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Why would you want to put the rim and tire flush with the fender (wheel arch)? To get more mud spatter?

When choosing rims you have 3 parameters to play with - diameter, width, and offset.

Reducing the offset, while keeping the others the same will move the tire outward. But apart from looks I don't see the point in doing that.

If you are sticking with stock tires, there is little point in changing the rim width. Also you don't need to change the rim width to change tires to 225 or 235 width.

Going to wider tires (beyond 235), you might need to change the rim width (check tire specs), but then you could be hitting other fit problems, such as rubbing on the strut tower, or the inside of the fender. Changing the offset might deal with one, but not the other.

I think the first question you should be asking is, do you want, or need to change the tire size.
 

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In my limited experience on rough roads, ground clearance is a more significant issue than lateral stability. I can't imagine driving my Element on a track where the extra 10mm in track would make a difference. If anything I'd want to narrow the track, to reduced the lateral 'breakover angle'. I put that in quotes since breakover angle usually applies to a front to back measurement. In this context I'm thinking more of the clearance under the rear subframe. Not that the distance between the rear wheels would make much difference.

Note that if I am following ruts made by other vehicles, most likely bigger pickups, I try to keep my wheels out of the ruts, usually driving off to one side, straddling one rut. Often a narrower track is advantageous.

Another thought - the best feature of an Element on rough roads is its short turning radius. It makes it easier to turn tail when the going gets too rough. Choosing a tire/wheel combination that increases that radius would be a mistake.
 
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