There is nothing more satisfying than getting behind the wheel of a luxury car, stepping on the pedal, and peeling out your tires as you drop it in gear. If your dream car is a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, this is a dream that you may realize. If your dream car is a Lambo, then it will take a little more work to get that experience.
Enter the driving simulator. Whether we’re talking Grand Turismo or Need for Speed, these games all have one thing in common. They take an experience that very few of us get to have first hand, and make it accessible. You can drive a Mustang before breakfast and end your day with a Toyota FT-1. You can tear up the raceway at famous tracks all around the world, or take your multi-million dollar car on a dirt rally. The possibilities are limitless, and the physics are as close to the real thing as you can get.
But there is one piece of hardware that can turn your game into a simulation. That’s the racing wheel. Pedals certainly enhance the experience, and gearboxes can add a new level of satisfaction. But nothing makes your game more realistic than the steering wheel.
Modern racing wheels are well beyond what the designers every thought possible when the first models hit the market. Today, they’ve got a realistic grip that feels as if it was pulled right from the driver’s seat of a real car. They’ve got force feedback, making it feel as if the wheel is really reacting to road conditions. They’ve got all the buttons, finishes, and features that you could dream of. But not all are alike. We’ve gone through and identified the three best racing wheels on the market. Let’s take a look and see what they can do, and help you find the model that’s right for you.
If you’ve done any research into racing wheels, you’re probably not surprised to find Thrustmaster on our list. This brand has been leading the way for realistic racing components since day one. When you buy a Thrustmaster wheel, you’re not just getting a steering wheel. You’re gaining access to an entire ecosystem of products that can be used to create the world most realistic driving simulator, and the advanced technology that backs it up.
The Thrustmaster T300RS is one attractive looking unit. Composed of both the wheel itself as well as a set of pedals, it’s clear from first look that this is a serious unit. The steel frame and realistic feeling wheel cover is thin and almost bare-bones in appearance, very similar to the lightweight racing wheels that are used in real Formula 1 cars. The single blue ring that runs around the center of the top of the wheel is there to help you find center, even when your eyes are focused primarily on the screen. The large base appears almost like a cutout form the console of a real motorcar, and allows the wheel to mount directly to your table through a turn-to-tighten mechanism.
The controls are relatively straightforward. In the center of the wheel you’ve got the Playstation button (disguised as a horn), four buttons on the right, a d-pad on the left, and a start button on the lower of the three prongs coming out from the wheel. But out personal favorite control was the two paddle shifters on the back of the wheel.
Although the pedals are not the main selling point of this package, they’re still surprisingly attractive. With metal plates, they’re certainly more attractive than the pedals in any car we own.
We were a little impressed when we first saw the T300RS, but it wasn’t until we laid our hands on it that we really started to get excited. The wheel itself is a little firm, but has just enough give to enhance your grip. It’s very clear that this isn’t anything like that cheap plastic wheel you used to own. Our first inspection found some pretty impressive qualities. The wheel can turn a full 1080 degrees, or three complete turns. If you prefer, you can modify this all the way down to 270 degrees, which is less than a single complete turn. The motion of the wheel is smooth, and feels very high quality. But if you’ve got a game that supports force feedback, that’s where the magic begins.
If you have never had the opportunity to try force feedback, we can’t recommend it enough. In the real world, pressure on your tires will cause the steering wheel to push or pull your hands. On tight corners, you’ve got to really hold the wheel if you want it to stay cranked. If you’re driving over bumpy ground, the wheel jitters in your hand. Thrustmaster has a unique dual-band system that uses belts to pull the wheel in different directions, with different forces. There is no doubt in our minds that the Thrustmaster T300RS is one of the nicest feeling force feedback systems that we’ve ever used.
As for the pedals, they were fairly standard. The metal face plate is nice, and they’ve got a nice linear motion. There are dedicated pedals available that are a little nicer in feel, but these are still some of the best ones we’ve seen included in a package.
Thrustmaster makes this wheel compatible for both the PS3 and the PS4 game consoles. As is standard, this wheel is also compatible with PC games. But this is the same for most wheels. It’s not the operating systems it’s compatible with that make the T300RS impressive, it’s the hardware. Accessories like their legendary pedal system along with several impressive gearboxes plug directly into the wheel, enhancing your game like never before. Thrustmaster is committed to keeping long term compatibility open, and this wheel is the center of the entire system.
Logitech Driving Force G29
When it comes to gaming controllers, Logitech needs no introduction. This company has produced everything from joysticks to mice, many of which have been geared specifically towards gamers. The G29 racing wheel is the latest iteration of Logitech’s mid-range racing wheels, and one of the most popular on the market.
The Logitech Driving Force G29 is definitely one of the most aggressive looking racing wheels on the market. From the sharply angled metal frame to the fake leather wrap that goes around the wheel, this looks more like something you’d find an a premium automobile, not on your desk. The control system is unique in the sense that it floats above the center cap, like a digital add on to an analog product. The wheel has brightly colored buttons, and blue accents that bring out the brushed metal look in the center. The paddle shifters are much larger than most, making them comfortable to handle. No part of the wheel is particularly “in your face,” but the high quality materials give it a very premium look.
When it comes to how the wheel feels in your hand, the G29 is the clear winner. It’s extremely soft, thanks to the faux leather wrap that runs around the wheel. The buttons are all quite firm and clicky, and the paddle shifters have a very engaging feeling to them. There is no doubt in our mind that this is one of the better-feeling racing wheels on the market.
We did notice, however, that the force feedback system is much more aggressive. It’s not just a subtle shift in pressure, but a torquey jerk that can almost rip the wheel from your grip. This makes it ideal for high intensity racing games, as you truly feel that your grip is essential during bumpy parts of the race.
This wheel is compatible with PS3, PS4, and PC games. If you’re looking for a shifter, upgraded pedal system, or a wheel stand, Logitech has all of these available specifically for the G series racing wheels.
Logitech Driving Force G920
Logitech makes the best mid-range wheel for the PS4 and PC, but they took a different approach with the Xbox. There are tons of great games available for Xbox, but very few high quality racing wheels. To fill the gap, Logitech took their G29 wheel and added some premium features so Xbox users can have the same gaming experience.
While the appearance is almost identical to the G29, there are a few key differences with the Logitech Driving Force G920. For starters, all of the buttons have been replaced with the Xbox appropriate ones. There were also some more subtle changes, like the wheel cover. Instead of the loose fabric that goes around the G29, it’s got a tighter, more professional grip that is fully taut. But where layout is concerned, it’s nearly identical to the G29.
Although we expected performance to be the same as the G29, we did notice a few key differences. For starters, the force feedback system feels a little more subtle. It’s midway between the G29 and the Thrustmaster, creating a slightly more realistic gaming experience. The pedals were also a little more tight and linear. The G920 is a little more modern than the G29, so it’s clear that Logitech decided to make some subtle changes to improve their platform.
Logitech retains full compatibility between all G series hardware, so any accessories you might want to add are still available. Although this wheel is not compatible with the PS4, it works with both Xbox One and the Xbox 360. As is standard in this industry, PC gamers also have full access to this controller.
Which Racing Wheel is Right for Me?
There are a lot of difference racing wheels on the market, but these three are the cream of the crop. If you’re upgrading from a low end wheel, the difference will be night and day. That being said, the differences between all three of these wheels is a little more subtle.
If you’re on the Xbox platform, the Logitech Driving Force G920 is your only option for a high end wheel. It’s got excellent force feedback, a very smooth and linear movement on the wheel, and is made from high quality, reliable components.
If you’re on the PS4 or PC platforms, you’ve got a few more options. For those of you who want the best of the best, the Thrustmaster T300RS is the racing wheel for you. The force feedback system in this racing wheel is world class, and the ecosystem of accessories are second to none. But if you’re looking to save a little money, Logitech’s G29 racing wheel comes in close second, with a wider range of affordable add-ons for those who want to build the ultimate simulation on a budget.
If you’re really looking to take your game to the next level, the wheel is just the starting point. It’s a platform that you can build upon. Be sure to check out our review of the best gearbox shifters for racing games, an inexpensive enhancement that can really allow you to make the most if your simulation.