Looking to take your racing to the next level? Joe Barron gets to grips with some of the best wheels from Logitech, Thrustmaster, and Fanatec.
High End Racing Wheels
Thrustmaster T500RS (PlayStation 3, PC)
The premium choice for Gran Turismo 5.
USA $540/ UK £370
At the highest end of PS3 accessories is the T500RS. This wheel and pedal set marks a change in direction for Thrustmaster, a company that generally produces less expensive, entry-level wheels. Compared to all of the other wheels in this Guide, this option features a large and highly realistic rim, which is much closer to the look and size of one in a real car. The force feedback is aggressive and fierce, so it certainly isn't suitable for young racing fans or anyone who is afraid of a challenge.
Oddly, the shifter paddles on this wheel are attached to the base, rather than the rim. This means that they don't move with the wheel when you turn it, sometimes forcing you to take one hand off the rim to shift gears. This goes against the whole point of shifter paddles in racing cars, which is to make gear changes quicker and simpler. However, it is fairly typical of some road cars with paddle shift gearboxes.
Like the Logitech DFGT, the T500RS is an official Gran Turismo product, so it also has the same plug-and-play simplicity on PS3, but requires more fine-tuning using the included software for PC.
Not only is this wheel a great choice for Gran Turismo 5, it's also great for the Formula One series, thanks to an optional Ferrari F1 add-on, which is sold separately for around $180/ £120. F1 fans can make great use of the huge number of programmable buttons, all of which are realistically labelled and function as they would in a real Ferrari F1 car.
Despite the $540 base price, the wheel does not include a stick shift. The THR8 shifter is sold separately for $130/ £125, but is the most realistic of its kind. The metal finish looks incredibly authentic and it can be configured in H-pattern or sequential modes.
To complete a full set of T500RS accessories alongside the base model would cost $850/ £615. This is unlikely to suit the vast majority of budgets, but the wheel does offer a credible simulation of a real car, which is remarkable considering it's Thrustmaster's first high-end steering wheel.
Fanatec CSR Wheel Value Pack (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
The best value multiplatform wheel.
USA $250/ UK £250
The Xbox 360 suffers from a very limited choice of steering wheels, but Fanatec's products are amongst the best on any platform. In fact, its CSR range currently supports PS3, PC and 360. Designed with Forza Motorsport 4 in mind, the CSR Wheel is a tremendous piece of kit. The force feedback is arguably even better than the other wheel in this price range, the Logitech G27, and it's delivered to your hands in a less aggressive manner.
The CSR is a phenomenally comfortable wheel to use thanks to alcantara grips on the wheel rim, the same material that's used for grip in Porsches and other sports cars. Sadly, the rest of the rim is plastic, which feels cheap by contrast. It can also be easy to damage the alcantara over time. On our own Fanatec CSR, the material disintegrated after a year. Members of the racing community recommend wearing karting gloves while playing to protect the material.
The value pack is delivered with Fanatec's CSR Pedals, which are strong and sturdy, but don't offer the special features of the CSR Elite pedals. Upgrading to those costs an additional $149, but is well worth it. The CSR Elite Pedals can be adjusted to make the brake soft like a road car, or stiff like a race car. You can also adjust a setting in the wheel to make the wheel vibrate once you are close to reaching full brake pressure. This really helps you to avoid locking up your tyres if you're playing a game with ABS turned off.
Unlike the Logitech and Thrustmaster products, the CSR is not automatically detected by games on the 360 or PS3. Instead, you need to manually adjust a variety of settings using buttons on the wheel and the LED display. It takes some trial and error to get the wheel dialled in perfectly using this method, but the end result is a driving experience that's tailored to your own personal style. The wheel also allows you to save four different sets of settings for use with different games.
There is a hidden expense with the CSR Wheel, in that you almost certainly need to purchase a wheel stand. The table clamp provided with the Wheel is pretty useless and can't support the weight of the device properly. With a stand, you can abandon the clamp altogether and screw the wheel into place for a perfect fit. A wheel stand from the likes of WheelStandPro adds another $100 to the cost.
While you have to make a few sacrifices, the CSR Wheel is still one of only two wheels that supports three platforms, and it's the only real choice in this price range for the Xbox 360. You could opt for the similarly priced Mad Catz Force Feedback Wheel, but it doesn't come close to matching the quality of design, materials, or experience that the CSR provides.
Fanatec CSR Elite Wheel (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
The ultimate racing experience.
USA $540/ UK £500 - Pedals sold separately from $80/ £80 to $250/ £250
When it comes to multiplatform steering wheels, it doesn't get more exciting than the CSR Elite. It may look similar to the standard CSR at first glance, but it's a big leap ahead of what that offers.
The face of the rim is beautifully finished in carbon fibre for that true racing feel. The force feedback is the most intense simulator experience that you can have in your home. Having driven a Pirelli Formula One Simulator, we can say that the aggressive but smooth nature of the CSR Elite's feedback is the closest we've come to that feeling when using a commercially available wheel.
You get all of the same wheel settings as the basic CSR and some cool additional features, such as being able to see inside the base unit to see the mechanics of the force feedback being delivered into your hands. It features the same alcantara pads, but instead of the rest of the rim being plastic, it's rubber. This gives you much more grip if you need to change the position of your hands and react quickly to oversteer.
Of course, the $540 price means that the CSR Elite is a very exclusive product. The cost doesn't include pedals either. Fanatec's basic pedals are $80/ £80, but don't do this package justice, so at the very least it needs to be paired up with the CSR Elite Pedals for $149/ £149, or the even more substantial Club Sport Pedals for $250/ £250. In addition, whereas the standard CSR's clamp was terrible, the Elite does not ship with one at all. So if you don't fancy drilling holes into a desk or table, you need to purchase a wheel stand to support the wheel.
The CSR Elite really is the ultimate racing experience for simulation racers, even if it might be more sensible to invest the money in a real car!
Are you a racing wheel fanatic, or is a pad more your style? Let us know in the comments below.