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Here's How Different Wheel Sizes Affect Performance

Auto Attitude Of Monmouth County Provides Information On How Different Wheel Sizes Affect Performance

Auto Attitude blog Auto Lighting

Picture this: you're looking to upgrade your rims or you're optioning out your new car and you get down to the tires and wheels part of the build. You have the option of 17-inch, 18-inch or 19-inch wheels. Which do you choose?

This is an important decision, because not only does wheel size affect a car’s performance, it also influences its comfort and noise level. In 2010, Car and Driver tested a variety of tire sizes and published a han dy chart explaining the differences. Tyre Reviews new video, however, allows you to see how the different sized tires perform in the real world.

In it, we see 17-inch, 18-inch and 19-inch wheels tested out on a Volkswagen Golf GTI, each with the same tire. Between dry handling, wet handling and noise tests, subjective and objective aspects were considered.

To answer the question of what changes when you change wheel size, we tested three versions of the excellent Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyre using a Golf GTI at Goodyear's incredible test facility in Mireval. This facility allowed us to objectively test the tyres in wet and dry braking, straight and curved aquaplaning and wet and dry timed handling, and also allowed objective testing of how the tyre feels during wet and dry handling. We also focused on the all important NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) tests, to see if you really can make your car more comfortable by dropping a wheel size.

The sizes chosen were simple, they're three OE options for the Golf. 225/45 R17, 225/40 R18 and 225/35 R19 all have the same tyre width, and the rolling radius differs by just 0.4% meaning they should have a near identical footprint. As a result, the differences in performances measured will be down to the tyre construction, rather than any other factors.

The Objective Data

With each of the three tyre sizes near identical in footprint, would the raw numbers show any difference in the tyres performance? The short answer is: No, not much.

During dry and wet braking, there was never more than 1% separating the three sizes, with a very similar result during the straight and curved aquaplaning tests.

Comfort and Noise

With the subjective results giving the 19" the win in the dry and the 17" in the wet, does NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) testing make a conclusion any easier?

During the 3km road route, we subjectively and objectively measured the tyre noise level, and subjectively scored comfort.

As expected, the 17" tyre was the most comfortable, with the 18" size delivering more of the road bumps into the car, especially at the rear of the car where the tyre has less weight to manage.

As a result of the extra comfort of the 17" wheel, the car felt a little less planted during road handling, with the 17" shimmying over imperfections of the road where the 18" felt more stable, almost as if the car had upgraded dampers on the 18" wheel and tyre combination. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the noise levels, the 18" was a full dB quieter than the 17", and was immediately noticeable in the cabin.

Where the 18" slightly reduced comfort in the cabin, the 19" started crashing, and while the overall noise level in the cabin was the same as the 17", the overall experience of driving the tyre on rough surfaces was far more stressful, as every minor issue with the road surface was amplified into the cabin.

How to Conclude…

Will a 17" tyre offer more comfort than an 18" or 19" tyre? Most likely, yes. Will a bigger wheel size like 19" feel more sporty than a smaller one? Yes. What wheel size was the best overall balance for this Golf GTI? The 18".

The Golf GTI is a hot hatch, and as amazing as the 17" wheel size was in the wet, it didn't really suit the car's character in the dry.

While the 19" wheel size looked the best and felt much better in the dry, the nervousness in the wet and the comfort levels on the road made driving the GTI hard work, having to respect the limits and avoid any sort of surprise on the road.

The 18" wheel and tyre combination just felt "right". While they certainly weren't as comfortable as the 17" wheel, the penalty in road imperfections was worth the trade for more precise steering and sporty handling in the dry and wet.

If you have a big car like an Audi A6 on 19" wheels and you're looking to improve your comfort, then it's safe to say dropping to a smaller wheel size will help, but at the expense of dynamic handling, but it's also worth keeping in mind you can improve noise and comfort by switching to a different tyre, so it's worth doing your research first.

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