No surprise here: Treads will utterly transform the way a driver interacts with a car. I've driven at least a thousand different vehicles over my 10-year career in the auto industry, and nothing has required as much thought, patience, planning, or affixed such a goofy grin on my face as Nissan
's Winter Warriors – the Murano, Pathfinder, and Rogue. But the sacrifices demanded by treads are huge.
The easiest way to avoid any potential damage, though, is to just drive very carefully. In fact, that's the only way you can drive.
For one, American Track Truck's Dominator treads produce hilarious buzz and vibration dynamics even at low speeds. It's constant and uninterrupted when driving in a straight line, and if you're not careful or don't make appropriate body modifications, you'll get treated to a more dreadful racket when the treads make contact with the wheel wells.
In Nissan's case, the team behind the Winter Warriors adjusted the suspension and ripped a few body parts off. Even with the rear wheel arches and the back half of the side sills gone, things are extremely tight at the back. In front, there was only so much that could be done.
There are ways around this, of course. For one, there are a lot of vehicles more conducive to treads than this trio of Nissans. American Track Truck's website says it can work out a Dominator to fit virtually any four- to eight-lug bolt pattern and the treads have been installed on everything from a Jeep Wrangler to a Subaru WRX to a Lada Niva. The company also lists an array of additional mods that can be made to better accommodate Dominator treads, like more pliable, extended wheel arches.
The easiest way to avoid any potential damage, though, is to just drive very carefully. In fact, that's the only way you can drive. For the compromises it makes in terms of ride comfort and noise, fitting Dominators requires much larger sacrifices on the overall drivability front.
At 15 inches wide and four feet long, the 121-inch long treads dramatically curb the Murano's turning circle. There's less than half a turn of the wheel in either direction, so you're limited to either wide, sweeping turns at higher speeds or multi-point turns at lower speeds. That steering angle is a hard cap, too. The Rogue lost its washer fluid bottle when another journalist gave it too much wheel. That'd be frustrating enough, but because of the size and weight of the treads – there's an extra 170 pounds at either corner – you can only turn the wheel while moving forward or backward, or you risk destroying the power steering pump. 10-point turns quickly become 110-point turns.
If these problems sound like too much to deal with everyday, it's worth noting how simple the treads themselves are. While they're heavy, American Track Truck claims the Dominators can be swapped with normal wheels and tires by one person in about an hour. You might still need to make suspension and body mods, but the interior, engine, transmission, and brakes are all stock, so this remains more automobile than snowmobile. And while you will need to change the way you think about driving, the rewards are immense. These vehicles are absolutely unstoppable.
Sure, the treads are good for additional grip (they fling snow like nothing else) but they have a far bigger impact on the pressure the vehicle exerts on the ground, kind of like a set of snowshoes. In a normal passenger vehicle, the small contact patch of the tires puts out around 30 pounds per square inch on the ground, but fitting Dominators to a vehicle reduces that stat to just two psi. Basically, you float above the snow instead of plowing through it.
But even when faced with more difficult terrain, the Winter Warriors were barely fazed. The biggest challenge of the day was a very, very big hill – listed as a black diamond by the ski resort we were testing on – that was so steep the front windshield was nothing but sky on the ascent while you were completely blind until committed to the descent. I've driven Range Rovers that would have been challenged by such a hill, but the Murano did the job completely free of drama. It charged upwards without missing a beat or even offering up a hint of slip and was completely controllable on the way down without the help of hill-descent control or any tricky braking. It was just easy.
Even when faced with more difficult terrain, the Winter Warriors were barely fazed.
The cost of this effortless performance, though, is not small. On top of all the compromises in drivability and everyday use, the Dominator treads cost around $9,000 for a set. Just as you don't need to spend $1,000 on The North Face's Himalayan suit when a $100-snow suit from Wal-Mart would do, you almost certainly don't need the capabilities promised by American Track Truck. But for people regularly faced with feet of snow in rural regions, who want something warmer than a snowmobile, or who need to groom trails regularly, the cost is reasonable.
But what about everyone else? Why would you do this to your vehicle? Why would you want to live with so many compromises, even with all the rewards? Why did Nissan do it? It has to be more than just a publicity stunt, right?
For such a big company, the answer I got was both refreshing and relatable.
"Because we can."
When it comes to putting treads on a family crossover, that's about the best (and only) reason you really need.