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I have yet to find anyone that knows of any benefits of low-profile tires. All of the pros that I've asked have said there is no benefit. Naturally, the number of pros that I have available to ask is limited so I'm wondering what a wider audience will say.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Naturally, the number of pros that I have available to ask is limited so I'm wondering what a wider audience will say.

The nice thing about a question like this is that it isn't up for opinions. The cost / benefit ratios can be measured. Grassroots Motorsports routinely does this sort of analysis. For example, in Speed Holes by Per Schroeder (from the Feb. 2008 issue), Per compares a variety of plus-sizes (lower and lower profiles) on the test car (their BMW project car at the time).

Here are some choice quotes that address your pro / con question above (snipped to emphasize but the whole article is online):

Here’s a shocker for those hailing from the bigger is better camp: The 18s didn’t win this little comparo. For one, the 18-inch wheel and tire package yielded a real degradation in ride quality on our road loop. ... We’d steer away from a setup this radical on a daily-driven car.

... Interestingly, the 18-inch combination felt more stable around the steady-state skidpad than either of the other combinations. The short, short sidewalls could have been the reason, as there’s simply less vertical rubber to roll over when facing high g-loads.

There was a noticeable reduction in braking performance, unfortunately, as we could feel the extra mass fighting the car. ...

To summarize some of the above: lower profile generally trades ride quality for turning ability, sometimes sacrificing braking due to the increase in wheel mass. Going too low, though, can push you past the point of losing in all categories.

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I do run 18" wheels on my Subaru Forester STi, but I have pretty high suspension travel so that evens out. It does come into its own though on the track and will happily outperform my Impreza Turbo with full PPP and 16" wheels in every way:-) –  Rory Alsop May 11 '11 at 17:07
    
@Rory, right - it depends totally on the platform. In your case, 18 inches might be the sweet spot but 20s would likely be too much. –  Bob Cross May 11 '11 at 17:29
    
I haven't been looking at "performance" since the early 80's when I retired my Z1B so I totally missed that option. –  Dave May 12 '11 at 18:23
    
@Dave, performance is too broad a term but it seems silly to say things like "good stopping", "turns with a quickness" or "feels flobbery." Ergo, we go with "performance." ;-) –  Bob Cross May 12 '11 at 23:57
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I bought my Camry with 18 wheels and really smart alloy rims and within 2.5 years I have scraped all the rims not to mentioned cupped the rubber out of the tyres in one or two cases I must have popped them or had a slow leak. The outdoor street parking with crooked curbs and high curbs in Bondi has given rise to having to get 6 new wheels since I bought the car. The tread ground down easily as I didn't realise the air was on the low side either. Also the turning is fantastic can get in and out of small spaces but the rubber boot has split a few times because of the turning range. This caused dirt to get in to my steering wheel drive shaft. I think I am going to find some 15 inch wheels so that I can at least get 2 adults into the back seat without the scraping sound when the weight sits on the big wheels. Also on a wet day I slowly braked around a bend and the car did a 90 degree rotation. The car performed beautifully as the wheels kept me on the road and came to a standstill. I found myself looking at the fence in the middle of the road but I don't think much of the road grip in rain on wide tyres.

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While it is harder to notice the low air in low-profile tyres, same goes for regulars. By the time one notices the tyres being too low, it is too late, because they were low for quite some time. There is no substitute for regular checking of tyre pressure with proper tools. –  theUg Feb 8 '13 at 5:55
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There are major benefits on a track: you have much lower tire deformation with a low profile tire so you can corner harder. You can also accelerate and brake harder, and your tires get to temperature much faster as there is less rubber to warm up.

On a normal road having very low profile tires can be a negative - they don't soak up bumps as well as a higher profile tire so can be harder to control over bumps. You are also more likely to damage your rims.

So for performance on the road you can go for slightly lower profile. But going too low is a bad idea, despite various groups doing it for image purposes: with more chrome your wheels may look cooler:-)

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Very good - you're the first I've heard that mentioned handling. Although I've found that I can brake harder and accelerate faster without skidding with the standard tires. But that may be a function of the hardness of the rubber. –  Dave May 11 '11 at 16:54
    
@Dave - if you have ever tried to go fast on really low profiles on a normal surface (ie not a racetrack) you'll find the car skips about everywhere. Really hard to control, and really uncomfortable! –  Rory Alsop May 11 '11 at 17:05
    
Even on the racetracks in my area, low profile tires are not preferred as the loss in grip over the bumps is too high compared to the advantage of quicker turn-in. Acceleration and braking is more a function of the rubber compound and tread patterns than sidewall height. –  Brian Knoblauch Jun 2 '11 at 17:59
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