Wide or narrow tires: which is better?

Which tires do you prefer: wide or narrow? In their article, the ADAC test experts explained the pros and cons of wide and narrow tires based on the recently conducted tests.

Wider tires simply look better! At least, this is what most motorists think, who chose such tires to be installed on their vehicles. They had them installed in order to improve the visual appearance of their cars. However, such an upgrade, together with the wheel rims, is far from cheap, and costs about 2000 Euro.

So, do the wider tires really provide any advantages over narrower ones? To answer this question, the ADAC experts performed comparative tests of four tires approved to be fitted on the VW Golf VII in the 15, 16, 17, and 18-inch sizes.

Wider tires ensure better grip

Braking distance: wider tires brake faster

195/65 R15
38.4 m
205/55 R16
37.5 m
225/45 R17
36.9 m
225/40 R18
36.7 m

Info! Average stopping distance in the range 100-0 km/h (16 runs for each set of tires).

The tests proved that the belief «the wider the tire, the better the grip» is only relevant for a dry summer road. Due to the lower relative height of the sidewall, wider tires feature a more rigid construction, which improves handling response. As the tread widens, the sheer amount of rubber in the contact patch increases as well, which, combined with the rigid construction of the carcass, ensures extremely efficient dry braking.

The stopping distance from 100 km/h is significantly shorter with wider tires. For example, in the ADAC test, the narrow 195mm tires stopped after 38.8 meters, which is almost two meters further than the 18-inch tires with a 225-mm tread (36.7 m).

Risk of hydroplaning

Hydroplaning: narrow tires are safer

195/65 R15
82.7 km/h
205/55 R16
76.9 km/h
225/45 R17
72.0 km/h
225/40 R18
71.4 km/h

Info! Rate of grip loss for winter tires.

Wider tires dominate on the road as long as the tread stays in contact with the road surface. Due to the fact that each centimeter of width adds water that the tread has to evacuate from the contact area, wider tires break into hydroplaning earlier than narrow ones.

The diagram shows the speed, at which the tread grooves can no longer effectively dispel water from the contact area, and loss of grip occurs. Narrow tires will buy you at least 10 km/h more before the hydroplaning occurs.

Riding comfort

Comfort: wide tires are harder

195/65 R15
205/55 R16
225/45 R17
225/40 R18

Info! Overall comfort rating for winter tires.

Due to the fact that the height of the sidewalls of wider tires is lower and more rigid, less air can be used to dampen the road inequalities. As a result, the tire models with narrow tread ensured better riding comfort for the VW Golf test car than the wider tires.

The diagram shows the measurement results of the ADAC tire test, which evaluated the data from sensors installed under the driver’s seat. Thanks to the higher sidewall, narrow tires have more potential for absorbing the road inequalities than wider ones.

Wider tires: lower treadwear, more fuel consumption

Treadwear: narrow summer tires wear out faster

195/65 R15
30 200 km
205/55 R16
33 600 km
225/45 R17
34 000 km
225/40 R18
34 400 km

Info! Predicted mileage for summer tires.

The advantage of the low sidewall of wide tires is that such a tire is more stable, which naturally extends tread life. A wider tread provides better contact with the road surface, and is less prone to deformation, which results in better wear resistance.

However, the downside to it is that wider tires are less fuel-efficient. Expensive as they are already, brace yourself for increased fuel consumption. The reason is simple: the 18-inch wheel is about 5 kg heavier than the 15-inch one. In addition, wider tires have stronger rolling resistance. If we turn to figures, increasing the tread width by 30mm boosts the air resistance by about 6%.

The same is equally applicable for winter tires

Treadwear: narrow winter tires wear out faster

195/65 R15
37 700 km
205/55 R16
39 300 km
225/45 R17
42 500 km
225/40 R18
44 500 km

Info! Predicted mileage for winter tires.

The tests showed similar tendencies for winter tires. Tires with narrower tread are much safer on snow and slush than tires with wider tread: above all, they have more efficient traction and better cornering grip. They are also more efficient in combating the hydroplaning effect.

Motorists living in mountainous areas and choosing wide tires for their cars must make sure that they can be fitted with anti-skid chains. The thing is that oftentimes anti-skid chains cannot be fitted on wider rims. In addition, you must keep in mind that if you opt for wider tires, the price for the wheel rims will rise accordingly.