Opinion: We need more EVs with really weird wheels

This week, Kia unveiled a tranche of new EV concept cars, and the common element among them that stood out to me? These cars have some really weird wheels. And I mean that in a good way!

The EV4 Concept’s wheels are triangles, and I cannot get enough of them. Does putting a triangle inside of a circle violate some sort of design principle somewhere? I mean, maybe? But here’s the thing: These wheels align with the design story of the vehicle. This is a very aggressive, angular car — a rolling polygon.

Concept EV4 wheels

The wheels say the same thing. I have at least some doubt these rims will make it into production, as no automaker wants to risk losing sales for the sake of making a stand on design continuity. At the very least, there will be other options. And yes, plenty of concept cars have really extreme rims, often designs that are wildly impractical to produce without costing an absolute fortune. But they’re usually a good indicator of where the OEM wants to go with the overall vibe of the wheel, and Kia’s vibes are… a vibe.

Look to Kia’s other concepts and you’ll see similarly bold choices. The EV3 Concept has these wild half-trapezoidal shapes going on. They look like they’re meant to snap onto a Lego set or something, like they weren’t even especially designed to roll.

Concept EV3 wheels

Even the comparatively staid EV5’s wheels are interesting, with these aluminum floating cutouts circling the edge of the wheel with what looks like a giant maglock in the center.

Concept EV5 wheels
Concept EV5 wheels

I think the reason Kia pulls this off so well (and again, subjective!) is that its EVs actually execute with body styles that support such a bold vision for the rubber wrappers. The EV6 is a case in point, and I really dig the “scythe” spokes Kia went with on the GT model. They’re a bit more traditional than the rims on these concept cars (after all, they’re production rims), but they are still decidedly distinct — much more Lamborghini than Lexus, at least.

Wheels on cars are often a fundamentally polarizing design element, in large part because they are a natural point for the eye to be drawn to when looking at a vehicle. Like a pair of shoes, a set of wheels can be a “make or break” style decision. And while deeply subjective, it’s not hard to see why a given wheel might draw intense reactions. For example, I think these Mercedes-Maybach S Class rims are positively heinous — like someone forgot to finish milling out the spokes. In short: There is a reason the aftermarket wheel industry is absolutely massive, and that’s because everybody wants something a little different in a wheel. (And if I’m being honest, what people want is often something other people look at as kind of awful! But to each their own.)

The automotive industry’s response to this conundrum has been depressing: Matte black and dark gray wheels are rapidly becoming the rim du jour, because you don’t actually have to look at whatever design you’re stuck with — just a sort of vague impression of it. And in motion, the design of the wheel becomes effectively invisible; a spinning, circular void. I’m sure that dark, boring wheels have been heavily validated in focus groups and market research that can definitively say “most people” have a more positive reaction to them. But when it comes to great design, going with what “most people” are going to be least offended by is how you end up with the visual equivalent of the culinary experience that is a bowl of Cheerios (I apologize to Cheerios enthusiasts everywhere).

Contrast what Kia is trying with, say, the new BMW iX2 — which has wheels that fit a largely “normal” modern premium car. They’re big and fussy and cost a lot to make, without a doubt. But there’s nothing interesting about them. They’re the crown molding on a really expensive tract home: It’s the nicest crown molding in the catalog! But it’s still basically the same as every other house in the neighborhood. It may well be a product of intensive and precise manufacturing processes, but it’s about as imaginative as a check button-down shirt and khakis. It offends no one, but utterly fails to make an impression, either.

Here’s to the weirdo wheels. Have a favorite weird wheel you think deserves a shoutout? Share it in the comments!

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