We’ve said this time and time again: when it comes to upgrading a car, the biggest bang-for-the-buck improvement you can make is a set of performance tires and (in most cases) lighter wheels. Going to significantly bigger wheels and wider tires doesn’t always result in an increase in performance, so it’s important to know what your specific goals are before you begin shopping. Next, it helps to speak with experts, and you won’t find a larger collection of tire and wheel experts under one roof than at The Tire Rack in South Bend, Indiana.
Take the Subaru BRZ, for example. The stock wheels are meant for strength and durability, so adding lighter wheels ups the handling by reducing unsprung weight. The BRZ’s tires are also the standard equipment on the European Prius, so it’s a safe bet that they’re not really performance-oriented. While you have to suffer through a lot of filler to get to the meat of this video, then net result is this: with lighter wheels and wider, stickier tires, the BRZ shaved 1.18 seconds off its best lap time with the stock wheels and tires. Lateral acceleration was raised, too, from an average of 0.891 on the best stock-tire lat to an average of 1.009 on the best performance-tire lap.
To look at it another way, upping the engine output of the BRZ probably wouldn’t have produced a similar gain, since the car was already at the limits of the stock tires. While more power feels good (and sounds good, too), it may not produce the same results as more tire and lighter wheels.