What wheel and tyre combination is going to give you the best winter performance? A narrow high sidewall of a 205/55 R16, a wide sporty 225/40 R18, or a compromise of the two sizes, at 225/45 R17? To test this theory we've used three versions of the excellent Goodyear UltraGrip Performance Gen-1 winter tyre, and have carried out full dry, wet and snow testing using a VW Golf.
Watch the video below for the full details, or continue reading the article to find some of the key points!
The biggest difference between the tyres is the fact the 16 inch size is only 205mm wide, whereas the 17 and 18 inch sizes are both 225mm wide.
When looking at different winter tyre sizes, one of the biggest theories is narrow is better, as it gives the tyre a greater ability to cut through the snow to the surface below. The counter argument for this is the fact wider tyres have more edges thanks to more sipes, which allows them more grip.
In theory, the biggest difference will come from snow performance, but in practice the objective timed differences were tiny!
Subjectively there was a slightly bigger gap between the three winter tyre sizes, but again it was very close. The 17 inch wheel and tyre combination proved to have the best overall balance, giving you a predictable and stable car, whereas the 16" seemed to be a little quicker on the front axle which resulted in oversteer at the rear, and the 18" gave you less communication at the limit which resulted in surprise understeer at points.
During wet testing the situation changed in favour of the wider tyres, but again the gaps were tiny.
The narrower 16" tyre was always going to win the aquaplaning testing, and it even managed to split the 17" and 18" tyres during wet braking, but it was half a second off the 17" and 18" tyres during wet handling.
Subjectively the tyres were slightly further apart than in the snow, with the 17" and 18" tyres feeling broadly similar, and the 16" tyre struggling more with slow steering and understeer at the limit.
In the dry, the wider tyres definitely had a performance advantage.
The wider 17" and 18" tyres had a clear advantage during dry braking, which directly carried over to dry handling. The 18" was the sharpest feeling tyre on test, and definitely the tyre you'd want fitted to and sort of sports car.
The 16" tyre had a huge advantage in noise and comfort levels, crashing far less over road imperfections and potholes, something that's important to consider for the UK's winters. The noise levels between the 17" and 18" tyres sounded fairly similar, but were different tones so registered differently on the dB meter.
It's fair to say that the differences between a good winter tyre and a bad winter tyre are far greater than the differences between a 16", 17" and 18" winter wheel and tyre combination.
If you're driving a sportier car and want to retain some level of driving enjoyment over the winter, the wider, lower profile tyres are better.
If you'd prefer ultimate comfort and low noise levels for your winter motoring, fit a wheel and tyre combination that maximizes the tyre sidewall you can fit, as this will give you the highest levels of NVH.
Ultimately, the most important thing to consider is not what winter tyre size you pick, but what winter tyre you pick in any size, so be sure to check out all the reviews and tests on Tyre Reviews to help you make the best winter tyre choice for your vehicle.