Along with the urban SUV segment, a new design trend emerged: large-diameter wheels with low-profile tires. This combination is fitted to models with a higher ground clearance and those cars whose bodywork is decorated with decorative plastic linings, making them look more like real off-roaders. Before the era of city SUVs, the 17-18-inch wheels looked really big, but with the new SUVs, even 19-21-inch wheels entered the market and soon became the norm.
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Skeptics see this trend as a major drawback and even call it a comfort killer. However, they cannot really agree with that. After all, the comfort of some car manufacturers is an integral part of the brand’s DNA, so they have put in place well-thought-out engineering solutions to this problem. For many years, for example, Citroën has been integrating innovative suspension into its everyday cars, both to improve comfort and to maintain eye-catching drives.
Of course, many people buy cars with large wheels and low-profile tires. They praise their choice and believe that such a car is truly comfortable. It is easy to get in and out of the cabin, you can drive on the curb, as well as overcome more serious bumps, because such a combination of discs and tires absorbs the impact of potholes. Plus, many are convinced that this way the car will look more beautiful from the outside. “It’s just that – many people prefer larger discs, and if we like something, we find an excuse for that choice. It’s psychology,” explains engineer and suspension specialist Doms Zinkevich.
In addition, experts say that manufacturers are constantly working to ensure that more beauty does not mean less comfort.
You will have to sacrifice something
Zinkevich does not hide – lower profile tires and bigger wheels mean that the car will become tighter. “Overcoming the unevenness of the road, such tires will always shake the body more. What does this mean? More noise, more sensitive shocks and so on. If we compare a lower and a higher profile tire, we see that the second option will always be more comfortable,” he explains.
The same is true for large discs. After all, more material is needed to make a bigger disc, but that means the wheel will be heavier.
Of course, comfort is sacrificed for the sake of beauty. For example, off-roaders are considered to be particularly comfortable driving, but many people make it clear after a ride with some good city crossovers that they will no longer sit there. For some models, the suspension is extremely rigid, so those sitting in the cabin not only have to withstand vibrations, shakes and various shocks, but also a lot of noise. Fortunately, several car manufacturers have found a solution to this problem.
“When driving on uneven roads, a larger car mass absorbs part of the impact itself, respectively the drivers feel less shock. But if the car is fitted with large discs with low-profile tires, then hopes for comfort disappear,” explains Zinkevičs. He also points out that the suspension plays a major role in this process.
There is no shortage of solutions
As the wheels get bigger, the new car’s suspension has to be more innovative. And the manufacturers are really working hard to ensure that drivers do not have to accept the comfort of the car for a better look.
According to Doma Zinkevičs, the bodies are getting stiffer, while the shock absorbers and their springs are softer, so various ways are being sought to improve the car’s handling at the same time. Mercedes-Benz, for example, has been using adaptive suspension in its cars for many years, and it is now becoming smarter, ie scanning the road and adapting the chassis to the expected bumps.
Brands such as Audi and BMW have for many years offered changeable driving modes that allow the suspension to be adapted to the driver’s mood and preferences. Thanks to the electrically adjustable suspension elements, driving the same car can be both sporty and extremely comfortable.
However, the condition of the road surface is improving all over the world, so the task of car manufacturers is becoming a little easier.
From “premium” to economy class
Another reason why car manufacturers prefer to create visually beautiful cars with larger wheels and lower tires is the rapid development of technology and the reduction of their costs. “It’s a fact – with each new generation of models, manufacturers are putting more and more new technologies into cars. The introduction of technologies, so to speak, is spiraling downwards – first in the luxury segment, but later also in the economy class,” explains Doms Zinkevičs.
More and more often on the road we see relatively simple cars with air suspension or electrically adjustable suspension, the rigidity of which can be changed with a few clicks, just sitting behind the wheel. Citroën, for example, which has been prioritizing comfort for years, developed a hydropneumatic suspension at the very beginning of the company’s existence that allowed anyone who bought this relatively affordable car to enjoy a comfortable ride.
Modern Citroën models, such as the C4, have hydraulic shock absorbers. The additional valves in them automatically adjust the hardness of the shock absorbers depending on the condition of the suspension. Shock absorbers and springs are standard. In turn, the system with advanced hydraulic cushions is equipped with two hydraulic shock absorbers, one for compression and the other for decompression. These shock absorbers move smoothly, thus preventing sudden shocks. It may sound complicated, but in reality its construction is quite simple, not rocket science, and maintenance is not as expensive as air suspension. “After all, most of the impact of unevenness is absorbed by the suspension, and those sitting in the cabin are not even aware of it,” adds Doms Zinkevičs.