Downsize your wheels when swapping to winter tires

The Volvo XC90 has been around for a few years now. Pictured here is a T6 version with some Polestar mods. It looks great, the interior is great, and the engine is slightly noisy but overall pretty great. But this particular one does have a big problem. Actually, it has four too-big problems.

volvo xc90 22 inch wheels snow winter tires upclose
Specifically, those gorgeous 22-inch wheels are its problems. More specifically, it is the tires that have basically no sidewall, that are wrapped around those wheels. While looking great, these big wheels yield a rough ride, as the shorter tire sidewalls tend to absorb fewer road imperfections.

With these tires, road bumps, potholes, and pebbles get transmitted directly into the suspension. Even the optional air suspension on this rig, it cannot absorb them properly. It has also been proven that low-profile tires do not necessarily enhance handling performance. This is certainly true for a seven-passenger 4500-pound three-row SUV.

volvo xc90 22 inch wheels snow winter tires pirelli 285

The pictured tires however, are not conventional tires. These are Pirelli Scorpion Winter tires, sized 285/35-22. By design, the sidewalls on winter tires tend to be slightly softer than all-season in order to remain soft in colder temperatures. But that still wasn’t enough to smooth out the ride. Another downside is that winter is pothole season. The lack of those sidewalls increases the chances of a flat tire or a bent wheel.

Finally, there is the high cost of these Pirelli winter tires. At $382.80 each, they cost more per set of four than I’ve paid for some cars. That does not include the second set of 22-inch wheels that they need to be mounted on. And of course there is mounting and balancing.

volvo xc90 18 inch wheels snow winter tires

Switching to smaller diameter wheels for winter use, as pictured above, makes a lot of sense. First, the added rubber around the wheel provides a better ride. The smaller wheels are more resilient to bending on the awful winter roads. That leads to a lower potential of a flat tire. Finally, the smaller diameter wheel typically requires a narrower tire. A narrower tire will put the weight of the vehicle onto a smaller footprint. That pressure makes it easier for tires to push down through the snow for better traction.

It goes without saying that smaller diameter wheels and tires are also less expensive. But the look of the vehicle does suffer. Handling on dry roads will also be effected but pushing your big SUV to 11/10ths on a freeway ramp is not a good thing to do in January or July.

volvo xc90 22 inch wheels snow winter tires 285 pirelli scorpion
Great vehicle, this XC90. Frankly, I really like all the new Volvos. They all look great, drive well, are comfy, have good power but are still fuel efficient. Their gorgeous interiors finish off the package. But unless you live in a place where cold weather does not exist and roads are as smooth as a polished marble countertop, do yourself a favor and don’t go full-pimp with the dub-plus-two rimmies.

8 Comments

  1. Imho, this advice does not just apply to winter tires, especially in a bloated-van-without-sliding-doors like the XC90. To my eyes, the huge wheels just look ridiculous, too.

    A while back, I talked about this with my tire guy who knows me by name, which probably says too much about my excessive tire consumption. He said that as average tire size increases, the price comes down, and smaller tires are no longer cheaper. That was very easy to disprove though…

    1. I called into my guy at Discount Tire earlier this week to talk about a spare wheel and tire for the e91, and found out he’d left the company. I’m still sad, days later, somewhat because he gave me a good price, and waived some of the fees (same thing, I buy way too many tires), but moreso because I lost my contact that understands me. 😔 I’d worked with him for close to a decade.

  2. I thoroughly agree, the trend toward rubber band tires is ridiculous. I’d be happy with 16″ wheels on my Mazda CX-5 instead of the 17s because it’s rather stiffly sprung. On the other hand it still manages some very rocky dirt roads at sensible speeds and the stock size 225/65R17 Blizzaks work fine on snow and ice.

    My truck has plenty of sidewall and I prefer bigger rubber for load capacity, although I will probably back down from the current 4×4 sized 265/75R16 to a 265/70R16 for lower entry and loading.

  3. One of the advantages of shopping in the shallow end of the market is factory steel wheels (on something with already decent sidewall) make a great receptacle for winter tires, leaving you open to something nice from the aftermarket.

  4. I think that giant rims are analogous to the tail fin craze of the 50’s. In theory there is some benefit to low profile tires but for 95% of people they’re just fashion accessories: just as tail fins theoretically added some stability to early 50’s race cars but were really just for bragging rights.

    I think that Audi’s 285/35/22 are a crazy choice for a street tire, and an insane choice for a winter tire. Still, it’s the times we live in. I just checked and my 2019 daily driver came with 245/45/18 and those are the Ordinary Joe size tires. There was a time when I would have thought that only stupid boy racers would have sidewalls as low as 45’s.

  5. i don’t like the look of rims that show off that the brakes could have been a lot bigger. Stick with the shorter rims year-round and you’ll eliminate some unsprung rotating mass. or put bigger brakes on, or use a rim that doesn’t show off that you have nothing to show off.

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