Bronze Wheels are Officially Dead.
Nothing else in the aftermarket changes the overall appearance as dramatically with relatively little effort than a new set of wheels. A new paint color (or wrap) is probably the only thing that is a more drastic change but that is a far larger expense and requires a TON more effort.
Since as long as I can remember, most people tend to shop the aftermarket wheel market with the primary intention of getting something that is NOT similar to what came on their car. This is true with both design AND color. What’s the point in upgrading if it’s basically the same as where you started?
Also, for basically just as long, OE manufacturers have tried valiantly to keep up with the trends of what people like, usually chasing aftermarket trends. They naturally don’t “keep up” and end up being a few steps behind. Usually whatever is hot now will trickle into an OEM catalog/option box in 5-10 years. I absolutely understand this and honestly would do the same if it were up to me.
When I was a younger lad in the 90's, and just starting to drive, it was almost unheard of to have wheels in anything other than some form of silver. I'd wager 95% of the wheels (and hubcaps) were either a bright silver paint, a machined aluminum or a chrome plated finish. Even the aftermarket followed this monochromatic offering with very few exceptions.
Once black wheels started becoming popular in the early 2000s EVERYBODY wanted black wheels. Nothing made quite a statement of “not-stock” like rolling on non-silver wheels. It was the clear divergence the enthusiasts wanted. It quickly became almost a ‘cop out’ to buy silver aftermarket wheels. It was around this time that OEM optional chrome wheels became an endangered species. As soon as people yearned for black, chrome (which was basically the polar opposite) had very few takers.
Then, a few new cars showed up on showroom floors with fresh shiny black wheels. Car enthusiasts everywhere had to suck up to the reality that a brand new economy car could roll past on something that looked as “unique” as what they paid hard earned cash for. This did not bode well with “car people”.
Matte black became the new thing, because the few black OE wheels were glossy but that didn’t last. This was the next trend to quickly chase uniqueness. Charcoal gray was the obvious next step. That has also been long over-run by new cars.
About 10 years ago, some brave individuals were branching out into gold or bronze hues to further shy away from black and silver. I was an early adopter of bronze wheels, having two separate sets of bronze wheels for my red car - a bold color combination that is not for everybody… But that’s exactly what’s so great if (like me) you absolutely LOVE the contrast.
I don’t do it because people don’t like it (there are plenty of people with WILD wheel colors for that kind of thing). I will only ever buy stuff that pleases ME first - I genuinely don’t care what anyone thinks. BUT, it does amuse me when I really love something that isn’t totally approved/accepted. Bronze wheels - especially on a red car - is one of those things, usually garnishing a “I think it’s cool and I’m glad YOU like it, but not on my car” from friends.
Bronze wheels have MOSTLY stayed safe from OEM’s reach. The most notable have been some of the hotter Dodge/Chrysler v8 muscle cars - and honestly the fact that a SRT Challenger is rocking bronze wheels from the showroom floor doesn’t bother me in the least. I mean we're still too annoyed with the yellow bumper covers to bother with wheels!
However, the time has come, everybody. Bronze wheels are dead. Long live.. something else? As I have mentioned a few times, I had the opportunity to go to Toyota North America's Texas campus earlier this month. Amongst the many new and exciting vehicles I saw coming down the pipeline from the Toyota/Lexus brand combo, nothing was quite so jarring as the upcoming Toyota Highlander: Bronze Edition.
That’s right, a garden variety HIGHLANDER rocking bronze wheels. I was furious. I am STILL furious. The Toyota reps were pretty proud of it, and at first glance I wasn’t having any of it. The AUDACITY of this thing playing dress up as a cool trend was as insulting as the Nightshade Edition Prius - a totally murdered-out version of the current Prius. That’s a whole other thing, so I’ll stay on task.
After my blood pressure returned to normal I took a closer look at the Highlander. The wheel design isn’t terribly interesting - they just painted fairly lame wheels a bronze color. Not a particularly good shade either, if we’re being nit-picky. In the color of the debut vehicle--a slightly bluish gray-- it is not a very good combination either.
Then I got a look inside. Sigh. They really did a cool thing here, as much as I hate to admit it. There are beautiful, tastefully done bronze accents throughout the cabin. The door sills, mats, and stitching all have a bronze splash of color. Nothing too flashy, but like good make-up it is there but not so you’d immediately notice. There was a nice treatment to the seat upholstery, some metallic bling on the dash and instrument cluster. Not gunna lie, it was pretty well done. The inside in particular had a serious amount of DRIP.
I immediately wondered if the “Bronze Edition” would become something offered on other vehicles in the Toyota lineup. I can totally imagine how awesome a 4-Runner, Tacoma or Tundra would be with some chunky dark bronze wheels, with a similar interior treatment as this highlander.
But back to the main point, or issue at hand. Now that the Toyota Highlander: Bronze Edition is a real thing, Bronze is now no longer cool. It just CAN'T be. How excited can we be about putting this color wheel on our enthusiast cars when a school-run/grocery-getter Highlander is rocking the same look?
What will we do now? Black is probably as common if not MORE common than silver nowadays with gray, gold and bronze bleeding into showrooms more and more often every year.
I have been racking my brain for weeks and still don’t quite know how I feel about this. It doesn’t make me like the look of my wheels any less, but it certainly doesn’t have quite the hit now that the Highlander Bronze Edition is a real thing. Maybe we just go back to silver being cool? Maybe. I don’t think I'm there just yet, but I’m almost to the point where Silver is not only looking interesting again, but downright SPECIAL lately. What is going on?
Oh, the things we car people do to NOT look mainstream. R.I.P. Bronze wheels. Your time in the sun was short lived.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.