While a wheel and pedal set may be favored by many for sim racing, you can still have an enjoyable experience using a controller. With so many options available on the market offering different customization and performance features, it can be tough to find the best controller for sim racing.
The 7 best controllers for sim racing are:
- Xbox Elite Series 2
- Razer Wolverine Ultimate
- Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro Controller
- PS5 DualSense Wireless Controller
- PowerA Fusion Pro 2
- Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro
- Logitech F310
Controllers come at varying price points, with differing features catering to racers of all experience and ability levels. In this article we’ll discuss the benefits of sim racing with a controller, as well as listing the best options on the market and the perfect games to pair them with.
- • Immersive controller experience
- • Great design
- • Paddles on the back for shifting
- • Brilliant haptic feedback
- • The best option for PS5
- • Long battery life
- • Super budget friendly
- • Simple setup and use
- • Retro look
Can You Sim Race With A Controller?
You can sim race with a controller, and it can be extremely enjoyable too. While you won’t get the same level of immersion that you would with a full wheel and pedal setup, you can often go just as fast in sim racing games when using a controller versus using a wheel.
While it may not be favored by hardcore sim racers, sim racing with a controller is very much possible. In fact, many prefer its ease and familiarity over the complexity of racing wheels. Even with several cheap sim racing wheels available, controllers still have a firm place in the sim racing world.
Familiarity And Simplicity
While they may not be the most immersive and realistic option, controllers have their upsides, with familiarity being one of them. It’s a whole lot easier to pick up a controller and have a natural feel for where the buttons and controls are, as it’s what most young gamers are brought up on. Knowing your way round a controller is like riding a bike – you never lose that sense of familiarity.
Controllers are often less complex too, without multiple switches and knobs to try and navigate at high speeds, making them a lot easier for beginners to use. Some may be in favor of complexity as it adds an extra layer of skill into the race, especially with features such as paddle shifting on wheels.
However, using a controller doesn’t mean you won’t have access to features such as manual shifting and ERS deployment for example, as controllers will still cater for this complexity if you switch to manual mode, although you might have to remap some controls to make it comfortable to use. Some controllers even have paddles attached to replicate paddle shifting, which can help boost realism.
It’s no secret that using a wheel is a more immersive option and will be the more satisfying choice for those trying to replicate real life racing. Despite this, casual sim racers may not feel that they need this level of realism, instead simply getting their joy out of competing in races against other people. Wheel and pedal sets don’t come cheap, leaving controllers as a low-cost alternative.
Controllers also don’t have immersion benefits such as force feedback – a component of racing wheels that mimics how a real-life wheel would behave. However, some controllers will have resistance in the triggers, which offer a similar effect for the pedals. This isn’t a direct replacement for force feedback, but it is an attempt at creating some additional immersion.
KEY POINTS• You can sim race on controller, and for many it’s actually easier
• You can often be just as fast as you could be with a wheel and pedals
• Using a controller will offer far less immersion than a full sim racing rig would
How To Choose A Controller For Sim Racing
Shape And Size
Controllers aren’t one-size-fits-all, with some being suited to larger hands and some perfect for smaller hands. Xbox controllers have historically been larger than PlayStation controllers for example, with some third-party manufactured pads falling in between. You’ll also want to consider the ergonomics of the controller and how comfortable it will be to use during longer sessions.
Most controllers are built with ergonomics in mind, with the standard two handles being a mainstay in controller design since the late 1990s when joystick, arcade-style controllers began to fizzle into the history books. The curves on the back of the handles are what keeps them comfortable, as it allows for a firm yet moveable grip.
The next thing to bear in mind is the connectivity of the controller. This will determine whether you can plug the controller into your gaming machine of choice. Consoles will require USB connectivity for wired models, with PCs generally offering more leeway with multiple different input ports. Wireless controllers will work with Bluetooth but will still need a cable for charging.
Compatibility is vital, and it can catch you out very easily. Not all controllers will work with every console or PC. For example, you can’t use an Xbox controller with a PS5. PlayStation 5s are very isolationist when it comes to controllers, and don’t allow the use of any third-party manufactured controllers to be used on the console. You can’t even use a PS4 controller for PS5 games!
Xbox are a lot more forgiving in this department, which is understandable as Microsoft are also (primarily) invested in the PC market. PC is once again the king of compatibility and will allow for the use of almost all controllers, including the PS5 DualSense if you run it through Steam.
Wired vs Wireless
Whether you want a wired or wireless controller is completely down to your play style. Casual players who enjoy sitting back and relaxing when sim racing may prefer a wireless controller as you can sit back and play from anywhere with a vision of the screen. Wireless controllers do still require charging, meaning those who prefer long sessions could well lean towards a wired controller.
You can still play with a wireless controller while it is charging, making it the more versatile option of the two.
As with all sim racing equipment, price should be a secondary factor when it comes to looking for a controller. Obviously, you’ll have to work with however much you want to spend, but it is always recommended that you look for the features that you want from the controller first, rather than buying the cheapest product and potentially ending up disappointed.
KEY POINTS• It’s important to consider things like shape, size and connectivity when choosing a controller for sim racing
• You also need to make sure it will work with your chosen platform and games
• Wired and wireless options exist, and wireless options are more versatile
The 7 Best Controllers For Sim Racing
1. Xbox Elite Series 2
Connectivity: USB / Bluetooth | Compatibility: PC / Xbox One / Xbox Series X | Wireless: Yes
The Xbox Elite Series 2 is an upgrade on Xbox’s standard wireless controller that comes with the new generation of Xbox consoles. Unfortunately for Microsoft their standard wireless controller doesn’t come close to what Sony achieved with the DualSense. However, the Elite Series 2 offers substantially more than PlayStation’s premiere controller.
This controller is the ultimate choice for sim racers thanks to its excellent functionality. It is highly adjustable with extra paddles for functions like shifting gears, and it feels great to use.
This one is around double the price of a DualSense controller, but with the price comes a wealth of customization and performance features. The features on the Elite Series 2 lend themselves nicely towards sim racing, with curved triggers ensuring you won’t feel your fingers slipping off the accelerator. It has paddles attached to the controller which can be used for paddle shifting.
The controller is geared towards serious gamers, with a nice ergonomic design, and very grippy handles and joysticks. You can adjust the tension of the joysticks for added control, as well as being able to replace them with longer versions. The controller has a custom profile for Forza Horizon 5, which will adjust its feel and performance characteristics at the press of a button.
Overall, this is a very impressive controller, which features regular software updates to keep it performing at the highest level. It almost feels like it was developed with sim racing in mind, as its customization features are perfect for steering accuracy and immersion.
- Fully adjustable
- Upgradeable software
- Its performance features are ideal for sim racing
- Very expensive
2. Razer Wolverine Ultimate
Connectivity: USB | Compatibility: PC / Xbox One / Xbox Series X | Wireless: No
If you’re looking for a controller with a professional look and feel, then the Razer Wolverine may be the one for you. It is another Xbox oriented controller, with its bulkier design and slanted joystick layout. Looks-wise, this controller is eye catching, with RGB lighting across the top, as well as a colored D-pad and light up shortcut buttons.
It is fully customizable, with replaceable joysticks and a replaceable D-pad, so you can adjust it to fit your exact needs. Being the premium option that it is, it will come at a high price. This makes it more suitable to those who take sim racing seriously, rather than casual racers.
The controller comes with two fixed paddles on the rear, which can be used for paddle shifting, or even braking and accelerating should you wish to configure them that way. This should be on the shortlist for anyone who wishes to move their controller sim racing experience up to the next level.
- Fully customizable
- Great looking
- Lightning-fast responsiveness
3. Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro Controller
Connectivity: USB | Compatibility: PC / Xbox One / Xbox Series X | Wireless: No
Thrustmaster have long been one of the leading names in sim racing manufacturing. However, this controller takes them back to their origins, as they began operations as a third-party joystick developer. This controller is built with customization in mind, allowing users to swap out the joysticks, D-pad, and triggers, offering a truly customizable experience.
This controller comes from one of the biggest brands in sim racing, so you know it's going to be good. You can customize many aspects of the controller, and it's designed for comfortable sim racing.
Rather than swapping the parts out individually, this controller allows you to fully remove sections of the controller, which eradicates any tricky, fiddly adjustment. The shape of the controller is suited to both small and larger hands, unlike the Elite Series 2 (which can be a bit uncomfortable if you’re on either extreme end of the scale), making it more comfortable for general use.
Instead of having paddles on the back of the controller, the eSwap has buttons, which aren’t as easily accessible and may take longer to get used to. They do the same job, but they don’t offer the same realism that comes with shifting with paddles. Overall, it offers good competition to the Elite Series 2 for about the same price.
- Easily adjustable and customizable
- Durable feel
- Comfortable shape
- Buttons on the back are harder to use than paddles
- Very expensive
4. PS5 DualSense Wireless Controller
Connectivity: USB / Bluetooth | Compatibility: PC (via Steam) / PlayStation 5 | Wireless: Yes
Upon its release, the PS5 DualSense controller represented a real shift forwards in controller technology. The introduction of haptic feedback into the controller added a new level of immersion to controller gaming, which is very noticeable in sim racing titles. The triggers will push back when pressure is applied, which offers some degree of immersion for accelerating and braking.
This may be the standard PS5 controller, but it provides immersion that few controllers can keep up with. With its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, you can really feel the road beneath you.
As with PlayStation controllers of the past, the DualSense is very comfortable to use, and will especially suit those with smaller hands. It has a good amount of grip around the handles, as well as coated joysticks which will help you to retain your grip around tight corners.
One thing that must be noted is that heavy use of the haptic feedback puts pressure on the springs within the mechanism, causing them to loosen slightly over time, reducing their resistance. This may not be as big of an issue in more recently manufactured controllers, but it was a bit of a teething problem for the earliest models.
- Haptic feedback provides immersion
- Cheaper than many options on this list
- 9-15 hours of battery life
- Haptic feedback issues with earlier models
- Only compatible on PC through Steam
5. PowerA Fusion Pro 2
Connectivity: USB | Compatibility: PC / Xbox One / Xbox Series X | Wireless: No
The PowerA Fusion Pro 2 is a wired controller designed primarily for Xbox use. It features the classic Xbox style design, favoring a larger pad with the left joystick further forward on the controller than the right joystick. Alongside its external design, it features internal rumble motors, which will provide vibrations if you were to go over a kerb or bumpier sections of the track.
This wired controller is ideal for those that want to be able to customize their experience. You get adjustable joysticks along with a mappable pro pack that lets you shift gears with the paddles on the back.
The controller is customizable to suit your needs, with the option to add longer, shorter or convex capped joysticks. There is also a wide range of color plates available, so you can continuously change the appearance of the controller to blend it nicely into your setup.
The wired aspect of the controller will give you maximum control in high-pressure racing situations, without any fear of latency issues. The mappable pro pack that attaches to the back of this controller can be configured to act as paddle shifters, which will help to dispel the myth that you can’t have an immersive sim racing experience with a controller!
- Adjustable joysticks
- Mappable pro pack can act as paddle shifters
- Immersive vibrations and rumbles
- Not the most comfortable to use during long sessions
6. Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro
Connectivity: USB / Bluetooth | Compatibility: PC / PlayStation 4 | Wireless: Yes
The Nacon Revolution is a wireless controller which is perfect for sim racing. It has extended joysticks that allow your fingers to stretch out a little, preventing any thumb cramping during long sessions. These joysticks are replaceable too, which will extend the controller’s lifespan, as joysticks are the most vulnerable part of the controller to long term damage and wear.
This pro controller offers a comfortable sim racing experience on PC or PS4. It features shortcut buttons for convenient setup changes, and it has replaceable joysticks that extend its lifespan.
The controller has been designed for use on PS4 but can also be used for PC. It is ergonomically shaped, with rubber around the bottom of the handles for added grip. As well as being comfortable to use, it is also convenient, with four shortcut buttons on the controller that can set the sensitivity and dead zone of the triggers, all without having to leave the game.
Note: You may still be able to use this controller for PS4 games on your PS5
This isn’t the cheapest controller on our list, but if you race on PS4 or PC, then it will offer you top end results as well as in-game convenience.
- Replaceable joysticks
- Adjustable features
- Comfortable design
7. Logitech F310
Connectivity: USB / Bluetooth | Compatibility: PC | Wireless: No
The F310 by Logitech is reminiscent of the PlayStation controller models from the early 2000s, with its minimalistic, compact design. Being the cheapest on our list, it is geared towards casual racers or those at the beginning of their sim racing journey. This doesn’t detract from its performance however, as it will still get the job done.
For those on the smallest budgets, this is the controller for you! It offers a pretty standard controller experience, but it makes a good choice for those that want a simple plug-and-play option.
The cheap price means that it lacks some of the features you’ll find in higher-end controllers such as vibrations, mute settings for online chat and customization of its parts. This won’t feel like too much of an issue if you aren’t a serious gamer, and instead just want a cheap controller that will help you get round the track in one piece.
The F310 is ergonomically shaped, and perfect for those who prefer smaller controllers. The retro design looks great, making it the perfect choice for those who don’t want to break the bank in order to buy a new, easy to use controller.
- Simple to set up and play
- Pretty cheap
- Gives off a nostalgic vibe
- Lacks any higher-end performance features
The 5 Best Sim Racing Games To Play With A Controller
1. Forza Motorsport 7
Released: 2017 | Platform: PC / Xbox | Developers: Turn 10 Studios
Forza Motorsport 7 is an anomaly in the sim racing world as it is primarily geared towards controller usage. Its Esports series is entirely controller-exclusive, so you won’t need to feel as though you are missing out by not using a wheel. The game itself is very easy on the eye, and features a broad range of tracks and cars, which maintains its appeal even after playing it for a long time.
2. Gran Turismo 7
Released: 2022 | Platform: PlayStation | Developers: Polyphony Digital
Gran Turismo 7 is the latest edition in PlayStation’s most popular sim racing franchise, with realistic car physics and plenty of game modes to enjoy. As it is a mass marketed game, it is just as much optimized for controller use as it is for wheel and pedal sets. With the haptic feedback available on the DualSense controller, you’ll have no issues immersing yourself into GT7!
3. Forza Horizon 5
Released: 2021 | Platform: PC / Xbox | Developers: Playground Games
The Forza Horizon series is perfectly geared for controller usage, due to its easy-going arcade style car physics. FH5 is an open world car game where you can freely explore the streets and terrains of Mexico. It’s not a true racing simulator, but there is no doubt it’s a fun, expansive racing game, and there are plenty of playable races dotted across the game’s huge map.
4. DiRT Rally 2.0
Released: 2019 | Platform: PC / Xbox / PlayStation | Developers: Codemasters
DiRT Rally 2.0 is the most popular rally game available on the market. It features a broad range of cars, tracks and locations, with adjustable settings for controller gameplay. Features such as handbrake usage can be accessed on controllers with the click of a button, so you’ll never feel restricted when using a controller.
5. F1 2022
Released: 2022 | Platform: PC / Xbox / PlayStation | Developers: Codemasters, EA
F1’s global appeal is large, which means that their yearly video game release is eagerly anticipated. Having such a large audience of both experienced sim racers and newcomers means that the game will always be fully optimized for controller usage. You can adjust the controller sensitivity in-game to give you the most immersive experience possible without having to purchase a racing wheel.
It may not be widely seen as the most effective and immersive way to enjoy your sim racing experience, but using a controller offers an unmatched simplicity and convenience, with its plug in and play style of approach. From the Xbox Elite Series 2 to Sony’s DualSense and Logitech’s F310, there are options to suit everyone’s needs.