill clip shot by Monticello Motor Club COO Alex Wolenski.
Next up was a river crossing. With only 8.7 inches of ground clearance to the G’s 17.7 inches, I decided to park the Subie and jump in the Benz. BTW: that truck is bonkers. And I’m an idiot. The proof is here.
After playing in the water, it was back to the Subie. To get some action shots of the G550,ace photographer Dave Burnett (AKA PuppyKnuckles) hung out the back of the Crosstrek’s open hatch while I drove, with the mighty Benz in hot pursuit. To an observer, it must have looked like a Tonka truck chasing a Hot Wheels car. Even at speed, the Crosstrek soaked up the rocks and deepest ruts with aplomb.
A few weeks later, MMC had a big enough dump to hold one of their snow track days. MMC members and friends brought up a wide range of cars and SUVs to tackle the white stuff including a bunch of BMWs and Porsches, some Audis and VWs, a Focus RS, a ZL1 Camaro (yup) and a full-blown WRX rally car. I definitely had the lowest HP car there, but I was determined to use all 152 HP. Since the VDC is not fully defeatable, I pulled its fuse. Which also killed traction control, ABS, and for some reason, idle control. No matter. The car was a blast and the KO2 tires gave me enough grip, while still allowing some controlled drifts. The one noticeable advantage of my Subaru? While nearly everyone went off track into the deep stuff at various times, my Crosstrek was the only vehicle that did not need to get towed out.
I’ve been thrilled with the car so far and the tires are much less noisy on the highway than I was expecting. But the most surprising thing is how many people, from all walks of life, comment on the look of the car. It seems to hit the right note and I hope to see more crossover owners ditching their low profile tires.
Thanks to Dave Burnett and Chris Szczypala for the action photos.
A closer look: BFGoodrich All-Terrain Tires
To learn what makes BFGoodrich’s All-Terrain tires so good, I spoke with Dan Newsome, BFG’s Sr. Country Operations Marketing Manager.
Dan: “When we introduced the all-terrain tire back in 1976, the very first place we took it was to Baja. We quickly learned we needed a third ply in this thing.”
And they haven’t stopped testing and learning since. Over the ensuing 40 plus years of off-road competition, BFG has racked up more wins than all other tire manufacturers combined. And those wins continue today: from Dakar to Baja to the recent Mint 400 where BFG swept the podium.
Racing is one thing, but how does that help the consumer?
Dan: “The K02 Sidewall rubber compound is a direct lift from the Baja KR2, which is our hardcore Trophy Truck racing tire.”
But development is not limited to motorsports. BFG uses specialized equipment, both static and dynamic, to improve their tires. They developed a “sidewall tire torture machine” to test not only their product but all of the competition as well. The result? “The current All-Terrain tire is 20% tougher than its predecessor.”
As I discovered, that stiff sidewall is not just durable, but also aids handling on the street.
The last thing I wanted to know about was the new all-season capability of the KO2, which was a factor in my tire choice…in addition to the fact that it looks badass.
“This is a tire we sell globally. Canada is a big market and they require the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating for winter use. Most of the changes to the design were in sculpture: tread design and 3D siping. While the compound is not the same as a dedicated winter tire, it’s a really good compound for running all four seasons.”
So far, I totally concur.