Cheap vs Expensive Sim Racing Wheels: Which Ones To Choose

In the realms of sim racing, price comparisons start to crop up when more and more gear became available. And with the introduction of full rigs available for set-up at home, sim racing wheels especially are starting to see large price differentials.

So, should you choose cheap or expensive sim racing wheels? In terms of overall features, longevity and quality, sim racing wheels on the more expensive side of the price spectrum are the best choice.

And yet, with so much to consider beyond the price alone, it’s important that I go in-depth about why I have reached the above conclusion.

How Expensive Sim Racing Wheels Became Popular

Unlike other elements of sim racing rigs, the wheels themselves were always pretty pricy back in the day when the technology was new.

Over time, prices dropped and different products were offered for different levels of sim racing enthusiasts to enjoy. In the same fell swoop, more and more wheels were developed that became very expensive indeed yet boasted cutting-edge technology to best replicate the feeling we’re all looking for:

Realism.

All sim racers want to enjoy the feeling of being in a racing car’s cockpit without actually spending the thousands upon thousands of dollars required to enter the real racing scene.

The first step towards achieving that was in the development of increasingly realistic sim racing wheels that employed a wide range of systems to deliver that immersion. They all started out with pulleys and levers inside, and that slowly progressed into something called force feedback (servo motors that provided rumble and resistance), and most recently, we’ve gained direct drive.

Compared to yesteryear, we have so much choice now when it comes to purchasing good sim racing wheels that it’s almost impossible to choose! So many features with a huge range of technology led to a trend of people leaning on the side of expense to guarantee that reliability for years to come.

But what truly propelled the popularity of expensive sim racing wheels was the introduction of eSports, and most notably, people using various media to broadcast their sim racing.

YouTubers and Twitch streamers were able to show their gameplay for something that they were pretty good at, and they could get paid by fans to do it. Their popularity led to sponsorships from bigger and better companies, and it showcased a whole new side of the luxury end of sim racing wheels that could guarantee amazing quality.

In order to continue earning a livelihood, these influencers and eSports competitors constantly looked for new wheels and a whole new market quickly emerged to satisfy that requirement.

Their videos inspired others to buy the same expensive wheels that they were using. New companies started to come out of the woodwork to join the sim racing giants such as ThrustMaster and Fanatec; specifically offering the cutting-edge levels of tech that everybody started to crave.

With the more spotlight that fell on sim racing, the more was learned about what makes a sim racing wheel truly worth its salt. Professional drivers started to move into streaming eSports in their spare time as training (Lando Norris, Max Verstappen). And all of a sudden, the industry had evolved into something positively expansive!

The simple truth of this focus on sim racing was: a sim racing wheel and its wheelbase is the foundation for your whole rig. It drives the experience. It has to be good.

Your Wheel Is Essential!

As I mentioned before, your whole sim racing rig will be built around your wheel. Not only because of compatibility and how things attach together, either; the technology within your chosen wheelbase will be what provides that all-important realism! Well, it’s a major element of it, anyway.

Having a wheel in general is what brings you an important step closer to replicating the driving of a real car. The look of it, the feel of it… that’s what we’re all striving for by sim racing in general, right?

Then you break it down further. Cheaper sim racing wheels still do the job well, sure, but they feel smaller and you’ll be transported back into an arcade with quarters waiting to be slotted into a machine. In short, not quite the immersion you really want.

Beyond an aesthetic aspect of reality is how important the actual feeling is, and this comes from something I previously mentioned: technology which replicates resistance that you would encounter from driving a real car.

In this area, investing the most amount of money possible is honestly a no-brainer else you’ll end up feeling disappointed. You could go to any arcade and race using the varied machines there, but I think you’ll agree that there’s something which draws away from the realism you want when you do this.

Beyond force feedback or a direct drive system providing real-feeling resistance and feedback on the wheel, the materials that a wheel is made of are also of paramount importance. This is both due to longevity (you know, how long it’ll actually last) and how it feels to race with.

More expensive wheels benefit from high-quality wheel rim coverings like real leather or Alcantara; things used in the making of real race cars.

Spending more at the time of purchase, having done your research for the best wheel you can buy, will guarantee a longer time spent using it. The materials and build quality will be considerably better, and you can check to make sure it will make the best rig possible for that perfect, personalized vibe.

If your sim racing wheel gives out first in your rig, you’ll be in a really tight spot with hardware that likely won’t work with a different brand and all sorts of other problems to face. That’s why the extra spend is worth it for the better materials alone, and then when you add in the extra technology that defines an amazing drive, you’re onto a real winner!

The Features That Separate Cheap And Expensive Wheels

I’ve touched on this a bit already, but it will do you a world of good to get a full picture of the various features to check for when buying a sim racing wheel. The following features are pretty essential to compare and contrast different products, after all, and to make sure that you’re getting the best wheel possible!

So, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of the features that put expensive wheels above cheap ones:

  • High-grade materials: Everything about an expensive sim racing wheel will feel every bit as good as it looks! You’ll find that the wheel rim cladding, such as everything from real leather to Alcantara (used in real race cars), and all of the inner workings will have no expense spared in its production. Weighty wheel rims, motors within the wheelbase having all metal components… this all points to an expensive, amazing wheel.
  • Immersion features: This boils down to how good the force feedback or other systems that replicate real driving feel. The highest quality will produce the most intense levels of rumble and resistance, and should be adjustable for the ultimate driving experience. Direct drive is the true gold standard of this technology; an evolved version of force feedback.
  • Large range of rotation: This refers to how much wheel lock is required to initiate certain turns and generally make inputs into a sim racing game. The most degrees of rotation you’ll find on the market is 1080, and this should always be what you aim for. 900 degrees of rotation is another solid bet to find on expensive, high-quality sim racing wheels.
  • Buttons: You’ve probably seen sim racing wheels with a lot of buttons located on their wheel faces or otherwise on button mounts, and this is the key for amazing customization. These will control minute aspects of your racing experience and as such, a large number of buttons may look off-putting, but they’ll all have features that can distinctly improve your drive.
  • Reputable branding: Part of the expense when buying a sim racing wheel on the pricier side comes with brand recognition, and a sort of unspoken agreement between the manufacturer and buyer that the product is reputable due to their name being emblazoned upon it. Well-known brands offer long warranties on their expensive wheels for a reason; they’re telling you that the wheel will be worth the price and then some! It also points to a company who care deeply about sim racing development and they’re more likely to introduce new technology for their products.

The Notable Benefits Of An Expensive Sim Racing Wheel

I covered this in a general sense earlier when discussing why an expensive wheel is so important, but this needs its own section for it to be properly explored for the benefit of you, the reader!

In true punchy fashion, to deliver the necessary information you’ll need when buying a sim racing wheel, here’s a quick list of the benefits attached to an expensive sim racing wheel:

  1. Absolute Immersion: Everything from the looks to the feel of using one, a truly great sim racing wheel is designed to replicate the feeling of being in a real race car’s cockpit. This is achieved in multiple ways that all combine for the ultimate immersive drive every time you sit behind the wheel!
  2. Lasting Value: Although the initial spend is considerably greater than cheap sim racing wheels, you’re guaranteed better value for money when you weigh up all factors. The materials will be sourced for better quality and longevity, and features such as contactless sensors will negate deterioration of sensing over time. Spending extra on an expensive wheel is the perfect investment to improve yourself as a racer and it’s a gift that will continue giving even after years of use.
  3. Competitive Streak: Everything about expensive sim racing wheels are designed to give its owner a huge breadth of development opportunities in order to improve their lap times in-game and generally have huge scope for improvement. This is why professionals and the serious enthusiasts are so hot on these sim racing wheels specifically! No matter your level of experience, an expensive piece of hardware is the perfect choice if you’re looking to bolster your abilities.
  4. Total Comfort: Part of the positives of expensive, high-quality materials put into the making of sim racing wheels is how much better it becomes to race for prolonged periods of time. The last thing you want is slippery, poor-quality fake leather inhibiting your drive and giving you blisters, after all!
  5. Seamless Compatibility: No matter what your medium for sim racing is, whether it be console or PC, expensive hardware will have the best connection options for painless and entirely personalized set-ups. Cheaper (generally imported) sim racing wheels suffer from poor or limited connectivity, but more expensive varieties are designed with wide compatibility as standard.

How To Tell Expensive And Cheap Wheels Apart

You might think that it’s as easy as spending more money to get an expensive, high-quality sim racing wheel. But, as with a lot of things in life, simply spending more doesn’t immediately equal quality!

For one, some sellers on the worldwide web are pretty good at upselling their products when they simply aren’t up to par. They’re able to make a huge profit by attaching attractive, recognizable brand names to cheap, imported wheels and selling them at the same price as the real deal.

To guard yourself against such misrepresentation online, always make sure to do your research!

This comes as a general rule of thumb when buying anything for sim racing, because you want to make sure you’re getting the best product for your money. Learning about what other sim racers think about hardware or wheels or whatever it might be will always help you separate good brands from needlessly expensive ones, so keep your ear to the ground and stay up-to-date with places like Reddit.

Another golden rule of separating expensive products from cheap ones is this mantra: less is always more!

If a wheel comes boasting with a list of features and crazy designs, you can typically dismiss it as a cheaper quality product. A large marketing point for people selling cheap products is to load it with features and an eye-catching design, but more often than not, it’s all hot air and more trouble than it’s worth.

A good, solid sim racing wheel will be rather pared-back with sleek designs and colors reminiscent of race car cockpits. There’ll be some outliers and exceptions to this rule, however, but they will almost always be made by reputable hardware brands.

And speaking of brands…

The Best Expensive Sim Racing Wheel Brands To Look Out For

Having covered everything from the features of expensive, high-quality wheels all the way to separating them from cheaper products, it’s about time that I show you all some great examples of sim racing wheel brands that you should be checking out!

I’ve spent a large portion of time researching this specific area due to needing a replacement wheel for myself soon, so here’s a list of sim racing wheel brands that offer high-quality wheels (in no particular order):

  • Fanatec
  • Ascher Racing
  • ThrustMaster
  • RealGear
  • Precision Sim Engineering
  • SimXperience
  • SimSteering

All of the above manufacturers are especially reputable and the favorites of sim racers the world over! They’re either specifically dedicated to the production of sim racing wheels, or generally produce high-end sim racing hardware for your whole rig.

I implore you to check out their official websites and browse the amazing wheels they have available!

Make sure to consider the brands for more than just your sim racing wheel; especially if you have yet to build a full rig and if you race on console. PC gamers have the benefit of a flexible system which allows you to build a rig consisting of differing hardware brands that mesh together, but console requires you to have the same brands for connectivity purposes.

Cheap Or Expensive: Which Sim Racing Wheel To Buy

As a person who used to race cars and karts through my teenage years, I know for sure how important budget can be. Especially in the case of sim racing; it’s a hobby first and foremost! While I’d recommend buying the best thing you can possibly afford for all of the benefits I’ve talked about, sometimes it just isn’t viable for a casual interest.

However, even weighing up my own background as a racer on a budget wrestling to get competitive gear for a reasonable price, I know in my heart of hearts that an expensive sim racing wheel is the way to go.

Let’s look at an example to help illustrate my thoughts on the matter.

Fanatec create different collections of sim racing hardware to fit within three categories: CSL, ClubSport and Podium. They are each designed with a different kind of sim racing enthusiast in mind, with CSL designed for entry-level fans, ClubSport made for those hoping to become competitive, and Podium engineered to be the best of the best.

Because most people likely fall into the ClubSport level of mid-level to highly experienced racers who want to improve their driving, I’ll use a wheel from this category for my example.

The ClubSport GT Forza V2.5 for Xbox One is bundled together with a high-powered servo wheelbase within the same series of Fanatec products. It is considered one of the peak wheels within this category for its revolutionary force feedback that rivals direct drive, the sleek looks and official partnership with both Microsoft and the Forza racing sim game.

For the quality wheel rim and wheelbase, you have to pay a bit. The price might seem astronomical when you consider that it’s a racing wheel and its base alone, when you could probably find collections of cheaper products elsewhere to make a whole rig for that price.

But if you look at some of the other high-quality brands on my earlier list, such as Precision Sim Engineering, and their products of a similar target audience are at least £1,500 (approx. $2,000) for a wheel rim alone. It really is all about perspective and doing plenty of research to find the best product for you personally.

For a more reasonable price than the one listed above, you’ll have a highly competitive sim racing wheel which will work on PC and Xbox seamlessly for the foreseeable future which is compatible with all major racing sim games on the market. High-quality leather adorns the rim and every component within the sleek, high-powered base is laser-cut and made of strong metal.

It will serve as the perfect base for any future upgrades to your rig, or if you want to start building one due to its cutting-edge technology and mind-blowing features.

If we were to compare this to cheaper sim racing wheels found online, a quick browse of Amazon shows that imported wheels can fetch anywhere between $70 and $200. Considerably cheaper than the Forza V2.5.

Let’s put the figure in the middle and say that you buy a sim racing wheel that costs approximately $135. It arrives and you realize in horror that none of the connectors nor connection ports fit anything you have available. You do more research and find the proper adapters needed, which costs an extra $40 or so and means more time spent waiting.

Alright, so you’re all set up with this cheap wheel and you’ve got it hooked up to your medium of choice; whether it be PC or a console such as the PS4 or Xbox One. It’s time to start racing!

After a longer racing session, you come away with blistered palms and fingers where the thick stitching wraps around the wheel rim. Or maybe you start to get cramp from the poorly placed shifter paddles and having to reach in an awkward fashion. But for the money you saved, it was still worth it, right?

More time passes, and the cladding on your wheel starts to come away from general use. A button is permanently pushed down and you can’t get it to work anymore. Due to the synthetic materials used on cheaper sim racing wheels and generally poor-quality electronics, you can expect an average lifetime of a year or perhaps less on this kind of wheel.

Never mind. You go ahead and buy a new one, the exact same as before, with its necessary adapter. This brings your total up to $350 and you’re on your second wheel within the year.

Essentially, this process will rinse and repeat for as long as you buy budget racing wheels. With lower quality standards than dedicated sim racing brands, imported hardware is churned out and isn’t designed to last beyond a year. Perfect for casual fans who will occasionally have a race or two, but for anybody else who wants to make a regular fixture of their racing?

It will become more of a liability than a bargain.

If you compare this to the ClubSport GT Forza V2.5 racing wheel, Fanatec offers a five-year-warranty on all of their products; guaranteeing constant usage for those years or your money back if a premature fault happens.

Investing all of that cash off the bat into a wheel might seem daunting, but I’d always implore you to consider the long-lasting effects that the decision will have. Not only will a budget option not be properly designed, it just won’t stand up to a reputable brand’s love and care for its products.

If you’re still on the fence about the whole thing and just aren’t spending a lot of time sim racing, you will probably be better off looking at cheaper options to get you started.

But even then, if you check out a brand like ThrustMaster, they offer the ThrustMaster T150 Pro or ThrustMaster TMX Pro for fair prices. Compare that to an imported wheel with budget-level materials and no real features to speak of and it becomes worth the slightly bigger extra investment, no?

Cheaper wheels from great brands are always better than a straight-up import or a typical arcade-style variety. You can guarantee a minimum level of good quality and something that’ll last you longer than a single year without committing to a whole rig which can really intimidate some people.

Overall, the choice is simple: always look for more expensive sim racing wheels. They’ll do you a world of good no matter your level of sim racing experience, and you can guarantee a huge improvement in your gameplay when you aren’t thinking about racing with a toy!