Low Profile Tyres: Why Lower Isn’t Always Better

Until the release of the new Defender, you couldn’t go into a Land Rover showroom and order a car with off-road tyres. Just think about that for a second. In a six-vehicle line up of a company that specialises in go-anywhere capability vehicles, you couldn’t spec them with proper off-road tyres. Now, however ridiculous that fact is, I’m not here to bash Land Rover. Partly because very few of their owners will ever take their cars off-road but mostly because they aren’t the only offenders.

The worst example of fitting unsuitable tyres for me is on normal run of the mill cars; BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, e.t.c, with the brand-tarnishing (another topic of conversation itself) M sport, S line and AMG packs. I just don’t see the point in buying a car with an entry-level engine that will mainly be used for the commute to work, shopping trips and the school run, then fitting huge wheels with low profile tyres.

This is how it should be done

Benefits of a Taller Sidewall

What people seem to forget these days, is that the tyre sidewall is part of the suspension system. The benefits of having a taller sidewall are huge, starting with ride quality – for those tasks I listed above, surely comfort would be high on your priority, especially with the ruts and potholes littering our roads.

Comfort

I have a 1993 Jaguar XJ40 and quite often the first comment I get after someone gets out is, “It’s really comfortable”. I’m pretty sure that’s not down to the near thirty-year-old suspension. It has a lot to do with the fact the car is sat on 215/70/15 tyres. Those big sidewalls working in conjunction with the springs and dampers to give that famous XJ ride. Which brings me on to my next point, the longevity of suspension components.

Longevity

With a small sidewall, all those jarring forces are being transmitted straight through to the suspension and steering. This causes wear far quicker than if there was some suppleness in the tyre to take the edge off.

Nobody likes having to spend money on needless repairs, having to listen out for knocks in the suspension or play in the steering because you went over a bump too fast. A car these days should be able to take some serious punishment and unfortunately, they just can’t.

Using another one of my cars, for example, my Audi A2, which runs on pathetically small tyres, was purchased second hand and with a buckled wheel, no doubt caused by the lack of rubber surrounding it.

Low profile tyres have no place on a daily driver

Reduced Road Noise

My next point is road-noise. Another undesirable product in a daily driver. The lower the sidewall the stiffer it often is and so is able to transfer noise and vibration up into the cab. This can often be most notable at higher speeds, on motorways for example, not something you want if you have a four-hour journey ahead of you. Manufacturers try to combat this by fitting more sound insulation but in a world where MPG is king, adding weight is far from an ideal solution.

Low Profile Tyres and the Luxury Car Market

A place where you’d think a low profile tyre has no place is the luxury car market but you’d be wrong. Take a Mercedes S-Class, an S 350d can be had with 245/40/20 tyres! A Rolls Royce Cullinan and Phantom can be had with 285/45/21. While both cars are incredibly comfortable I can’t help but think they’ve left something on the table. I’m well aware there’ll be people talking about turn in sharpness and steering feel but if that’s high on your priorities when buying a massive luxury car, then frankly, you need your head examined.

How have we got to this point where everything from a diesel Mercedes saloon to a 3 tonne SUV all have low profile tyres? Well, I’m sure whoever started the trend for fitting bigger and bigger wheels with every new model can take some of the blame.

Low Profile Tyres and Sports Cars

Everyone has seemingly been suckered into this, including the makers of sports cars. They need “big wheels to fit over the big brakes”, I hear them say but may I remind them that a Formula 1 car has 13-inch wheels and fat tyres and no road car in existence can come close to one of them in either handling or braking performance.

Road testers that have a track segment for every review regardless of the type of vehicle, can also take a portion of the blame. Why people think it’s a good idea to give detailed explanations of how a Mercedes G Wagon handles on the limit around Anglesey is beyond me. Manufacturers have twigged onto this and I think they’re frightened they’re going to get marked down if they can’t lap the track faster than their competitors, and who can blame them?

Who Do We Point the Finger At?

The final group to blame is the buying public. How many people do you know that have bought a car based on its on-paper performance, without having even driven other options?

Low profile tyres have their place, obviously and I’m not going to sit here and preach to everyone that all cars should be fitted with a taller sidewall, but for 99% of the population (those who use their car to drive to work or take their kids to school and think Brands Hatch is a posh batch of eggs they can buy from Waitrose) taller sidewall tyres are the way to go. It’s unlikely we’ll ever go back to the days of bigger tyres but it would be nice to see aftermarket support for those who want a bit more comfort in their life.

Let me know what you think. Do you like feeling the road through your fingers no matter what type of car you drive? Or have you swapped out some big wheels for some smaller ones with fatter tyres?

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