There has been a trend I have been observing for the past decade or so in the automotive industry. Almost every car that leaves the factory gates, is equipped with wheels that are one size too big. Why is that?
The cynic in me would simply say that this trend is just carmakers finding more ways to lighten your pockets by charging an exorbitant amount for wheels and tyres. Audi will even mandate 22-inch wheels if you option carbon-ceramic brakes with the new RS6. Who are the biggest winners? Tyre and wheel companies.
Have you seen prices of tyres from 18-inch onwards? If you haven’t, just know that one 19-inch tyre can probably buy you an entire set of 15-inch tyres, with change to spare. The same applies for wheels. You can’t escape this rule, bigger simply means more expensive, in this context at least.
Also, in the interest of maintenance, have you seen Malaysian roads? No matter how careful you are, it is inevitable that you will run into a pothole, and destroy a tyre, your wheel, steering rack, suspension and possibly your bank balance too. It is a rite of passage. Did I mention bigger wheels and tyres generally cost more, especially if your car comes with run-flat tyres?
That’s even before we get to the subject of ride comfort. You see, bigger wheels usually come at the expense of ride comfort. Why? To run bigger wheels, your tyres need to be of a lower profile ie thinner rubber. Common sense will dictate that, less rubber = less comfort.
This is compounded by the fact that some carmakers insist on equipping their cars with run-flat tyres out of the box. Whilst the technology has improved, run-flats are generally, pound-for-pound, just not as comfortable as its conventional counterparts.
Recently, we had the pleasure of getting behind the wheel of a BMW M340i. Whilst it did ride remarkably well for a car that was shod on 19-inch wheels and run-flat tyres, you get the feeling that the suspension was working overtime to ensure compliance. Therein lies the problem. Other aspects of the car had to be compromised, for the sake of looking good.
Of course, carmakers argue that by increasing wheel and tyre sizes, you get sharper steering, high-speed stability and perhaps braking performance. But let’s be honest here, most users care very little for such things on a daily commute. Even if you’re an enthusiast, how often can you actually exploit the benefits that bigger wheels and tyres bring?
In the end, there’s an inescapable feeling that carmakers are fitting bigger wheels onto their models for vanity’s sake. Bigger wheels will look undoubtedly better on any car, but there’s a practical price that owners have to pay. And for many, that is a trade-off they will happily do without. 22-inch wheels on an Audi RS6? Is that really necessary?