2018 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for Sim Racing, with a slew of great titles announced, as well as some great hardware announcements coming in the near future! This year, we are seeing Direct Drive Wheels get into the more mainstream price range, and other wheels getting more and more exciting!
Last year I did the Sim Racing Wheel Buyer’s Guide, and now it’s time for the next one in the series!
A Bit About Sim Racing Wheels
My recommendation for a wheel incorporates two requirements:
-A minimum of 900 degrees of rotation
-Force Feedback Capabilities
At the sub-$100 range, you’ll see some wheels such as the Hori Overdrive and the Thrustmaster T80. While the 240-270 degrees of rotation and bungee cord systems will feel quite a bit better than a gamepad, I would not personally recommend them for a Sim Racer looking for a relatively-serious experience.
Force Feedback does a great job of communicating the feel of the car to your hands, to compensate for the lack of the “Seat of the Pants” feeling you normally get in a real car. There are three different technologies that are commonly used to simulate the feeling of driving a car:
- Gear Drive Force Feedback – The oldest FFB system utilized. A motor is connected to the steering wheel’s shaft via gears. The gear ratios allows the force to be amplified, allowing for smaller motors to be used. The main issues with gear driven wheels are that they are rather imprecise, rough, and fairly noisy (I used to have a Logitech G25 for 5 years, and my family joked that it always sounded like I was sawing logs while driving).With a gear drive wheel, you are limited by each cog on the gear, so you feel significant “steps” every few degrees or so. I don’t know the precise amount, but if a gear had 120 cogs on it, then you would feel a “step” for every 3 degrees.Gear driven wheels are regarded to as fairly obsolete, in favor of the other two Force Feedback technologies.
- Belt Drive Force Feedback – A lot of technology uses belt drive, like vacuums and car parts (alternators, fans, etc). Due to the nature of the technology, it was clear that the technology could be applied to Sim Racing. High end wheels were developed with the technology, but Fanatec was the first to bring the technology to the consumer market. Belt Driven Force Feedback is significantly quieter and more precise than gear drive FFB. The technology also shares some of the same benefits, where a smaller FFB motor can be used and the belt pulley ratio allows for stronger forces.There are some downsides with Belt Drive too. Because of the nature of rubber belts used for the FFB, stretching/wear can affect the feel of the wheel. Also, the belts absorb some of the force, as well as some of the accuracy is lost via friction.
- Direct Drive FFB: Direct Drive Force Feedback is regarded to as the best Force Feedback you can get, and for good reason. Direct Drive cuts out the middle man, and mounts a steering wheel directly onto a large motor.
In turn, a Direct Drive Wheel provides some of the quickest, strongest, and most detailed Force Feedback on the market. However, that comes at a cost. Direct Drive Wheels are the most expensive on the market, STARTING at around the $1,000 mark, and going up to around $3,000-4,000! In addition, you will need a fairly sturdy setup to mount it on, and also a place to mount the external box, which houses the electronics. However, in 2018, things seem to be changing, and multiple companies are looking to produce Direct Drive Solutions for more palatable price tag.
Beginner Wheels – Sub $200
For the Sub-$200 racing wheels, you are going to be mostly limited to gear driven FFB wheels. There is only one new wheel at the MSRP that I could recommend, but there are some solid offerings from Logitech that you can find pre-owned nowadays.
- Thrustmaster TMX/T150: The Thrustmaster TMX/T150 is one of the few NEW wheels I would consider recommending that is in the sub $200 price bracket. The wheel features 900° of rotation, and an 11″ non-removable wheel rim. If you are interested in improving the wheel, it is also compatible with Thrustmaster’s T3PA Pedals, and the TH8A Shifter.
- Logitech Driving Force GT: One of the go-to wheels of the PS3 era, the Logitech DFGT was also a solid PC performer. A rotary dial allowed on-the fly adjustments, which was great for making pit adjustments, or things like that. The wheel was discontinued years ago, but you can find a DFGT used for around $50-100, depending on where you look.
- Logitech G27: One of the most popular sim racing wheels, this became the go-to for the sim racer looking to get serious. The G27 featured a three pedal set and H-pattern shifter in the bundle. While this set is getting rather uncommon now, if you look hard enough, you can snag a pre-owned one under the $200 mark. In fact, I recently bought a G27 off of Craigslist for only $80!
Mid Range Consumer Wheels – $200-$400
With this price range, you are going to be able to start looking into the Belt Driven Force Feedback wheels. In addition, the mid-range market is unique, where you can swap out steering rims on the two main contenders in the market.
- Thrustmaster TX/T300RS
Thrustmaster’s main mid-range offering is a solid wheel, featuring a brushless motor and a belt driven FFB system. You have multiple options on how you would be able to purchase the wheel. You can buy the wheel base as a stand-alone unit for around $250, and then purchase a rim for $100-$150, depending on what rim you are looking for. Like the T150/TMX, the wheel base is also compatible with the T3PA Pedals and TH8A Shifter. Thrustmaster offers a solid bundle with the T300/TX Base, Rim, and T3PA pedals, which straddles around the $400-$500 mark.
- Fanatec CSL Elite Xbox One
Fanatec’s new entry-level unit is a mid-range wheel, which offers performance on par with the German company’s former Clubsport Wheel V1. The CSL Elite Wheel Base is very similar to the T300/TX offering, where it is a belt-driven wheel using a brushless FFB motor. The CSL Elite is sold as a stand-alone base for $299, and will require a wheel rim as well, which can be bought for as low as $89. Bundles are also available, such as one with the Formula Black rim, and one including the CSL P1 Wheel and CSL Elite 2-Pedal Set . The wheel is compatible with all Clubsport peripherals, including the CSL Elite/Clubsport Pedals, and Clubsport Shifter.
- Logitech G29/Driving Force G920:
Previously on my “Not Recommended” List last year, recent price drops and frequent sales make this a more appealing low/midrange offering. Gear Drive FFB is not as viable in the mid-range market as it used to be. Commonly on sale for $250, and sometimes even dropping to the sub-$200 mark, the G29/G920 is a decent way to get a wheel+3-pedal set for a decent price. However, for above $250, I’d highly recommend looking at belt-driven solutions.
- Fanatec CSL Elite PS4
The latest rim from Fanatec, the CSL Elite PS4 brings minor improvements to the CSL Elite Xbox One wheel base, and also adds in PS4 compatibility. This is the ONLY wheel on the market that features compatibility for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC (note that you need an Xbox One compatible rim to use it for the Xbox). The CSL Elite PS4 comes with a rim, and is sold for $479. A bundle is also available for $20 more, that includes a two-pedal set.
High End Consumer Wheels – $400-$900
The high end consumer wheels build on the technology featured in the mid-range wheels, but features higher quality components. Fanatec and Thrustmaster again are the two main competitors in this market.
- Thrustmaster TS-PC RACER
The Thrustmaster TS-PC RACER, a PC exclusive wheel that features the strength of the T500RS with the smoothness of the T300RS, due to the upgrade to a Brushless motor. The wheel features an estimated 6 NM of Torque, which puts it on par with the Fanatec CSL Elite and CSW. This wheel also includes a rim in the $500 cost, which makes this product significantly undercut its competitor in the price range. The wheel rim is a lightweight one, making for some very quick responsive FFB as well. (Note that the base TS-PC RACER does NOT include a pedal set)
In addition, a new version of the TS-PC RACER Wheel with a Ferrari 488 Challenge Replica Rim is available, marking the first Thrustmaster Wheel to feature Shift Lights.
- Fanatec Clubsport Wheel V2.5
Fanatec’s current flagship is one of the top wheels that can be had for under $1,000, that still offers some (limited) console compatibility. The Clubsport Wheel V2.5 features a Belt Driven Force Feedback system, generating around 6.5 NM of Torque. Like the CSL Elite, this is sold as an a la carte base unit, for $499, requiring you to buy a separate rim with the base. If you want to keep the cost under $600, you can buy the CSL Steering Wheel P1, which is currently sold for $89. However, with this investment, I would recommend going to a higher end wheel. Multiple bundles are available, including one with the CSL Elite P1 Rim and Two-Pedal CSL Elite Pedal Set for under $700.
- Thrustmaster TS-XW RACER
Picture the Thrustmaster TS-PC RACER Wheel, add Xbox One compatibility and a T3PA Pedal Set, and you’ve got the TS-XW RACER! The TS-XW also features a Sparco P310 Replica rim, with a genuine suede wrap. This wheel is a solid offering for people looking for a decent solution for Xbox One and PC racing. The wheel is also part of the Thrustmaster Ecosystem, so it is compatible with Thrustmaster’s rims and the TH8A Shifter. The TS-XW RACER is sold in a bundle that includes the T3PA Pedals for $699 MSRP, but can be found for even less.
- Thrustmaster T-GT
The new flagship wheel from Thrustmaster, the T-GT is the official wheel of Gran Turismo Sport. The wheel features a slightly improved design over the TS series wheels, and also a nifty Tactile Transducer that adds more depth to the force feedback (unfortunately, that feature is just a Gran Turismo exclusive). This is definitely Thrustmaster’s best wheel yet, but feels slightly overpriced for the MSRP of $800. However, this wheel is commonly on sale, so it can be a decent deal.
High End Wheels – $900 and Up
Now it’s time for the big guns! If you’re really wanting to take that next step into this hobby, or you have a lot of money to burn, high end wheels are becoming surprisingly reasonable. The high end market is quickly becoming dominated with Direct Drive Force Feedback technology, which is bringing costs to a fairly reasonable point, if you’re willing to tinker. However, it is worth mentioning that once you get to this point, you will NO longer have compatibility with console racing titles, but if you’re really wanting to do that, you will most likely have a console wheel on the side.
- Open Sim Wheel: From $900
One of the emerging trends is to build your own high end racing wheel, being dubbed the Open Sim Wheel. The thought is that, you could buy your own motor, pair it to the right electronics, and you would have your own functional Direct Drive racing wheel! As a result, we are starting to see prices for this go under the $1,000 mark.This method may be rather daunting if you have limited DIY experience though. You will need to essentially build a PC to house the electrics of the wheel. Also, this option does not come with a steering wheel, so you will need to buy your own wheel. If you are looking to use a real world wheel on an Open Sim Wheel and add some buttons, you may also need some knowledge of soldering or wiring.An Open Sim Wheel is as powerful as the motor the racer buys for the wheel. A popular motor for the Open Sim Wheel is produced by MiGE, and has offerings up to 20 NM, or 30 NM, depending on which motor you buy!
- SimXperience AccuForce: DIY $704, “Your Way” $899, AccuForce Pro $1,299
SimXperience provides one of the most cost effective turn-key consumer solutions for the Direct Drive market. They have developed their system totally in-house, utilizing what they call a “Hybrid Stepper Servo Motor” (see this link for more on that), as well as their own SimCommander software to drive the wheel. This allows for a lot of customizability with the wheel, and the ability to tailor it to the driver’s wishes.The AccuForce comes in 3 versions, the DIY (which is basically similar to an Open Sim Wheel with SimXperience technology), the “Your Way” (which includes an adapter to mount your own rim onto the unit), and the Pro (which adds a button box, steering wheel rim, and Quick Release).No matter what configuration you purchase, the motor stays the same. The motor, as mentioned, is an in-house offering from SimXperience, offering 13NM of torque.
- SimSteering 2:
The Simsteering is one of the highest regarded Force Feedback units on the market, and it has been at the top of many racers’ wish lists. This unit features Leo Bodnar electronics, matched to a Kollmorgen AKM50 series servo motor, to provide incredibly high performance.While the motors aren’t as strong as the higher end MiGE wheel available in the Open Sim Wheel, it is said the SimSteering still outperforms the OSW, due to its high performance electronics.Three motor options are available, providing different torque figures:
- 52: 16NM $3,351
- 53: 20.5NM: $3,560 $3,281
- 54: 26NM: $3,909
- Other Wheels
Other Direct Drive wheels are entering the hardware market as well, and they are hovering around the sub-$2,000 mark. We have seen offerings from Frex, EC Sim Hardware, and others. They will be similar performance to the AccuForce or Open Sim Wheel.
A new section to this buyer’s guide, the Upcoming Wheels for 2018 are an exciting bunch. We have a few Sim Racing wheels already announced, and they look to be very exciting!
- FeelVR Wheel
Ukranian-Based FeelVR announced their Direct Drive Wheel last year, and it’s caused quite a stir in the Sim Racing community. Announcing a Direct Drive Wheel for $388 $550 for a Direct Drive Wheel and Load Cell pedal set is quite an impressive feat (The bundle’s price will go up to $899 after the Kickstarter Campaign). There are still plenty of questions to be answered, like “What hardware is it going to run?”, “How reliable will it be?” and “What quality will it be built to?”, but hopefully more answers will come in the near future.
- Fanatec’s Podium Series Drive Wheel
Fanatec’s next major wheel will be a Direct Drive wheel, kicking off their high end “Podium Series”. The wheel bases will be the first in a series of high end Sim Racing equipment from Fanatec, including pedals, rims, shifters, etc.
Not too much is known about the Podium Series bases, but we know there will be multiple bases, powered by an in-house motor. The Podium Base will likely feature Xbox One compatibility, but unfortunately no PS4 compatibility (at least, for the first generation). More info will come leading up to the planned release date this summer.
- Sim-Pli.City SW7C
Next month, a new “Budget Direct Drive Wheel” will be released by Sim-Pli.City. The SW7C (C stands for “Compact”) will feature a Mige 80ST Series Motor, generating up to 7Nm of Torque (a similar level to the Fanatec Clubsport Wheel V2.5). Not much is known about the wheel, such as what software will power the wheel, but since the wheel comes out next month, it should be exciting to see what is to come!
With all of this information overload, I wanted to share my personal recommendations on what I’d recommend.
If you are a beginner looking to get started:
If you’re looking to just get started in Sim Racing, I’d recommend either going for the Thrustmaster TMX/T150, or the Logitech G29/G920 (if you find it on sale). Also, it may be a wise idea to look at pre-owned offerings. The Logitech G27 and Driving Force GT are both still solid wheels and can be found for reasonable prices.
If you’re looking to get more serious into Sim Racing
If you’re wanting to take the next step into Sim Racing, or you have some deeper pockets, then I’d recommend going to Belt Drive wheels. The Thrustmaster T300/TX are great mid-range wheels, and can offer great value for money.
If you’re looking to make more of an investment, the Fanatec CSL Elite would be my personal favorite pick for the mid-range. It offers a greater upgrade tree, and allows support for accessories such as shifters, handbrakes, etc.
If you’re looking to go to high end, but aren’t ready for Direct Drive
The Fanatec Clubsport Wheel is my “Favorite Sim Wheel That Isn’t Direct Drive”. It is one of the smoothest Belt-Driven wheels I have used, and is quick and strong enough to provide a great experience.
Second, I think I would suggest the TS-XW RACER Wheel. The feel of the Sparco Rim is great, and it is smooth enough to be considered a solid offering. I would place it above the T-GT because I believe the TS-XW RACER is a better value.
If you’ve got money to burn and want the best
If you’re ready to dive into Direct Drive category, I’d say an Open Sim Wheel is your best bet. It is a fraction of the price of the SimSteering2 wheel, and offers performance on par, if not a little better. I have not driven an AccuForce, but I’ve heard the OSW tends to outperform it. However, if you are looking for a more Turn-Key solution, I’d say the SimXperience AccuForce is a solid option.
Hopefully this Buyer’s Guide is of help to you trying to figure out what you’re looking for! If you have any more questions, shoot me an email at email@example.com.