Featured image: Fanatec limited edition F1 wheel
One of the most crucial pieces of equipment you’ll need on your journey to becoming a pro racer is a solid wheel and/or wheelbase, but how do you know which one to buy when there are so many choices available on the market?
With sim racing kit, you get what you pay for
At first glance, the assortment of wheels and wheelbases offered by sim racing equipment manufacturers may leave you wondering why some pieces of kit are available for as little as £100, while others can cost well over £1,000.
As with all things in life, you generally get what you pay for, and the best way to look at it is like this; as the price goes up, as does the build quality of the wheel and realism of the driving experience. As we discussed in our Fanatec Podium review, jumping straight into high end equipment might not be a good idea.
Here, I’m going to explain about the different wheel categories and give some of my personal recommendations for wheels and wheelbases that cover a range of different budgets. This should help you to choose the right wheel for your situation by giving you the essential information about each piece of equipment, and highlighting the key features.
But, before I review any products, it’s important to note that while most wheels and wheelbases are sold together as a unit, it’s also possible to buy each piece individually. Many companies dedicated to selling sim racing hardware offer the choice to build customised packages via their websites. This way, you can choose the best wheel and base to suit your gaming level and budget at the same time. Make sure to check the wheel compatibility depending on whether you’re using PC, Xbox One, or PS4 and PS5.
To set up a wheel, you always need to install the software and drivers provided by the manufacturer on your PC, which will detect if you are running the latest firmware and download any required updates.
When you connect Thrustmaster or Logitech wheels to your Xbox One or PS4, it’s pretty much plug-and-play, and the only settings that affect feel are available in-game.
Other functions of the wheel to consider include quick release, which makes changing wheels much more convenient, but might increase the amount of ‘flex’ depending on whether you plan to mount the wheel to a stand or to a racing rig.
Nowadays, there are three forms of force feedback that are used in sim racing wheels; gear drive, belt drive, and direct drive.
Force feedback essentially refers to how the wheel replicates the forces that would be felt in a real-life driving situation. The first two forms of force feedback use what’s often referred to as a ‘middleman’ system, which translates and amplifies the forces from the motor to the wheel shaft. These systems benefit from having a small motor, and can still produce a decent amount of force, but direct drive offers the most realistic driving sensation.
Gear-driven force feedback wheels were among the first consumer-grade force feedback wheels available. They use gears to create a transmission system to amplify the forces from the motor to the wheel. There are however a few drawbacks with these wheels, including a lack of precision, excess noise, and roughness, which are all a result of the way the internal gearbox worked.
With that said, gear-driven force feedback is still a decent option for novice users and the price point of these wheels normally falls somewhere between £150 – £350. The wheels in this category are ideal for beginners as they offer a fairly decent amount of feedback and prepare you for stronger more realistic wheels should you choose to upgrade in the future.
The first wheel I’d like to mention falls into the gear drive category; the Logitech G29/G920. At £250, this gear-driven wheel features an 11-inch steering wheel, wrapped in leather, with plug-and-play installation across multiple platforms.
Logitech has been making gear-based force feedback wheels for over two decades, and over that time has established a reputation for making trustworthy wheels. The G29 and G920 are actually separate models, where the G29 caters to PS4 and PC, and the G920 caters to Xbox One and PC.
Another great thing about this wheel is that it comes complete with pedals, giving you the perfect beginner set-up straight out of the box. The pedals offer an accelerator, brake, and, clutch, so you have the choice of adding a shifter for an extra £50.
These wheels are always in high demand due to their ease of use and compatibility so should you decide further down the line to improve your sim racing wheel set-up you can easily sell your Logitech wheel on eBay and hold relatively good value.
Sometimes you will find great bundle deals in the second-hand marketplace where you can buy the wheel, pedals, and shifter as a complete set for under £200.
Taking it up a notch
Belt-driven wheels offer more smoothness and power over their gear-driven counterparts and have been available to buy since about 2009, making them a relatively new piece of tech.
Fanatec was the first company to sell belt-driven wheels, but since its introduction, many companies now produce wheels in this category. Some belt drive wheels can generate forces up to three times more powerful than gear driven wheels, while at the same time, being smoother and quieter.
Thrustmaster T300 RS/TX
My second pick falls into the belt-driven group which is the Thrustmaster T300 RS/TX which can be had for £300. As with the Logitech wheel mentioned above, Thrustmaster also has two models of the wheel available:
The T300 RS, which is compatible with PS4 and PC, and the TX which is Xbox One and PC compatible. Again, this wheel is supplied with pedals and requires little setup, with most settings that require adjusting being available in-game.
The resale value of these wheels also holds strong, but perhaps not as well as the Logitech G29/G920 due to its slightly high price-point, meaning fewer first-time buyers would consider this wheel.
Fanatec CSL Elite
Featured as a recommend wheelbase in our beginner’s guide to sim racing, the Fanatec CSL Elite belt-driven wheelbase is my third recommendation and offers a variety of features such as LED shift lights on the base, as well as a quick adjustment system that can be used to make wheel and force feedback adjustments on the fly.
The CSL Elite is highly flexible, and Fanatec supply a vast amount of options in terms of wheel (rim) choices with different shapes and button configurations, so you can select the one that fits your needs best. You can buy the rim bundled with the wheelbase, add optional pedals, or choose to buy the base alone. Depending on what configuration you decide to buy, you can select compatibility for Xbox One, PC, and PS4, although the latter which requires the purchase of an additional licence.
The wheelbase alone can be purchased new for £320, or you can buy it in combination with a rim for around £400. There’re no extras supplied so you’ll have to source your own pedals, shifters, etc. for all wheels at and above this grade.
The 11-inch base rim that is supplied with the CSL Elite has a nice feel with a mix of leather and suede materials, but you always have the choice to spend a bit more and go for a premium rim. The Fanatec CSL Elite Pro Kit with wheel and Clubsport pedals retails for around £1200.
Due to the brand popularity of Fanatec within the sim community, and the highly flexible nature of this piece of kit, resales value holds very well if you want to sell it on eBay, and many great wheel and wheelbase combos can be found second-hand.
Fanatec Clubsport v2.5
At the top end of the belt-driven wheel class is the Fanatec Clubsport v2.5. This wheelbase would be my suggestion to anyone looking for a top-of-the-line wheel but is not quite ready for a direct drive wheel.
The Clubsport v2.5 base, which is available £440, is one of the, quickest, smoothest, and most powerful belt-driven wheels on the market, and like all Fanatec products, features a lot of modularity while also remaining popular in the second-hand market.
One great thing about Fanatec Clubsport wheel rims is that they are compatible with the CSL Elite, Clubsport, DD1, and DD2 wheelbases. So hypothetically, you could use a Fanatec rim on a CSL Elite wheelbase, then upgrade the base to the Clubsport v2.5 whilst still using the same, and then even continue using the same rim all way up to a direct drive wheel such as the DD2.
All of the same features as the CSL Elite base are present in the Clubsport v2.5, with the one drawback being that this model is not compatible with the PS4.
Direct drive (DD) wheelbases give the best driving experience overall and are used by top-level sim racers, but require a level of respect and understanding to be used safely. They have large electric motors, which the wheel mounts onto directly, allowing for lightning-fast force feedback allowing you to feel everything the car is doing on the track.
However, the main downside to DD bases is that they are much more technical to configure and set up than any of the wheels I’ve already mentioned. They’re also extremely powerful and could lead to some serious injuries if mishandled. Still, if you’re planning on being a professional sim racer, you’ll want to get one.
The first DD wheelbase I would like to suggest is a recent contender in the direct drive world; the Simucube 2. There are 3 choices within the Simucube 2 range which are Sport, Pro, and Ultimate, that offer 17, 25, and 32 Newton meters (Nm) of torque respectively.
Prices for the Sport model start at £1,140, and for the Ultimate, you can expect to pay a whopping £2,840. As you can see, this is a considerable hike up from the prices of belt-driven wheels, and remember, that no wheel or accessories are included for these prices, however, there is wide compatibility with wheels from many manufacturers so you just need to check before buying to make sure the rim and button boxes will fit.
With these large price tags and top-of-the-range features on these wheelbases, they are often end-game purchases for many people, so if any do become available second-hand on eBay, they are snapped up instantly. While offering premier products, Simucube only caters to PC users, so if you’re a console racer, this won’t be the wheelbase of choice for you.
Fanatec Podium DD1/2
Finally, I’ve saved what is in my opinion, the best for last. Those being the leading models from Fanatec, including the Podium DD1 and DD2. Both of these wheelbases are extremely powerful, being able to generate up to 20-25 Newton metres of torque.
That might not be quite as powerful as the Simucube Ultimate, but what the Fanatec wheels lack in power they make up for in terms of ease of installation, customisability and compatibility. As with all the other Fanatec wheelbases I mentioned, there is a huge choice of wheel rims, pedals, shifters, etc., that are all compatible with these bases.
Also, it’s worth noting that in everyday situations, it’s likely that 32 Newton metres of torque is going to be overkill, and even with 25 Newton metres of torque, you will rarely use 100% of this power, as your arms will simply not be able to handle those kinds of forces for very long. Being the only DD wheelbases on the market that are compatible with both PC and consoles makes these pieces of kit highly sought after for PS4 and Xbox One users who are looking for the ultimate sim experience.