Project MR2: Aftermarket Wheels

1991 Toyota MR2 with ASA wheels from Tire Rack

Toyota MR2 With Aftermarket Wheels

I’ve had my eye on new tires and a specific set of wheels for a while but had to hold off until after my recent move due to space constraints. I wanted to keep the stock wheels but they sure weren’t going to fit in the car with all my other stuff.

It’s hard to believe Toyota equipped 1991 MR2s with 14” wheels. More attractive 15” wheels were offered from the 1993 model onward. These are what was on my car until I chose 17” diameter (a +2 in wheel lingo). To keep the effective diameter fairly close I had to go with a lower profile tire. Still, the end result is a slightly bigger overall diameter.

Other key considerations were wheel width and offset, the lateral distance between the outer edge of the wheel and the hub mounting location. This can change vehicle track width, affecting handling and may cause the tire to rub the fender when the shock compresses. Especially if the car is lowered.

My starting point was Tire Rack. I’ve bought tires from them before and have had a good experience each time. If I were just buying tires I’d have them shipped to a partner shop for installation. However, since I was changing the wheels too, I had them shipped to me and then mounted them myself, taking care to tighten the wheel lugs to the appropriate torque specs.

Since they have a lot of data to work with, Tire Rack answered all my questions and confirmed my sizing estimates. At first I was planning to buy a set of Pirelli tires since they had very good reviews. But unfortunately, they were not available in the size needed for the front wheels.

Instead I bought a set of General tires at a sweet closeout price. A set of Generals transformed the ride of a pickup truck I once had, so I felt comfortable choosing them again. I also ordered a set of wheel locks. Everything was delivered within two days and the whole thing worked out well.

The beauty of Tire Rack is there are ample reviews and ratings of both the tires and wheels, and their partner shops, providing an added measure of confidence. It’s one more tool for finding good service centers.

Overall, the diameter is now about 8% larger than before. Considering an old road test I read found the difference between the actual and indicated speed to be about 3-4 mph at 60 mph, the actual speed with the larger wheels should now be fairly close to the speedometer reading. We’ll see how the mpg changes.

One of the downsides that doesn’t often get mentioned is that by themselves aftermarket wheels don’t tend to enhance performance. At 8 to 10 pounds more per corner compared with stock equipment, the unsprung weight has gone up by close to 40 pounds.

Add lower, stiffer sidewalls and you have a recipe for a harsher ride and perhaps longer stopping distances. Plus the larger effective diameter has raised the car’s center of gravity, making it slightly wallowy on freeway cloverleafs.

Right now it’s too soon to tell precisely what performance will be like since the shocks haven’t been replaced, the car hasn’t been lowered, and an alignment hasn’t been done. Plus I’m still breaking the tires in – it takes about 500 miles according to the included documentation.  But it drives well, the steering is surprisingly light and the car sure looks better.

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