Driving games have gone from strength to strength in recent years, from the ultra-realistic Project CARS 2 to the amazing range of cars in the stunning Forza Motorsport 7. But, like with most games, it doesn’t feel like you’re there when you’re using a controller or keyboard & mouse combo.
That’s where racing wheels come in. They bridge the gap between you and the game, and transport you to the driver’s seat. You can hear the engine revving and, depending on the wheel you opt for, feel the car rumbling beneath your fingers – you’ll never want to use a controller on a driving game again.
With so many racing wheels on the market, all choc-a-bloc with confusing terminology that beginners don’t understand, which should you buy? Don’t worry – we at Tech Advisor have done the legwork for you. Here, we explain what you should look for when on the market for a steering wheel and provide a selection of our favourites, hand-picked and tested by us.
Dominic Preston also contributed to this article.
Racing Wheel Buying advice
For those new to the world of racing wheels for consoles and PC, the process of finding the best wheel for their needs can be overwhelming – especially when websites mention techy terms like force feedback, rotation, etc. But don’t fret – we break down the key features that you should be looking out for when on the market for a new steering wheel for your favourite driving games or sims.
Vibration and force feedback
Let’s start with Force Feedback, something found in the majority of modern, high-end steering wheels. Much like when driving a car in real life, driving a car in racing games and simulators doesn’t always go to plan – you’ve got bumps in the road, slippery surfaces, tyre grip slip and, of course, other cars to avoid.
And that’s where features like vibration and force feedback come into play – they aim to provide the same sensations that you’d feel when driving a real car. If you’re losing the car at a corner, you’ll have to wrestle a Force Feedback-enabled wheel to keep it under control. It makes you feel like you’ve really worked for your victory and really enhances the overall driving experience.
When it comes to immersion, nothing beats a decent Force Feedback Motor, though they do come at a premium. If you’re looking for the ultimate Force Feedback experience, keep an eye out for a wheel with two motors, though it’s worth noting that these are usually pretty pricey and are really only for those dedicated sim drivers.
Wheel size and rotation
While you’d assume that most racing wheels would aim to emulate the size of those you’d find in real cars, that’s not often the case. Instead, the best racing wheels have a great balance of size, function and rotation to imitate the feeling of not one but a variety of car models.
On average, racing wheels are around 11inches in diameter, but you may come across some that are slightly larger or smaller – it’s down to you to decide what is more comfortable for you.
In terms of rotation, higher-priced wheels offer a wider range of rotation – some up to an incredible 1080 degrees – and provide more of a “real car feel”. Of course, you can pay a little less and get something with a smaller range of rotation, but you might feel that it limits your control (depending on the type of car you’re driving).
Pedal unit and accessories
If you were contemplating buying a racing wheel without a detachable clutch and pedals, stop. To deliver a truly engaging driving experience, the most impressive racing wheels come with a set of pedals, allowing you to drive with more precision and control. When it comes to braking at corners, nothing offers more than control than a physical pedal beneath your foot.
If you really want to go for it, you could also purchase a manual gearbox. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than shifting gears and hearing the roar of the engine behind you. Many of the best racing wheels offer compatibility with optional gearboxes – all steering wheels below are compatible – but it also makes driving games more complex, even for those that drive cars in real life.
Last but not least, you should find out about platform compatibility before purchasing any racing wheel. Generally speaking, wheels are designed for either the PS4, Xbox One or PC, and much of the time, the console variant will also be compatible with PC – but not other console platforms. That means while you may be able to use your PS4-based wheel on your PC, you won’t be able to use it with the Xbox One.
So, to summarise, make sure you buy the correct steering wheel for the platform(s) that you’ll be using it on. You don’t want a £300 paperweight, do you?
Best racing wheels of 2018
At £329/$399, the Logitech G920 proves that you don’t need to spend £500/$500+ on a steering wheel setup to get a premium virtual driving experience.
Let’s first look at the design. It’s a standard circular wheel clad in high-quality, hand-stitched leather designed to provide the look and feel of a high-performance sports car. It’s soft to the touch but breathable, meaning you won’t get sweaty palms at those tense times when racing. In the middle you’ll find dedicated Xbox-branded buttons including triggers, meaning you won’t need to use a secondary controller to set up races and navigate menus.
A nice touch is the steering wheel stripe, allowing you to see the direction of the steering wheel at a glance.
Inside the G920 you’ll find dual-motors that provide impressive force feedback, and believe us when we say that you really feel every bump, skid and knock when using this wheel. You’ll find yourself wrestling with the wheel just trying to keep control when skidding out, even to the point where your table may wobble – and it’s great. You’ve also got 900-degree lock-to-lock rotation, which isn’t as much as what’s on offer from Thrustmaster, but it does the job.
It, of course, comes with a pedal unit featuring a throttle, brake and clutch, and provides an accurate feeling of what it’s like to change gears, accelerate and brake in real life. It has rubber feet for hardened surfaces, but where the G920’s pedal unit really stands out is with its retractable carpet grip, little teeth that pop out and grip the carpet beneath. Once the grip is out, that unit won’t move – even when you’re flooring it.
Like the other wheels in our roundup, the G920 features semi-automatic stainless steel paddle shifters behind the wheel to control gears. But, if flappy pedals aren’t your thing, you can opt for the Logitech Driving Force Shifter, a 6-speed manual gearbox compatible with the wheel.
In terms of platform support, the Logitech G920 is compatible with both Xbox One and PC, ideal for those looking to cash in on Microsoft’s Play Anywhere scheme and use the wheel across console and PC. Those looking for the PS4-supported variant should check out the Logitech G29.
Some few, committed people can imagine spending £700/$700 on a videogame steering wheel accessory. For the rest of us mere mortals, this is a ludicrous use of money. But for those rarefied few, there’s the Thrustmaster T-GT.
Designed specifically for Gran Turismo Sport on the PS4 (though compatible with other games, thankfully, including PC support), this is the crème de la crème of authentic driving experiences on console.
Read through Thrustmaster’s official page and you’ll be bombarded with acronyms: T-LIN, T-40VE, T-M.C.E., H.E.A.R.T., T-F.O.C. and more besides. It boils down to this: the T-GT is packed with tech to make sure the force feedback is as powerful, dynamic, and accurate as possible.
You’ll need to play GT Sport to make the most of this, where you’ll find the wheel reacting dynamically to the game, from every rev of the engine to each time you skid uncontrollably off the track (I may have had a bit of a learning curve with the game). Exclusive to GT Sport, it can even subtly alter the vibrations to reflect the driving surface or weather conditions - there’s pretty much constant feedback of some sort or another.
Beyond performance, the T-GT is slick throughout. The stitched leather finish to the wheel is supple and comfortable, and there’s a comforting (and sturdy) heft to the whole thing. The silver-y plastic on the bottom of the wheel is the only blip in a build that otherwise screams ‘premium’ from beginning to end.
There’s no gear stick included, though it’s compatible with Thrustmaster’s TH8A, but the accompanying pedals are solid. The three-pedal board is built of plastic with metal footplates, and they’re responsive enough - though undeniably less impressive than the wheel itself.
At the end of the day, you already know if you’re the sort of person who’d even consider spending the better part of a grand on a PS4 steering wheel. If you are - and you expect to sink serious hours into GT Sport - it’s hard to imagine the T-GT being bested anytime soon. And if not, well, feel free to gawp at it with the rest of us.
Thrustmaster TS-XW Racer
At £649/$715 the TS-XW Racer is only slightly cheaper than Thrustmaster's top-of-the-line model, but it offers a different setup altogether. First up, the TS-XW Racer is the outcome of the first collaboration between Thrustmaster and Sparco and offers some pretty impressive internals.
But before we get on to what you’ll find beneath the surface, let’s first talk about design. It’s a 1:1 scale replica of the Sparco P310 Competition wheel, hence the unique shape and design compared to other wheels in our roundup. The ergonomic design means it’s easy to grip and comfortable to use over long periods, and the use of genuine suede leather on the wheel is a nice premium touch.
Our only gripe with the design is that the centre of the wheel seems a little… bare, especially when the Xbox-branded buttons are fairly spread apart (it’s for Xbox One and PC) and the buttons on the base are a little awkward to reach when racing. It could’ve been home to additional buttons or even a full analogue stick to make navigating through menus a little less painful. It does feature programmable buttons though, which should benefit more advanced racing sim drivers.
But it’s on the inside that the TS-XW Racer really shines. It offers a 40-watt brushless servomotor that should continue to provide great performance over long periods of time, coupled with a dual belt-pulley system and metal ball-bearing axel that provides up to 1080 degrees of rotation. While that may not mean much to some, it translates to an incredibly realistic experience that’ll make your arms ache. You’ll feel every bump, every tyre slip, and every collision.
The wheel is backed up by the T3PA 3-pedal set, a plastic board with three fully adjustable metal footplates. They’re fairly responsive, but we found that it wasn’t as grippy as that offered by the Logitech G920 and would occasionally slip away underfoot.
It’s compatible with a range of accessories, including the Thrustmaster TH8A gearstick which, like its more-expensive cousin, doesn’t come with the wheel itself but is available to pick up from Amazon.