Although not completely essential, sim racing wheels are popular within the community, with some people paying extortionate amounts for the best the market has to offer. This can leave new sim racers wondering whether it is really worth investing in their own sim racing wheel.
Sim racing wheels offer the immersion and realism that a controller cannot, with features like force feedback helping to narrow the gap between virtual racing and the real thing. Wheels can also be performance enhancing, allowing you to drive around a track with greater precision and accuracy.
Wheels won’t appeal to everybody though, as they are not as accessible as controllers and can cost a fair bit of money. In this article, we will discuss the price of a wheel, the pros and cons of using one, and whether it is worth using one for popular console games such as Forza or Gran Turismo.
How Much Is A Sim Racing Wheel?
The price of sim racing wheels can vary, costing as little as $50 for a basic low-performance model, to over $1,500 for a high-spec, great quality wheel. For best results, it is recommended that those entering the market for a new wheel make their choice based on what the wheel has to offer in terms of features and material quality, rather than picking a wheel for its low price.
Another factor to consider is whether the wheel you are choosing is compatible with the platform that you race on. There are often small compatibility details that are easy to miss. For example, the Logitech G29 is compatible with PC and PlayStation only, while the G920 is exclusive to Xbox. Compatibility aside, there are three main price brackets to look out for when choosing a wheel.
The sub-$100 wheel is often purchased by those just entering the world of sim racing. Mid-range wheels are perfect for intermediate racers and usually cost around $250-$500. Finally, there is the direct drive wheel, frequently seen on professional sim racing setups and likely to set you back well over $1,000.
The Sub-$100 Wheel
Although they may seem like a gentle and cheap introduction to sim racing, wheels that cost below $100 are generally made of low-cost materials such as plastic and lack most of the features available in most sim racing wheels. While there is no shame in starting off with a cheap wheel, if you go too cheap it can very easily detract from your sim racing experience and performance.
Cheap sim racing wheels will lack any sort of force feedback, which is arguably one of the best benefits of using a sim racing wheel. This will result in a lack of immersion and realism, as well as limiting your performance in races due to not being able to feel the limitations and nuances of the car.
Wheels below $100 will also have a maximum rotation of 270-degrees, which can leave you struggling to navigate sharper corners. As well as restricted in-game features, the reduction in build quality may leave you having to replace the wheel sooner than you would like. A cheaper wheel will not be as durable and resistant to damage as a more expensive option.
Mid-range wheels are the most popular wheels on the market as they cater to those who are just getting into sim racing, but still hold up brilliantly for intermediate racers because of their excellent build quality and range of features.
Perhaps the most famous of the sim racing wheels is the previously mentioned Logitech G29/920, which is a prime example of what a mid-range wheel can achieve. Fully equipped with dual-motor force feedback and a rotation of 900-degrees, it is difficult to find a better option for the amount that this wheel will cost.
The strength of the G29/920’s performance is not let down by its physical appearance either, as its leather wrap and steel/aluminum body is an immediate example of the jump in build quality and durability that you get when you invest more into your wheel.
There are plenty of pricier options in the mid-range category that are also worth looking into, like the Thrustmaster T300RS or the TX Racing Wheel. What you will likely find is, that as the prices climb, the materials used and the features available will remain the same, but the adaptability of the wheels will increase.
This means that you will be able to add extras such as gear shifters or handbrakes to the wheel. This will add to the price, but can just as easily add to your sim racing experience if you want to stretch your budget a little further.
Direct Drive Wheels
Generally priced at over $1,000, direct drive wheels are the holy grail of the sim racing wheel options. Direct drive wheels are mounted to a motor, meaning the force feedback levels they offer are as close as you are going to get to the feeling of driving a real car without having to leave the house.
The most notorious direct drive wheel is the Fanatec DD2, compatible with consoles as well as PC. It’s incredibly expensive for a sim racing wheel, which is why they are uncommon in standard sim racing lobbies, and more suited for professional sim racers, or used by real-life racing teams for training purposes.
Is A Sim Racing Wheel Worth It?
Whether racing wheels are worth it or not is ultimately down to the user’s requirements. In order to answer this, you need to consider things like how often you play, your experience level, and how far you plan to take your sim racing.
Casual/Part Time Players
The first category of players to consider are those who play sim racing games infrequently. For the most casual of sim racers, spending any amount of money on a racing wheel may be hard to justify, especially as sim racing wheels can take up quite a lot of space and require a dedicated area to mount them on.
Wheels also take a bit more time to set up and require a bit of tweaking in the configuration settings, which doesn’t lend itself very easily to quick and relaxed racing. Performance-wise, the familiarity of a standard controller is a bonus for someone who may not be particularly interested in spending hours getting used to a wheel.
For those becoming more invested in sim racing and looking to move up to the next level in their journey, a wheel could very well be the missing ingredient they are looking for to reduce their lap times. A mid-range wheel with decent force feedback can really help a racer improve their technique and knowledge of racing lines and braking points.
A good wheel will also provide the racer with an enhanced level of immersion, offering more motivation to practice and improve. Overall, I’d say a wheel is definitely beneficial, and therefore worth it, for any intermediate sim racer.
High-Level Sim Racers
For those who have aspirations of testing themselves against the highest level of opponents or plan to take part in esports events, a racing wheel is very much worth it. Tournaments such as the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition are wheel only, so a good amount of experience using a racing wheel is essential.
On a performance level, with the margins being so fine at the top of the competitive leader boards, having a wheel setup will offer a much higher level of steering, as well as more responsive inputs. This will put you on a level playing field with the rest of the competition.
Is Sim Racing Easier With A Wheel?
There are multiple strands of arguments as to whether it is easier to play sim racing games with a wheel. A short answer would be that it is easier to get used to the basics of racing on a controller, but easier to reach higher performance levels with a wheel.
The familiarity and simplicity of the controller means that anyone could learn the controls and start getting around a track without crashing, in a very short space of time. However, this is only a fraction of what sim racing is all about, with the eventual aim being to clock great lap times and become competitive in races.
This is where the benefits of using a wheel become clear, with heightened responsiveness allowing racers to adapt quickly to different circumstances during a race. Wheels allow racers to react better to a car spinning out in front of them or perform defensive maneuvers in a heated battle for position.
Niche Sim Racing Games vs Mass Market Sim Racing Games
If you were to play the more focused sim racing titles such as iRacing or Project Cars 2, you would likely find them to be easier with a wheel. This is because they are aimed at a market consisting of more dedicated sim racers, and are therefore optimized for wheel users. iRacing especially requires higher input levels that wheels are better prepared to offer.
Games like Forza and Gran Turismo are less dedicated sim racing games and instead offer a much more relaxed experience, marketed for mass appeal. As they are both console titles, they are optimized to make it easier to race with a controller. This doesn’t mean you can’t use a wheel, it just means you may not feel as much of a benefit using one as you would on a dedicated sim racing title.
Pros And Cons Of Using A Sim Racing Wheel
As with any investment, buying a racing wheel, however expensive it may be, requires a good deal of research. Each racer will have their own individual needs when it comes to both the performance features as well as the physical features of the wheel. Here is a list of the pros and cons of using a sim racing wheel:
The pros of using a sim racing wheel are:
- Force feedback
- Steering rotation and accuracy
- Greater realism and immersion
- Improved racing performance
The cons of using a sim racing wheel are:
- Can be expensive
- They can take up quite a bit of space
- Not portable as they require mounting
- They take time to adapt to
Sim Racing Wheel vs Controller
As impressive as the improved vibration and the addition of haptic feedback into modern controllers is, there are some features included with sim racing wheels that are just impossible to replicate with a gamepad.
Lack Of Force Feedback
The most instantly noticeable of these features is the power of force feedback in racing wheels. Force feedback is when your wheel reacts to the different situations in the race, replicating a real-life steering wheel. This means it will fight back when you’re steering at high speed, or feel slippery in wet conditions, bringing you even closer to the action.
Force feedback can boost your performance levels too, offering you more information about the nuances of the track, whether it be regarding the cambers of the road, bumpier sections of the track, or the ability to adjust the way you decide to take on certain corners. Force feedback can also reduce the risk of under/oversteering once you get used to its sensitivity.
Another advantage that wheel users will have over console users is a much wider degree of rotation. Good quality wheels will have a degree of rotation of up to 1080-degrees, whereas controllers are very much limited by the restricted movement of the joysticks.
This upgraded rotation will allow wheel users to complete more precise maneuvers around the track, as well as be able to navigate sharper turns such as hairpins with maximum effectiveness.
The Upsides Of Using A Controller
It isn’t a completely clean sweep in favor of the racing wheel though. The accessibility of controllers makes them far easier to just pick up and play, as wheels usually require a more complicated set up procedure. Using a wheel also requires drivers to sit upright when driving, whereas the portability of controllers will allow players to sit virtually anywhere that they would like.
The vast majority of console sim racers, and even some PC ones, will have had their first experiences of the track using a controller. This familiarity will be too hard to shake off for some players, as making the switch to a wheel doesn’t always guarantee instant success. Controllers are also far less intricate than most wheels, and the placement of the buttons comes as second nature to many.
Is A Racing Wheel Worth It For Something Like Forza Horizon?
Forza Horizon 5 is one of Xbox’s exclusive racing titles and had over 15 million players in the month following its release. It is an open-world racing game, with arcade-style racing mechanics, which you’d think wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to wheel-based gameplay. And it is a game that is probably more suited to a controller.
Instead of being a serious racing game, Forza Horizon 5 is more of an adventure game, allowing players to explore the Mexican scenery in a wide range of different cars. This is of absolutely no detriment to the game either, as it isn’t trying to be a racing simulation.
It isn’t just a free roam title though, and there is content within the game that is aimed at people who want to race. The game offers racers a choice of road races, rally races, and night-time street races across its visually stunning map. However, with the way the game physics are developed, there is no real need for a wheel’s precise steering and force feedback.
Is A Racing Wheel Worth It For A Game Like Gran Turismo?
Although there are obvious similarities between Gran Turismo 7 and Forza Horizon 5 in the fact that they are both their respective console’s bestselling driving games, they differ greatly in the content that they offer. Unlike Forza, Gran Turismo has gone down the more traditional route in its latest offering, disregarding free roam and producing a more familiar sim racing style game.
It is very much a racing-focused title, and while it may not be as heavily optimized for wheel users as iRacing or rFactor 2 due to the fact it is produced for console gamers, using a wheel will definitely be worth it for performance reasons. This is especially true for online players, as the Driver Rating system has brought competitive racing back to the forefront of the Gran Turismo series.
With the quality of the PlayStation 5 controller being so good, and the haptic feedback system almost feeling hydraulic, it does make you question whether you really need a wheel for this game, but with it being more ‘sim racing’ than ‘simcade,’ a wheel is worth it, for both performance and immersion.
A sim racing wheel offers an unrivaled immersive racing experience. They may be expensive, but they are essential for anybody with a heightened interest in sim racing. Sim racing wheels can also help you make potential improvements in technique that can make you a better racer.