The Nitto NT421Q is an all-season touring tire with sporty performance. All Nitto tires are infused with a hint of sportiness, and the NT421Q has the same DNA. However, it’s a tire designed specifically for modern crossovers and SUVs. It’s no secret sedans and hatchbacks are getting less popular as we speak. In fact, Ford recently disclosed its plan of focusing more on trucks and SUVs, and other carmakers are following the same format.
And it’s easy to understand why, and it all has something to do with style and market trends. Since SUVs and crossovers are bigger and ride higher than ordinary sedans, these vehicles convey a sense of premium ownership. Of course, crossovers are naturally more expensive than normal cars, but it doesn’t mean these vehicles are better to drive. We still prefer fast sedans over premium SUVs any given day, but the automotive market is telling a different story.
Because of this, cars have changed a lot over the years. Nitto wanted a piece of the action by coming up with the NT421Q. It used to be that conventional passenger car tires are also good for crossovers and small SUVs. But now, crossovers demand more from tires, and the Nitto NT421Q is here to pick up the slack.
You probably know by now we’re not the biggest SUV fans in the world. But if there’s a particular crossover that we really like (and would buy with our own money, but only if we can afford it) is the Mazda CX-5. All you need is to take the CX-5 for a short test drive to find out it’s the best-handling small crossover in the business. Mazda is also selling the yet smaller CX-3, but the CX-5 hits the right spot for small to medium-sized families looking for a stylish hauler to drive around town.
And as it turns out, we were able to procure a 2015 Mazda CX-5 for this review. Our test vehicle came with stock 17-inch wheels. But since we have a base Sport model, our test unit only came fitted with a smaller 2.0-liter motor and six-speed automatic. The motor produces 155-horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, which we find lacking for a heavy crossover. But then again, the engine returns a combined 29 mpg, which is not bad for a car-based crossover.
Naturally, our test vehicle came fitted with Nitto NT421Q tires. The owner purchased the tires more than six months ago and have seen a lot of highway miles since then. Based on our initial inspection, the tires are wearing out nicely. But for a set of sport-touring tires, we were expecting longer wear.
Typical of Nitto tires, the NT421Q scores tons of points in terms of style and design. It has a unique asymmetric tread design offering sharper handling, a more comfortable ride, and all-weather traction. Nitto is classifying the NT421Q as premium all-season SUV tires. But in truth, it’s a sport-touring tire that focuses more on the ‘sporty’ side of the spectrum. Keep this in mind as we go deeper in our review.
The Nitto NT421Q is equipped with intelligent maintenance indicators. With this feature, the tires can visually alert the driver of maintenance or wear issues early on. Not all tires have this feature, but touring tires will mostly come with wear indicators similar to this one. The NT421Q also has a bevy of 3D multi-wave sipes with an interlocking wet design. With this feature alone, you’ll know the tires will have problems dealing with wet, snowy, or icy roads. The sipes not only provides biting edges for better traction, but the sipes can interlock to deliver stronger breaking and faster acceleration.
The outer tread blocks are larger and provide better stability. On the other hand, the inside shoulder blocks are optimized for better wet and winter performance. The inner blocks have larger open grooves and a higher sipe density. And with three deep circumferential grooves, the tire is capable of channeling water, slush, and ice away from the contact patch. This means solid traction and better stability when navigating in the wet.
In our humble opinion, the Nitto NT421Q is a solid match to the Mazda CX-5. It’s the type of crossover for the street, and it makes no pretensions of delivering superior off-road performance. The CX-5 is essentially a lifted Mazda 3 with stronger underpinnings, so we’re expecting sharper handling dynamics and a comfortable ride.
The NT421Q tires were a revelation over the dry pavement. It also has something to do with the agile handling of our test vehicle, but the tires offered a secure grip as we attacked some fast corners on an empty hillside. If you approach a corner too fast, the Mazda CX-5 can still point the nose towards the direction of the curve without inducing too much understeer, but you’ll need to be aggressive with your braking, throttle, and steering inputs much like in a sports car.
However, if you constantly drive like you’re chasing lap times, the rear tires will squirm and agonize for some added grip. And even though the tires can handle it, the NT421Q is simply not intended for this type of driving behavior. Remember, these are essentially touring tires, right? But the sporting behavior is hard to ignore. Braking remains strong and the steering had a newfound sense of accuracy with these tires.
Dare we say the NT421Q tires are better on wet roads than in the dry? The tires felt good on wet surfaces with no hint of aquaplaning, as long as you don’t push too much with a full load of passengers and cargo. Braking remained strong and consistent and the handling was as tight as a drum.
We were testing the Nitto NT421Q tires in the middle of summer and had no chance to determine snow performance. We asked the owner about this, and he proudly said the tires were magnificent over light snow, but only when the tires were new. He even told us the tires were wearing faster than usual, and he noticed a significant drop in winter performance as the treads wore thin.
The Nitto NT421Q tires were unbelievably comfortable despite the firm suspension tuning of our test vehicle. Nitto added shoulder inserts in constructing the tire and consists mainly of an additional layer of rubber to provide better cushioning. True to form, the tires were able to muffle the shock of deep potholes and other road irregularities.
We didn’t find this surprising at all. Remember, we said from the beginning the Nitto NT421Q is a sport-touring tire, which means a more cushioned ride compared to high-performance tires. It’s more comfortable and sportier than Nitto’s own 420S and newer NT420V, which is high praise given the sporting intent of NT421Q.
This is where it gets confusing. During our test drive, the tires were more talkative than usual despite the comfortable ride. We asked the owner about this and he told us the tires were quieter when new. But as soon as the treads wore down to around 7/32” the tires became noisier. Now, this fact is a big surprise since touring tires are known for being quiet and serene.
However, the noise is not as loud as you think. But if you like driving fast, you’ll definitely hear more tire roar as the speedometer rises.
In terms of wear, the Nitto NT421Q only gets an average score. We also heard this is the biggest weakness of NT421Q, and the owner agrees. Even if he bought the tires more than six months ago, the tires started showing signs of wear after 10,000 hard miles, which is appalling for a touring tire. But our test vehicle is a high-mileage unit with 45,000 miles under its belt and sees a lot of high-speed highway action on a regular basis.
If not for the mediocre wear characteristics and road noise, the Nitto NT421Q tires would have gotten a higher score. However, some of these shortcomings may also have something to do with your driving behavior. We reckon the tires won’t wear out as fast if you do most of your driving in the city but infusing the sporting characteristics of a performance tire into a touring tire tends to come with drawbacks. Sporty tires need to shed rubber in order to produce tons of grip, unlike touring tires that rely on lower rolling resistance tire compounds for longer wear.
Wrapping things up, we still highly recommend the Nitto NT421Q for sporty crossovers and small SUVs. The dry and wet performance is simply outstanding for a touring tire, and we also like the elevated comfort levels when driving over bad roads.
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Alvin Reyes has expertise in automotive evaluation. He collaborated with famous newspapers and is still making efforts in tire review for DrivingPress.com