Many hatchbacks and small sports cars sport either 16″ or 17″ alloy wheels, but which is the best option? In this article, I’ll compare the pros and cons of 16″ and 17″ wheels so you can choose the best size whether you’re modifying your vehicle or choosing from the factory options on a new car.
The Quick Answer
Larger 17″ alloy wheels will have give the car sportier handling by improving cornering and stability compared to 16″ wheels. However, 16″ wheels are cheaper and produce less road noise, have better fuel economy and feel more comfortable compared to 17″ wheels.
Most car owners prefer the look of larger alloys on a vehicle and lower profile tires. With a 16″ wheel, you’ll have more tire sidewall compared to a 17″ wheel where the sidewall is narrower. Larger rims tend to make the car look nicer so it’s why most manufacturers increase the stock alloy size as the trim level is upgraded.
Of course upping the size of your alloys and decreasing the height of the tire sidewall only works up until a point. If the car looks like it’s driving around with elastic bands for tires, it can look a bit silly. It’s best to have a look at your car with different size alloys online before making the switch to make sure you like the look of the new size.
Performance and Handling
As I mentioned above, increasing the alloy size generally means you’ll also need to decrease the sidewall height of the tire to make sure the overall wheel fits comfortably in the arch. The lower profile tires found on a car with 17″ alloys will make the car feel a bit “sportier”. By this, I mean the handling will feel sharper and the cornering and stability will usually feel better. However, it’s worth noting that larger rims also add more weight which means acceleration can be reduced.
Keep in mind that these differences are only directly applicable when comparing the same model of tire and alloy. If you’re making changes to either of these aspects of the wheel, then this may have a greater impact than the size alone.
All in all, switching from 16″ to 17″ alloys (and vice versa) won’t have a dramatic impact on the performance and handling of the vehicle and won’t be very noticeable for daily driving. But, if you’re looking for sharper handling and a sportier feel, then you’ll probably prefer the 17″ alloys.
Want to learn more about the effect of wheel size on performance? Check out my complete guide to why wheel size matters to learn more.
Switching between 16″ and 17″ wheels will have an impact on how comfortable the car feels for both the driver and the passengers. This again relates to the tire’s sidewall height.
With 17″ wheels, the lower profile tires will mean there is less cushioning between the people inside the car, and the road. This makes the rid feel firmer and sportier, but it also can feel too harsh for example when going over potholes.
With smaller 16″ wheels, there will be more sidewall to cushion the ride, making rough terrain feel nicer to drive on. It also means the tires are less likely to blow out when going over a pothole.
Another advantage of the 16″ alloys is that they aren’t as loud. This again makes the ride feel a bit more pleasant for the passengers, particularly on faster roads. The tires with a larger sidewall found on a 16″ rim help to reduce the amount of road noise produced.
However, the difference in noise levels between 16″ and 17″ wheels isn’t that dramatic and unless you trialled them back to back, you’d probably be hard pushed to notice a difference. In some cases, you may even find the 16″ tire is louder than the 17″ tire, because the model also plays a huge role.
In the table below I’ve listed some popular tires for 16″ and 17″ alloys and the manufacturer’s noise rating. In the vast majority of cases, there is no difference in rating between the sizes.
|Dunlop SP SportMaxx RT 87W
|Bridgestone Turanza T005
|Michelin Crossclimate 2
|Uniroyal RainSport 5
|Yokahoma ADVAN sPORT
A car with 17″ alloys will use more fuel to travel the same distance at the same speed compared to the same car with 16″ alloys. This is because the 17″ alloys are heavier which creates more rolling resistance. In other words, the car has to work harder (using more fuel) to travel the same distance.
With that said, the switch from 16″ to 17″ alloys isn’t dramatic and will only decrease your MPG by a 1-2 typically so it shouldn’t have a huge impact on your fuel bill.
If you are concerned, try and pick a tire make and model which has a better fuel efficiency rating as this can have a greater impact on fuel economy compared to the size of the alloys.
In most cases, 17″ alloy wheels are more expensive than 16″ alloy wheels. The price difference is typically around $50 when the alloys cost around $1000 or less but can be up to $500 on more expensive models. Check out this table comparing the prices of different sizes of the same alloys.
Alloy and Tire Sizes
Changing from 16″ to 17″ alloys (or vice versa) will have an impact on the tires you can run. In most cases, people try and keep the overall wheel size as close to the stock size as possible so that it fits comfortably in the wheel arch, and does not affect the speedometer.
If you increase your wheel overall wheel size, then the speedometer will say the car is going slower than it actually is. If you decrease the overall wheel size, then the speedometer will say the car is going faster than it is. In either case, the speedometer will need recalibrating.
Hence, when you switch between 16″ and 17″ rims, then you’ll need to change the tire sidewall height if you want to avoid this issue.
Check out these diagrams to demonstrate.
What Size Tires Do I Need?
There are three measurements to consider when discussing tire size:
- Width: this refers to how wide the tread is in millimetres.
- Aspect ratio: this is a percentage of the width.
- Alloy size: this is measured in inches.
Take the example below.
The width of the tread is 195 mm, the aspect ratio is 50% of the tread width so equals 97.5 mm and the tire is designed to fit a 16″ alloy.
It’s important to remember that the sidewall height is a ratio of the width. Hence, a car with 195/50 R16 tires will not have the same sidewall height as a car with 205/50 R16 tires.
In this example the sidewall heights would actually be:
- 195/50 R16 sidewall height = 97.5 mm
- 205/50 R16 sidewall height = 102.5 mm
This is calculated by working out 50% of the first number (the width).
Hence, when you switch from 16″ to 17″ wheels (or 17″ to 16″), you’ll need to consider all three numbers of the tire size.
If you are keeping the J width of the wheel the same, for example 16 x 7″ to 17 x 7″, then the first number can stay the same (the tire width). However, the aspect ratio and of course the alloy size measurements (e.g. R16/ R17) will need to change.
Let’s take the 2022 Volkswagen Polo as an example. The following tire sizes come as stock:
- 16″ alloys 215/45 R16 tires
- 17″ alloys have 215/40 R17 tires
The smaller aspect ratio on the 17″ tires means the sidewall height is reduced so the overall wheel size is the same.
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