After much research and deliberation, last week I swapped my stock 15" steel rims with Continental CH-95's @26k mi. for Adelaide 15" alloy rims and Bridgestone Turanza 195/65R15 tires. My Passat is a 2001 V6 manual with stock suspension. Over the weekend I drove over 500 miles to Mono Lake and back. I have to say - the new rims and tires are noticeably better! The ride is smoother over bumps, there doesn't seem to be "freeway hum" anymore, the tires don't chirp as much, and the car probably gained .1 G's skidpad. We were taking wild mountain curves at speeds which previously would have had us sliding off the road, with much greater confidence near the limits. The tire protests as it approaches its limit, but doesn't seem to give up any grip! The old CH95's would start protesting much earlier in the curves and simply sliiiide... I'm very satisfied with the improvement. The only niggle is the alignment is slightly off now - the car drifts slightly to the right - but Firestone will supposedly fix that for me tomorrow morning for free. *crosses fingers*
I was looking for better performance than the CH95's without harming ride quality, and the Turanzas provide oodles more performance with equivalent or better ride. Given, the dramatic difference is probably mostly due to the fact that my Conti's were old and worn, while these Turanzas are nice and fresh. But I don't remember the CH95's gripping so well in the curves even when new. If Bridgestone's marketing and the reviews are accurate, the Turanzas should retain most of their performance even as they wear down. Consumer Reports gives the Turanzas a #2 recommendation for grand touring, and they are only beat out by a "Falken" brand which is $40 cheaper per tire ($60 vs $100). But I believe I read that the Falkens wear faster, so it's probably about even in the end.
The Adelaides rims are reputed to weigh about 15.5 pounds, while the steelies are supposedly around 18 pounds. I couldn't weigh the rims alone, but I weighed a spare Adelaide with Michelin tire at around 35.5 lbs on a cheesy bathroom scale, while my spare steel wheel with Conti CH95 weighed around 36.5 lbs. So despite the uncertainty of the measurement, there's at least *some* difference in unsprung mass which should affect handling. The stock Conti vs Michelin tires are probably very similar. More noticeable was the difference in rotational inertia as I rolled the wheels back and forth by hand - the steel wheel was much harder to get rolling than the Adelaide. What I need is a strain gauge and a ramp, and to crunch out some of those old moment of inertia equations...
Thanks to the Tire Rack for providing the online price ($92/ea) that I used to make the local Firestone store price match (down to $101/ea which accounts for shipping) and to Clay on this forum for his recommendation for the Turanzas as the best blend of comfort and handling. He speaks the truth!
Maybe one day I'll buy a set of ultra-light forged 16" alloy rims, but at the moment I'm perfectly happy with my car's handling performance. I'll probably get a Chas bar (lower tie bar) one of these days, and maybe also a rear sway bar, but the need isn't as pressing as it used to be. 8)