Technical Article 1 – Wheel Upgrades
Ok So you have your 2002 and you want to add a bit to the look of the car and possibly upgrade the performance a bit as well. A wheel upgrade is a pretty good place to start. My 2002 had the original steel 13” wheels on 165/70/13 tires. Not very wide, pretty tall, kinda squishy. The wheels are 13×5. Again, not impressive by modern standards at all. So what wheels should you put on your 2002? Well that is COMPLETELY a personal choice. I will go over some of the choices and what will fit and what will not. The bolt pattern on the 2002 is 4×100 which is VERY common. It was used on all small BMW’s until the late 80s. It was also used on VW’s, Mazda’s, and lots of other import cars. The key to proper fitting wheels though is the offset. This determines how far in or out of the wheel well the car fits. If your offset is wrong the wheels stick out of the fenders or sit too far into the fender and rub the suspension. VW’s from the 8-’s and 90’s as well as the 318/325 BMW series have the PERFECT offset for the 2002. The 320i and Mazda Miata’s have the proper bolt pattern, but the offset isnt quite right and will not fit inside the fenders without having the fenders rolled. This may be VERY important if you plan on lowering the car. So the 318/325 wheel sizes were 14×6” et 35 and 14×6.5” et 30. For the European market, BMW made a 15” wheel in the 15×6.5 et 30 as well. VW Jetta and GTI wheels came in 15×6” et 35 and 15×6” et 33. Both fit well on a 2002. Alot of people will use 320i wheels on 2002s and if not lowered will work but the front wheels do stick out just a little…these wheels are 13×5.5 et 18. So as you may have noticed, the lower the offset (et) the farther out the wheels will sit. Anything larger than 30-35 though and they will rub on the suspension.
So we have covered the correct offsets and also some wheel widths…so now what about wheel sizes. 13, 14, 15 or…16? Now we have even more choices. Correct wheel sizes are available in diameters from 13” to 16”. Which ones make sense to you depends on our driving style and your expectations. Again, its all personal preference.
Here are some Pros and Cons for different wheels sizes.
Pros: Cost, probably the least expensive because of the smaller size and MOST people are going to bigger sizes so alot of used wheels are available. Light, less weight means quicker acceleration, braking and steering. Alot of sidewall so very good on bumpy roads.
Cons: Tall tire profile means alot of sidewall. Alot of tire flex under hard cornering. Less direct steering feel because of the tall profile tires. 13” wheels are usually narrow so narrow tires need to be used and that gives a smaller contact patch for grip under hard cornering.
Pros: All around very good upgrade. Wider wheels so you get more rubber for more cornering grip. Less sidewall for better steering feel. Still enough sidewall for comfortable ride. 14” Alloy wheels will be lighter than 13” steel wheels so it will improve your acceleration, braking and steering.
Cons: Not many…maybe just a tad conservative?
Pros: Less sidewall for a very direct steering feel. Looks…to me they look just right on a lowered 2002.
Cons: Less sidewall for a bumpy ride on lowered/stiffer suspensions. Weight…15’s are starting to creep up in weight. Cost. Lightweight 15’s will start to cost more than a running 2002. If your suspension is very stiff 15’s and bigger COULD start to introduce bump steer because of the lack of sidewall on the tires needed….so this could start to degrade handling.
Pros: THE LOOK….wow a nice set of 16s on a 2002 can be an AMAZING thing. Super direct steering feel.
Cons: Performance. These will begin to be heavier, meaning you will LOSE performance in acceleration, braking and steering. Ride quality will suffer more as well because of the lack of sidewall.