Why Use a Gaming Steering Wheel?
The top performers in our review of gaming steering wheels are the Logitech G27, the Gold Award winner; the Porsche 911 GT2, the Silver Award winner; and the Thrustmaster T300RS, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a gaming steering wheel to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 products.
The feeling of speed and sense of being in control are integral parts of racing in the real world. The same is true of racing in the digital world. The best gaming steering wheels give you an unprecedented amount of control over your in-game vehicle. Even though you may not feel wind against your face at home, you can closely mimic the experience of driving with the right wheel setup.
Gaming steering wheels range in cost from an inexpensive $70 to well over $500 if you want the very best. The extra cost usually goes into build quality and fine details that make the gaming steering wheel seem more like a wheel in a real car. Essentially, the better the wheel imitates the real thing, the more expensive it's likely to be. We looked at gaming wheels that cost less than $300.
When you play "Gran Turismo," "Forza Motorsport" or any of the best racing games, a steering wheel increases your enjoyment more than just about anything else. This is because the input method, in this case your steering wheel, is very similar to the real thing. The controls make sense and help immerse you in the game's world. For some games, you need a good gamepad in order to feel immersed. For others, you'll want a good gaming mouse or the best gaming keyboard. Pick the right tool, and you'll have much more fun than before.
Of course, in order to play any racing games, you need a machine that can play them. There are many to choose from. The most important consideration is whether your chosen platform has the games you want to play. While gaming PCs have access to nearly all racing games, some people prefer to play on a game console.
Gaming Steering Wheels Components
While it's obvious that the wheel is the most important part of any gaming steering wheel setup, it's not as clear that there is a wide range of quality in the available wheels. The best gaming steering wheels feel solid and tight. There isn't much wiggle room in their housing. Wheels come in a variety of sizes. Generally, you want one 13 inches in diameter. This is a comfortable size, and it's good for racing games too. Another comfort consideration: some gaming wheels have leather overlays, while others are simply plastic. If you're going to use the wheel often, then you will want one that's comfortable.
It can be hard to find a gaming steering wheel set that includes a shifter at no additional cost. Many don't even have the option to add a shifter. However, if you have the option to get one, you absolutely should. There's nothing quite like revving through the gears with a real shifter in hand – whether it's in a car on a real road or in the digital equivalent. One major advantage is you'll always know what gear you're in and you won't have to constantly look at the game's user interface for that information.
Most gaming steering wheels come with at least a brake pedal and a gas pedal. A few don't even offer that. But the best PC steering wheels include not only gas and brake pedals, but throw a clutch pedal in as well. Some even let you adjust the height and resistance of the pedals. If you want a great digital racing experience, you shouldn't forgo the pedals.
The Most Important Features
In order to feel like you're driving a real car, you need to know how the road feels. Whether you realize it or not, while driving, you get a lot of tactile information through the car's steering wheel. This information comes in the form of resistance and rumbling. What it tells you is the condition of the road you're driving on and helps you know what the car's tires are passing over. Excellent gaming steering wheels have force feedback that mimics the resistance you'll find in a real steering wheel. The force feedback can be good enough that you can tell the difference between driving off road and on road in your racing game. You can often adjust the levels of force feedback if it bothers you.
Modern cars' steering wheels are generally 14 to 15 inches in diameter – unless you're looking at race cars. Their steering wheels are usually around 13 inches. Why the difference? Well, regular cars often need to make large turns, like U-turns. The large wheel makes this easier. Racing cars are built to drive on racing tracks and don't need to change direction as often or as drastically as regular cars. The smaller steering wheel allows you to make small steering adjustments and see large results. In short, a large steering wheel allows for fine movements, but you need to move your arms more – a small wheel allows for larger movements without moving your arms much. As you're cruising through the Alps in your racing game, you won't need to make large steering adjustments – those usually get you into trouble during the race.
Some gaming wheel setups allow you to adjust the level of resistance that the pedals have. This allows you to fine-tune the pedals to your liking. In a real car, the pressure-sensitive pedals brake lightly when you press lightly and brake hard when you slam your foot down. The same goes for the gas pedal. The best gaming steering wheels do this as well. This can help you get a better feel for your digital car and where its shift points are.
Because you're gaming at home, you want to be as comfortable as possible, especially if you plan to race through an entire cup or have a long qualifying race to get through. In order to make you as comfortable as possible behind the wheel, some gaming wheels come with adjustable pedals. You can often move the pedals vertically to accommodate your foot size. Sometimes, you can even move the pedals horizontally to give your feet more room.
There are many different platforms to play racing games on. Unfortunately, not all gaming steering wheels are compatible with all gaming platforms. Some are only compatible with Xbox or PlayStation consoles. Some only work with the PC. In general, the more platforms the wheel works with, the better. Then you can use the wheel on more than one platform and you won't need to buy another wheel. It's important to note that there isn't a gaming steering wheel that works with every platform right out of the box. Usually, they're limited to a combination of Xbox and PC or PlayStation and PC.
For more information, check our articles on gaming steering wheels.
Gaming Steering Wheels: What We Tested, What We Found
Because of difference in max rotation, not all gaming steering wheels feel the same. You can find gaming wheels that have only 180 degrees of rotation all the way up to 1,080 degrees of rotation. For most racing games, more degrees of rotation is better because it gives you more control. For reference, 180 degrees allows you to turn the wheel halfway to the left or right before it locks – what's known as lock-to-lock. At 1,080 degrees, you can turn the wheel three times lock-to-lock.
Essentially, what it comes down to is how much of an effect you want your turning to have. On a 180-degree wheel, a small turn translates into a large course correction in the game. With a 1,080-degree wheel, you would need to turn the wheel much further physically to achieve the same in-game course correction.
Number of Buttons
Most gaming steering wheels come with a good number of buttons, but some only have a few and some have considerably more than the average. What's more important is the location of those buttons and how easy they are to get to.
While you're cruising down the road, you'll want quick access to any options or controls the game gives you. This means you'll need easy-to-reach buttons. How many buttons you need will vary from game to game. For example, the Need for Speed games often have many game mechanics outside of simply driving that you'll need access to. In order to use those well, your gaming steering wheel needs to be able to mimic a keyboard or controller.
Some gaming wheels allow you to customize the buttons. This can be a lifesaver when you're used to a specific setup. It can also help immensely when the game's default configurations just seem awkward or wrong. Not many wheels allow you to do this on gaming consoles, but you can remap most wheels if you're playing on a PC.
There is a large discrepancy in weight among gaming steering wheels. Some wheels weigh as little as 3 pounds, but others can weigh upward of 30 pounds. What's the deal with that? Well, wheels that have strong force feedback motors weigh more, as you need larger motors to give you high-quality force feedback. There can also be a difference in the materials of the wheel. High-end wheels are often made out of more metal than plastic.
Usually, you'll want a heavy gaming wheel. This is one peripheral that you don't want sliding around while you're playing, and a good amount of weight can help prevent that. Most gaming wheels come with some sort of clamping system to hold them in place, but a little added weight is definitely a good thing.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Gaming Steering Wheels: Verdict and Recommendations
The Logitech G27 is the best gaming steering wheel you can get for less than $300. It comes with everything you need to become fully immersed in your favorite racing game. The shifter is solid and reminiscent of what you'd find in a real car. The pedals are sturdy and don't move around much while you're driving. The wheel itself is fairly heavy thanks to its force feedback motors. This weight helps keep it in place. You have access to 16 buttons on the G27, which is enough to make sure you're ready for anything your car throws at you. You can also program those buttons.
The Porsche 911 GT2 is an excellent gaming steering wheel. Fanatec goes to extremes to make its gaming peripherals as high-quality as possible. The 911 GT2 is a prime example of that. The only downside is that you only get the wheel here. In order to get pedals, a shifter and any other peripherals, you'll need to shell out more cash. Still, for the quality of the products, the cost is usually worth it.
The Forza Motorsport CSR is a 13-inch wheel that closely mimics wheels you'd find in real race cars. The wheel includes force feedback motors that give you vital information about road conditions in your game. You can adjust the force feedback level on the CSR Wheel if you find that it's too strong or too weak. You can also reprogram all of the buttons to suit your preferences.