GameSpot's Guide to Racing Wheels
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.
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Why Get A Racing Wheel?
As racing games have become more specialised, the genre has been broken up into smaller segments, such as kart racing, open-world exploration, and simulation motorsport. With a greater variety of racing comes a greater variety of accessories, ranging from simple motion controllers through to $500 carbon fibre steering wheels.
Such accessories are increasingly becoming a must-have for serious motorsport fans; wheels offer a significantly wider range of inputs compared to analogue sticks and triggers. Some of the fastest racing players in the world benefit from owning a wheel, with many E-sports racers sponsored by wheel manufacturers, such as Team Redline, who are partnered with Fanatec.
If you think you've maxed out your speed with a standard controller and want to go even faster, then buying a wheel and pedals is a great way to shave some seconds off those lap times. Whether you're looking to subtly improve your racing experience with a basic motion controller, or pick up a force feedback device to compete with the top times on the toughest leaderboards, our guide to racing wheels has got you covered.
Budget Racing Wheels
Microsoft Wireless Speed Wheel (Xbox 360)
The first step up from a standard controller.
USA $30/ UK £30
The Microsoft Wireless Speed Wheel is great if you're looking to enhance your racing experience on a tight budget. Motion controls allow you to steer with your arms, instead of your thumbs, and you can continue to use triggers on the wheel for your gas and brake. It's also ideal if you don't have the space for a larger racing setup with pedals, and it's the least expensive steering option on any console.
However, if you're already quite serious about your racing, you might want to skip this first step. Using the Speed Wheel for extended periods of time can be tiring because you're holding the gyroscopic controller straight out in front of you with no natural way to relax your arms. Using the triggers also means that, compared to a standard controller, you don't get any extra control of your gas and brakes.
Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel (PlayStation 3)
Best for arcade racing and motorcycle games.
USA $40/ UK £30
The PlayStation equivalent of the Xbox 360 Speed Wheel is slightly more expensive, particularly as you have to factor in a Move controller into the price if you don't already own one, but also a little more comfortable to use. However, while the Speed Wheel was designed with a simulation game in mind (Forza Motorsport 4), the Move Racing Wheel feels like more of a toy. That's thanks to its cheap-feeling plastic construction, and the gimmicky way in which you slot the Move controller into the middle of the wheel where it lights up light a Christmas tree during races.
Sony describes the Speed Wheel as offering a "true arcade feel," in games like LittleBigPlanet Karting, but don't expect a realistic experience in Gran Turismo 5. On the other hand, you can configure the handles of the Move Racing Wheel to resemble the handlebars of a motorcycle. There's no dedicated motorcycle controller widely available for any of the consoles right now, so fans of the MotoGP or World Superbike games might want to give it a try.
Gioteck FR-1 (PlayStation 3)
Ideal if you don't have or want a PlayStation Move
USA $50/ UK £30
If you're not keen on the look of Sony's official racing wheel, or you don't own a Move controller, Gioteck's FR-1 is ideal. Similar to the Microsoft Wireless Speed Wheel, the FR-1 is a motion controlled wheel that you hold out in front of you, turning it in midair to steer. There are triggers on each handle (configurable to X and square buttons if required) for accelerate and brake, while a handy dial in the middle lets you adjust the sensitivity of the FR-1 on the fly.
The FR-1 works surprisingly well, but it has similar issues to the Microsoft wheel. It can be tiring holding the controller straight out in front of you for long periods of time, while the triggers don't offer the same level of control as a set of pedals do. That said, the FR-1 is a great budget choice if you're after a compact racing setup, or just looking to make your first foray into the world of racing wheels.
Midrange Racing Wheels
Logitech Driving Force GT (PlayStation 3, PC)
The best value wheel and pedals set.
USA $120 to $150/ UK £80 to £130
Officially licensed by the Gran Turismo series, the Driving Force GT is one of the most popular wheels available and it's easy to see why: it's the least expensive force feedback wheel for any platform. The pedals are basic compared to high-end wheels, but they still offer finer control than the triggers of a pad. After a little a bit of practice, this package will make you faster. The superb adjustment dial, which works with Gran Turismo 5, allows you to adjust many car settings on the fly, such as traction control and brake bias. The dial can also be programmed for similar functions in many PC racing titles.
On the PS3, the wheel works right out of the box with almost every racing game. The majority of games automatically detect your wheel and adjust various control settings accordingly. On the PC, you need to use the provided software to fine tune your wheel settings and save individual controller profiles for different games.
The force feedback of the wheel is strong and gives you good information about the behaviour of your car, but it's not delivered as smoothly as the more expensive wheels on the market, while the gear change inputs on the wheel leave something to be desired.The small buttons on the back of the rim, which stand in for shifter paddles, don't provide a very realistic feel and the sequential stick shift is prone to clicking and rattling, which makes it feel cheap.
That said, this is by far the best value-for-money racing wheel currently on sale and its clamp system makes it easy to attach to a desk or table for quick racing.
Logitech G27 (PlayStation 3, PC)
The popular choice for simulation racing.
USA $210 to $300/ UK £230
Logitech's G series has long been the wheel of choice for hardcore simulation fans, especially on the PC. Like the DFGT, it works immediately with the majority of PS3 racing games, but requires some profile setup on the PC. Instead of the rubberised grips of the DFGT, the G27 is finished in leather, making it much more comfortable for long periods of play. The force feedback has been stepped up too. It is much smoother, and you don't feel the occasional "grinding" sensation that has plagued cheaper peripherals in the past.
The shifting inputs are significantly better than those on the less expensive Logitech wheel too. The G27 features proper metal paddle shifters and a fantastic stick shift which can be set in 6-speed H-pattern mode, or sequential like a race car. The shifter also has several buttons on the base that control menu navigation and other basic options, in order to compensate for the fact that the rim features fewer buttons than the standard Dual Shock 3 controller.
The wheel rim has rev lights on the top edge, helping you to judge the perfect moment to change gear; it's the only off-the-shelf wheel that has this feature. The pedals also provide much more resistance than those of the Driving Force GT, though they don't meet the high standards of Fanatec's modular systems, compared to other wheels in this Guide. The clamp system is the same as the Driving Force GT, but the G27's separate shifter can make it difficult to find a comfortable position to play in. You might want to consider a wheel stand, such as the WheelStandPro, if you buy one of these wheels. Stands vary in price, but most are around $100.
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.'