Racing wheels still remain something unusual and bizarre for many gamers, and most often they consider it to be something that is unworthy of spending $300-400. However, the true connoisseurs of the racing genre know that the experience of driving a high speed race car using a keyboard is completely different from using a racing wheel. This is true not only for simulators which are not even playable without proper equipment, but even for arcade racers which are so popular on the mass market.
High speed effect, precise control of the vehicle, and the full use of all the resources during the game play is what a racing wheel will give you. The choice of this gaming equipment, which is quite expensive, is a lot like buying clothes: if you buy something that doesn’t fit, you will hardly use it later. Once again, mind the premium price you’ll have to pay. Large manufacturers, such as Logitech and Thrustmaster update their product lines regularly. Their products are compatible with some games, and are not so suitable for others. The same is true for the quality of design. We’ve picked the most suitable racing wheels for “the Big 4” racers, which are two racing simulators, Project CARS and Dirt Rally, the preliminary access to which has recently become unnecessary, and two casual racers, Forza Horizon and The Crew.
How to Pick a Racing Wheel for Gaming?
The standards of a quality racing wheel somehow established firmly in the world of PC and console accessories about 3-4 years ago. That’s why most of such gadgets are alike. There are barely any technical or ideological breakthroughs in the sphere. However, there are some differences in the details and little thing. You can literally feel it with your own hands.
What should you pay attention to in order to make sure that this difference is positive?
Let’s start with ergonomics. While the shape and size are most important for regular gaming mice, things are different for racing wheels. A wheel cannot be reinvented. SteelSeries tried to experiment as they attempted to imitate the rectangular wheels of Formula-1 race cars. Such experiments are exotic, and cannot be considered ordinary. In this case the wheel cost just as much as others (or even higher), but its operation was limited. The wheel of such an experimental device runs tighter than a regular round one, especially when the diagonal of it is 25-40 cm.
When buying a racing wheel, pay attention to the quality of its assembly. Tiny backlashes, squeaking, rattling of a racing wheel, pedal or rack bases are a valid reason for keeping your money in your wallet. Unfortunately, even the top models sometimes have assembly issues. You’d better not consider cheap Chinese imitations at all as they will be a waste of money. The difference between the brand product and a counterfeit one is absolutely clear.
By the way, plastic coating is a sign of a poor investment on your side. Quality racing wheels have rubber at the place where your hands are fixed; top models have this spot made in leather. Cheap plastic will make your hands slip and will contribute to the unpleasant squeaking.
Manufacturers of a good racing wheel will make sure that you don’t have to reach for your keyboard during game play. For that purpose they would place programmable buttons on the dashboard. It’s important not to overdo it as one of the main disadvantages of certain products is the abundance of the buttons on the dashboard. They will distract you, get in the way of your fingers and reduce the comfort of your game play experience. 8 buttons will be more than enough for comfortable gaming, especially if you can reach them with your finger, without having to remove your palm from the racing wheel.
The sensitivity of the racing wheel and the angle of rotation are two vital parameters. The standard angle of rotation used to be 240-270º not so long ago. Nowadays even the models which rotate 360º are outdated to a certain extent! You can find 1080º rotation on the market! However, such a wide angle doesn’t suit everyone. Such wheels are apparently difficult to center and it’s harder to fit in tight turns on the most winding roads. Still, as a rule, good racing wheels allow reducing the rotation angle to any figure! Auto centering is also presupposed in the design of many devices.
Things get more complicated when it comes to sensitivity. As a rule, the more expensive the racing wheel is, the more sensitive it is to your movements. Nevertheless, you can find the complaints of some users which claim that even the most advanced racing wheels do not give a feeling of complete control of the race car. The only thing we can recommend in this case is to take a deep breath and get into the game’s settings. Good racing simulators ALWAYS allow maximizing sensitivity to reach a so-called “zero-delay”. Linearity settings are available in the racing wheel drivers, so once you combine the two, you’ll be able to adapt your device to practically any game.
Be sure to pay attention to energy system of the device. Why is it so crucial? Well, the quality of Rumble Feedback and Force Feedback depends on the way your gadget is powered. As obvious from the name, it’s all about the feedback. The former type will give a consumer a sense of shock and shake with the help of a built-in vibrating motor (when, for example, your car bumps into your rival’s car or when you drive on gravel). The latter type will vary the speed and the smoothness of the steering depending on the game scenario. Both of these functions are accountable for plunging into the game and for the effect of presence. It’s that simple, not a rocket science. However, they are limited in the devices which are powered via a USB port as there is not enough energy for proper indication. So although a separate power supply will take up much more space in your outlet, it will surely provide for quality Rumble Feedback and Force Feedback.
Transmission and rudder pedals. Transmission of cheaper racing wheels looks like a mere set of buttons or like a lever with a digital button. You’ll find mechanic transmission in some more pricey models where you’ll really have to move the lever up and down to find yourself in one of the 6 pre-set positions. We can’t say that this is more convenient, but the racing communities surely consider using mechanic transmission as a sign of good taste. Everything about the rudder pedals is obvious. You can have either 2 (brake and gas) or 3 (add clutch there) of them. It is the three-pedal system that is preferable for the most realistic experience. The rudder pedals themselves can be mounted differently (they can be suspended or elevated from the bottom), the most tuned devices provide for realistic response: the brake pedal is tighter while the gas one is not. This is not the most important thing though. When choosing rudder pedals, pay attention to its weight. The unit is to be sufficiently stable and shouldn’t slide across the floor once you slightly touch it. Meeting these criteria will both make you comfortable and won’t annoy your neighbors with the noises you make.
Keep in mind the mounting of the racing wheel as well. Don’t invest in a device that has suckers and rivets. Look for robust clamps and brackets which will be able to grip on the surface of a thick table.
Finally, there are universal racing wheels which are compatible with both PC and consoles. Once you buy such a racing wheel, you’ll simultaneously invest into several gadgets. I personally know people who visited their console-owning friends with their own PC racing wheel. They would come, connect to the device and have fun playing the game! Perfect, isn’t it?
Which Racing Wheels Are Compatible with Project CARS?
Now that we have figured out the characteristics of a perfect racing wheel, let’s find specific devices for top 4 racers we’ve picked. Let’s start with the revolutionarily Project CARS which can be considered art house to a certain extent. When there was limited access to it, it managed to surprise and to please us not only by the detailed and licensed depiction of the vehicles but also by its enjoyable realistic experience.
So here we’ve got an acceptable racing simulator. Some manage to play it with a keyboard, so you don’t have to pick the top-level racing wheel. Just make sure it is equipped with the gearbox.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- An affordable and durable racing wheel of medium range.
- Feedback systems.
- Transmission available.
Thrustmaster VG TM Leather 28 GT Wheel
Let’s take a look at the average Thrustmaster VG TM Leather 28 GT Wheel. Its price of ~$150 and a 4.5 star out of 5 rating on Amazon.com are the two things about it which attract attention immediately.
Rubberized coating of the racing wheel is a pleasant surprise for this price. Yes, there are only 6 programmable buttons, this isn’t a lot, but they are complemented with horn controllers which look like petals under the racing wheel. Feedback is available.
The serious disadvantage of the model is that such extensions as rudder pedals and gearbox are sold separately and cost $150 as well. To be fair, they are executed excellently. Their steel cover will make you forget that you’re actually playing and not living the game.
The users note that the racing wheel is quite sensitive, the mounting is good and the dimensions are tight. Still, they’ve been able to observe certain disadvantages of the device: “It has great rubberizing and the design is overall acceptable. The buttons right in the middle of the wheel disappointed me as they don’t really fit the overall design”.
Price: ~$150 Check the current price
If you’re looking for a cooler and more expensive racing wheel without having to buy any extensions, then check out the next gadget.
Logitech G27 Racing Wheel
This wheel costs ~$300. By the way, you can only obtain it on Amazon.com as the production of the device is halted, yet the demand for timeless classics is always there.
The price leap entails quality improvement. The rotation angle is 900º and the gearbox is supplied along with the rudder pedals. That means that you get full set of gaming equipment. The workmanship is of finest quality. The great looking steel cover of both the gearbox and rudder pedals and of the racing wheel itself is also superior.
“I used to have Logitech’s Formula. The two devices are worlds apart. The response is great, the racing wheel is about to slip out of my hands, and it’s a pleasure to exit the turn with it!”
Price: from ~$300 Check the current price
Picking a Racing Wheel for Dirt Rally 2015
Dirt Rally is a rally simulator with arcade elements designed by the developers of the legendary Colin MacRae Rally. The preliminary access to it has no longer been needed for a couple of months, and we do admit that the alpha version of the game was upgraded completely. You can’t afford using the arrow keys while playing that game! A gamepad won’t give you the same feeling either. This is classic rally: the speed is high; the simulations of natural trails are implemented, and dust, dirt and sand fly from under your opponents’ wheels onto your windshield. It’s crucial to feel the intensity of what is happening while playing DIRT.
What racing wheel is particularly suitable for rally?
What we need is:
- Good sensitivity and relatively high rotation angle.
- Additional buttons.
- Pedals for overloads.
- Tight feedback.
Thrustmaster VG T100 Force Feedback Racing Wheel for PlayStation 3
It is compatible not only with PS3 but also with PCs. Don’t faint: it costs ~$297, which is quite normal. This is a wired gadget with two pedals, brake and gas. Clutch is sacrificed as this Thrustmaster model is a perfect illustration of good value for money. The device has perfect cover, complete feedback, compatibility with PC and PS3. The rotation angle exceeds most of the angles of rival models and is 1080º. Thrustmaster has a standard diameter of 30 cm. in general, we strongly recommend obtaining it.
Price: from ~$297 Check the current price
Note that this model is not as popular as G27, but its execution is as great. Don’t be afraid of the fact that there is little feedback on Amazon. By the way, the infamous G27 will also come handy when playing DIRT as well. It’s a true highlight of today’s review. To be fair, we’ll also focus on other models, the more so G27 is getting to hard to find in stores.
Choosing a Wheel for Forza Horizon
The Froza series, in spite of the feigned seriousness of sport tracks and cars, is rather arcade and casual. However, this doesn’t diminish it's thrill and atmosphere. It's not necessary to use a PC – the developers expect that you will be using an Xbox controller (and gear shifting can become a real nightmare), so we will take into account the models with minimal configuration.
Thrustmaster VG Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Racing Wheel for Xbox
The model is produced with official licenses from Ferrari, presenting a replica of the wheel (7/10 from the actual size) from a self-named supercar Ferrari 458 Italia and pleases not only with the original Mustang logo, but also with a reasonable price. This model will be a good solution for those who likes to race in arcade Forza. By the way, the wheel is compatible not only with the console, but also with PC.
The price is rather budget friendly (~$89). Apart from a classic wheel frame, you will find 8 control buttons in this device. That will help in the cases when you feel too lazy to reach for a mouse or keyboard.
There is also a convenient option called "Manettino dual" that will allow you to adjust the game settings directly during process of the game, and a pair of pedals. We have defined that among the requirements to the wheel for Forza there is "the minimum number of extra buttons" – and it's really not many of them presented here. Plus, it is adjusted with a quite useful toggle to switch the wheel modes.
However, it has a significant disadvantage that is reflected in the lack of any force feedback. But you will hardly require any in Forza, as it's so much a kind of an arcade game. Also among other noticed disadvantages can be mentioned the absence of a stick shift – only a paddle shift.
The rating of the wheel is not high - 3.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, perhaps because of the high demands of the gamers. However, in general, this is a good budget device, which is supported by one of the reviews: “I will say it's not cheap enough to be a must-have, but if you're looking for a racing wheel and don't want to spend too much, this will definitely suit your needs”.
Price: ~$89 Check the current price
Finding a Perfect Racing Wheel for an Imperfect Game: The Crew
We won’t end our article with a role model game. The Crew is interesting and sometimes distinctive, but the gamers did not quite get what they expected. This applies to unfinished physics and arcade style of racing. Nevertheless, many enjoyed the game play.
What we’ll need is a quality yet mass-market racing wheel affordable to both high school and college students. When choosing a racing wheel for The Crew, take into account some peculiarities of the game. Most often the drivers use auto transmission and they don’t need to shift gears with a lever. The clutch pedal for this Ubisoft arcade would be more of a burden rather than an advantage. Of course, you can race with it a couple of times for fun, but this option will likely postpone your finishing.
Speedlink Darkfire Racing Wheel
It will also be a great choice. What do you need for comfort racing other than an ergonomic racing wheel, two necessary pedals and no extra buttons? You’ll get a great middle-range option for the price from ~$35. There is, once again, the G27 which is suitable for any game. Darkfire is the love it and leave it kind of device. This is the advantage specified by the majority of customers.
“It would be foolish to expect high quality execution for this price. You will play comfortably though, I don’t regret buying it”.
Price: from ~$35 Check the current price
Attention! There is a bonus wheel!
The Best Selling Wheel For PC
Logitech G920 Driving Force Racing Wheel
This racing wheel belongs to the “Shut up and take my money!” category. It’s recognized by many gamers, which is supported by its #1 best seller status in a PC Game Racing Wheels category on Amazon.com and a bunch of positive reviews there. But you can cool down right now because one always has to pay enough money to get a high-quality device. The price of this racing wheel is ~$364, but it’s really worth it. Now let’s look closer.
One of the main requirements for such devices is their realism. This one looks like a real car steering wheel. But it’s the steering wheel of a sports car and not from a family minibus. The rotation angle is 900 degrees, which is usual and equal to 2.5 turns. The feedback system is equipped with an electric motor and allows users to make sharp maneuvers without any delay.
The racing wheel was made from high quality and durable materials. It doesn’t really matter if the user prefers high-speed racing with incessant turns by 100 degrees in both directions or continuous truck driving (it looks weird, but sometimes it happens), this best steering wheel for pc will bear both dynamic and static loads.
Console gamers can also benefit from this device because it can be easily connected to Xbox One without the need to make some magic spells and ask for god’s support. The manufacturer informs that there are some PC games that Logitech g920 supports by default. The list of this includes Assetto Corsa, F1 2015, Project Cars, Dirt Rally, iRacing, Eurotruck Simulator 2, Live For Speed, Distance, American Truck Simulator. For other PC games, you will need to configure a profile manually.
This device comes with 3 adjustable pedals with short motion stroke. One more confirmation that it was created to look sportive. Additionally, users can buy a transmission. It’s not included in the basic configuration but keeps the very same style as the main set. It looks like a tricky game of marketers.
I recommend this device for everyone who wants to own a reliable and convenient best steering wheel for pc and is not greedy to pay a significant amount for quality.
Price: ~$364 Check the current price
Obviously, virtual racing world is not limited to these 4 games. You can find a variety of genres ranging from pro simulators to fun crashers where you are supposed to hit and crush everything that is in front of your windshield. Motorcycle competition and Ancient Rome chariot races can also be found. Moreover, the racing wheel owners have learned to control GTA characters and even planes with them. Read about the latter in our “Best Controllers for Flight Simulators” review.
If you don’t want to be a loyal fan of a single series and if you would like to try playing different genres, then we strongly recommend you to buy a universal racing wheels. No backlash, high sensitivity and a good set of programmable buttons are the things to look for first and foremost. We believe that Thrustmaster VG TM Leather 28 GT Wheel (~$150) and Logitech G25 (from ~$349) meet these criteria perfectly. The former device is aimed at a medium budget, while Thrustmaster is designed for the true fans of high-quality gadgets. If your budget is very tight, turn to the ordinary Thrustmaster products without any additional features.
Also, bear in mind the simple rule of never buying Chinese counterfeit racing wheels. Follow the rule and you’ll never be disappointed!