Since we’re still in the holiday season, you might want to do some last minute gifting for yourself or your car enthusiast friends, family, or significant other. With many places still under COVID-19 restrictions, it could be hard, or simply not allowed, for one to get their track day fix. That’s where sim racing comes in.
For those not already familiar, sim racing is, quite literally, simulation racing. There are varying degrees of realism dictated by software and equipment, with many professional racing drivers using simulators to train, or even get their first foray into racing. Many people might think that you need a big expensive setup to get into sim racing, but that is not the case. You can enjoy it so long as you have a game, a console or PC, a controller, and a TV or monitor. That being said, this article will mainly focus on those wishing to get a more immersive experience with at least a wheel and pedals, as most of the items listed above are required to play any game, not just racing simulators.
(Note: We are aware of the many products beyond what we’ve listed in this article, we’re just giving our recommendations based on what’s popular.)
There is a racing sim out there for everyone. More casual players might want to opt for something from the Forza or Gran Turismo series, while those looking for a more lifelike experience might want to try the likes of Assetto Corsa or iRacing. For rally fans, the DiRT series might quench your thirst. Have nothing to do during the Formula 1 off-season? Codemasters’ F1 games surely won’t disappoint. There’s so much to be said for all of these games, so we recommend doing some more research on each before you make your decision.
Forza Motorsport 7: $40 on PC and Xbox
Gran Turismo Sport: $20 on PlayStation
Assetto Corsa: $20 on PC, $30 on Console
iRacing: From $6.50/month on PC
DiRT 5: $60 on PC and Console
F1 2020: $60 on PC and Console
Before purchasing any of these games, make sure your machinery can handle it. This shouldn’t be an issue on console, but if playing on PC, make sure yours is compatible by comparing the minimum recommended specs for the game with those of your computer.
Before buying a wheel, make sure it is compatible with your machinery (Console or PC). The manufacturers will usually list this in the description of their products.
Budget Option (~$100): Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Spider / T80 and Hori Racing Wheel Overdrive / Apex
For those wanting to upgrade from a controller, but don’t want to spend much money, these might be the wheels for you. These wheels come with pedals, and they use a bungie cord to mimic the self-centering effect felt when driving a real vehicle. The Ferrari 458 Spider and T80 are the same wheel, just with the 458 Spider being for Xbox and the T80 being for PlayStation. The same holds true for the Overdrive and Apex respectively. Both the Thrustmaster and Hori offerings utilize this same bungie-centering technology and are very similar in terms of features, so it really comes down to personal reference as for which one you should buy. It should be noted that none of these wheels are compatible with a shifter option, so if you ever plan on getting one, it might be wise to step up to the next tier.
Entry-Level Option ($200-$300): Thrustmaster TMX / T150 and Logitech G920 / G29
The Thrustmaster TMX / T150 and Logitech G920 / G29 are the first force feedback wheels on this list, which means the wheel has a motor in it that provides feedback based on the conditions of the road and the vehicle. This is the price point we would recommend starting in, given the massive amount of immersion that is gained over the bungie cord wheels mentioned above, which do not provide feedback.
The TMX and T150 are the same wheel, with the TMX being for Xbox and the T150 being for PlayStation. The same holds true for the G920 and G29 respectively. All four come with pedals, and are all compatible with PC as well. It should be noted that Thrustmaster offerings are gear-and-belt-driven compared to Logitech’s solely gear-drive system. This means that the TMX and T150 should be quieter in comparison to the G920 and G29, but both wheels are of good quality, and it again really boils down to personal preference.
Mid-Range Option ($350-$490): Thrustmaster TX / T300, Logitech G923, Fanatec CSL Elite / CSL Elite PS4
Also using force feedback, these wheels boast the advantage of smoother, more powerful forces felt by the driver, as well as more customization than the previous tiers. Usually, that customization comes in the form of interchangeable wheels, which the options above don’t have.
The Thrustmaster TX and T300 come in many different variants, but in their base configurations, they are the same. Both are belt-driven brushless-motored wheels with 900 degrees of rotation, but the TX is for Xbox and the T300 is for PlayStation. Both come with pedals, and are both compatible with PC as well.
The Logitech G923 is one wheel that comes in both Xbox and PlayStation versions, and both are also compatible with PC. Like its Thrustmaster counterparts, the G923 also has 900 degrees of rotation and included pedals, but it is gear driven versus the Thrustmaster’s quieter belt-drive system.
The CSL Elite and CSL Elite PS4 are the same wheel, just for Xbox and PlayStation respectively. As is the case with all of the other wheels in this tier, both Fanatecs are compatible with PC as well. Also, they have both more torque and more degrees of rotation than their Thrustmaster and Logitech counterparts. It should be noted that the Fanatec wheels do not come with a wheel rim or pedals in their base configurations, so you can buy any rim that fits that respective wheel base, and see the Pedals section later in the article for pedals.
All of these wheels are very good, with the Fanatec having the slight upper edge, but that edge does come with a higher price tag.
High-End Option ($550-$990): Thrustmaster TS-XW / T-GT / TS-PC and Fanatec ClubSport V2.5
These wheels are all uprated versions of the ones mentioned in the tier above.
The Thrustmaster TS-XW, T-GT, and TS-PC are all largely the same wheel, with the biggest difference between the three being the included wheel rim. The TS-XW is for Xbox and PC, the T-GT is for PlayStation and PC , and the TS-PC is for PC only. All 3 have brushless motors and 1080 degrees of rotation, and 2 of them come with pedals. The TS-PC does not come with pedals, so for recommendations, see the Pedals section later in the article.
The Fanatec ClubSport V2.5 is only compatible with Xbox and PC, and it has a brushless motor and 900 degrees of rotation. While it may have fewer degrees of rotation than the Thrustmasters, it makes up for it by having more torque. It should be noted that the Fanatec wheel does not come with a wheel rim or pedals in its base configurations, so you can buy any rim that fits that respective wheel base, and see the Pedals section for pedals.
Direct Drive Option ($1000+): Fanatec Podium Series
We put these wheels in a class of their own, because quite literally, they are. Contrary to the other force feedback wheels on this list, which utilize a belt or gear reduction for a torque increase, direct drive wheels do exactly what the name implies: use a motor that directly drives the wheel. A result of this is extremely smooth, strong, and detailed force feedback that no non-direct drive wheel can replicate.
The Fanatec Podium series is currently one of, if not the best consumer direct drive option on the market due to its price compared to what it features. All four versions of the Podium have unlimited degrees of rotation, but other than that, they are all unique in some way. The Podium DD1 and DD2 are largely the same, the only difference being the DD2 has 25 Nm of torque compared to the DD1’s 20 Nm, and the DD2 has carbon fiber plates compared to the DD1’s brushed aluminum. The Racing Wheel Formula and Racing Wheel F1 both have the same 20 Nm of torque In order of ascending price, the models go DD1, DD2, Racing Wheel Formula, then Racing Wheel F1. The Podium DD1, DD2, and Racing Wheel Formula are compatible with Xbox and PC, while the Podium Racing Wheel F1 is compatible with Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.
It should be noted that both the DD1 and the DD2 come as a base only, meaning a wheel rim and pedals will have to be purchased separately. As far as wheel rims go, anything that fits the respective wheel will suffice, it just comes down to personal preference. As for pedals, see the Pedals section below.
The Racing Wheel Formula and Racing Wheel F1 come as a base plus a wheel, meaning only pedals will have to be purchased separately.
This section is for those who want to either upgrade their pedals, or selected a wheel from above that does not come with pedals. Before purchasing a separate set of pedals, make sure they are compatible with both your wheel and your machine (Console or PC) – the manufacturers will usually list this in the description of their products. Due to the many choices currently on the market, only one pedal set for each alternate-pedal-compatible wheel brand mentioned above will be listed here.
It should be noted, however, that for those playing on PC, almost any pedal set can be used with any wheel, so long as it’s plugged directly into the computer rather than into the wheel base.
Best Thrustmaster-Compatible Pedals: Thrustmaster T-LCM ($200)
After many years, Thrustmaster has finally listened to their customers and produced a load cell pedal set. What that means is that the pedals that base the strength of the braking signal on the pressure applied to the pedal, rather than the distance the pedal travels when you press it. This allows the driver to brake with muscle memory, rather than guessing where the brake’s biting point is, and it results in much more consistent braking. In Thrustmaster’s case, it makes for a well-built, affordable way to get into the load cell pedal scene, or just a solid upgrade over your standard pedals in general.
Best Logitech-Compatible Pedals: Any
All Logitech wheels come with pedals, but if you want to upgrade and are playing on PC, almost any pedal set should work so long as they have the option to plug directly into your computer.
Best Fanatec-Compatible Pedals: Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3 ($360)
With rock-solid construction and adjustability for virtually anything you could need, the ClubSport Pedals V3 are the best all-around load cell pedals in Fanatec’s lineup: not so expensive that they will break the bank, but also not so cheap to the point where you would be lacking features.
For those who would rather row their own gears instead of paddle shift, many companies produce peripheral shifters that can be combined with your wheel and pedal setup. Due to the many choices currently on the market, only 1 shifter for each shifter-compatible wheel brand mentioned above will be listed here. Also, if you do plan on buying a shifter, make sure your pedal set has a clutch pedal, otherwise this purchase will be a moot point.
Best Thrustmaster-Compatible Shifter: Thrustmaster TH8A ($130)
For a good all-around shifter that is compatible with all Thrustmaster wheel and pedal combinations, we recommend the Thrustmaster TH8A. This hard-or-clamp-mount shifter is an H-pattern shifter with 7 forward gears and 1 reverse gear, and it can also be used as a sequential shifter. It connects through Thrustmaster wheel bases or directly via USB, and it is both Console and PC compatible.
Best Logitech-Compatible Shifter: Logitech Driving Force Shifter ($60)
For a good all-around shifter that is compatible with all Logitech wheel and pedal combinations, we recommend the Logitech Driving Force Shifter. This clamp-mount-only shifter is an H-pattern shifter with 6 forward gears and 1 reverse gear. It connects only through Logitech wheel bases, and is both Console and PC compatible.
Best Fanatec-Compatible Shifter: Fanatec ClubSport Shifter SQ V1.5 ($250)
For a good all-around shifter that is compatible with all Fanatec wheel and pedal combinations, we recommend the Fanatec ClubSport Shifter SQ V1.5. This hard-mount-only shifter is an H-pattern shifter with 7 forward gears and 1 reverse gear, and like the Thrustmaster, it can also be used as a sequential shifter. It connects through Fanatec wheel bases or via USB using the ClubSport Adapter ($20), and is both Console and PC compatible.
(Note: There are other sim racing peripherals out there, such as handbrakes, button boxes, etc., but for the sake of simplicity we’re only including shifters, as they are the the most popular driving experience-enhancing peripherals.)
Wheel Stand or Cockpit (Optional)
While you don’t need a wheel stand or cockpit for sim racing, like many other items in this article, it greatly adds to the immersion. A chair and a desk/table would suffice, but there are many options out there for those who want to step up the realism factor. Additionally, if you want to save money, there are plenty of plans out there that allow you to build your own cockpit out of materials that can be bought at the hardware store. Due to the many choices currently on the market, only one of each type will be listed here.
Best Wheel Stand: GT Omega Apex Steering Wheel Stand ($150)
For those just looking to upgrade from a table next to the couch, the GT Omega Apex Steering Wheel Stand might just be the best option. It is a foldable, adjustable metal stand that the wheel and pedals mount to, eliminating the need for a separate mounting space, while still allowing you to play on the couch or in a chair. Plus, this one comes with seat and shifter mounting capabilities, should you ever decide to upgrade. In addition, some higher-end wheels don’t have clamp mounting capabilities, so a wheel stand with both clamp and hard mounting capabilities like this one would almost be a necessity if you don’t want to drill holes in your table or shell out for a full cockpit.
Best Foldable Cockpit: Playseat Challenge ($250)
For those who want a more immersive experience than what a wheel stand can deliver, but might not have the space for a permanent cockpit, the Playseat Challenge is right for you. While there are other foldable cockpits out there, such as the Next Level Racing F-GT Lite, few are able to fold up as compactly as Playseat’s Challenge, which offers clamp and hard mounting options for a wheel and pedals, adjustable seating position, and has aftermarket support if you want to mount a shifter and/or handbrake to it. In addition, it has a foldable lap bar to move the wheel out of the way when you get in and out of the chair.
Best All-Around Permanent Cockpit: Next Level Racing F-GT ($500)
If you want something more permanent to race in, the Next Level Racing F-GT cockpit is a great choice. While there are certainly more expensive, and possibly better, options if you’re willing to spend the money, the F-GT offers all the mounting and adjustability features one would need in a cockpit at a decent price, along with the added quality and robustness of being a permanent fixture. Plus, there is an added bonus of the F-GT right in its name: it can be converted from an upright GT seating position to a laying-down F1 seating position, and back again.
Are you into, or maybe considering taking up, sim racing? Let us know in the comments.