simlife - part two

March 17, 2020 /// issue no. 77

Yesterday we hurriedly ran through your simcade and sim racing options. San Francisco Bay Area counties ordered a shelter-in-place with many locations soon to follow so we better get to ordering you up a setup. Today we will talk wheels and pedals. You can spend “a little” or you can spend enough to buy a real-life car. If you are really going to get in to things, a top of the line setup will still be cheaper than a consistent season of track days so you have that math as an argument for going big.

Going from a controller to a wheel and pedal setup is game changing. You get to actually drive and use more than just your thumbs. A term that should not even have to be used is “force feedback”. If you are buying a wheel for a sim and not simply to have that dinky arcade game feel, force feedback is a basic requirement so that you have a sense of resistance and road feel. Sim racers will get nitpicky about the strength of that “force feedback” and whether that force is applied from the wheel via a belt or from a “direct-drive” system. The other vital component is pedals. With most off the shelf systems you won’t feel the weight of pedals like you do in your road car. For lower-end systems you will feel like you’re adjusting your foot in air. Luckily, I am not going to point you to a crazy high-dollar direct-drive pro setup. People have won sim racing championships with a used Logitech strapped to a tv dinner tray.

Logitech G29/G920

Speaking of Logitech… the Logitech G29 wheel and pedal sets are well-built work horses that last a lifetime. There is still a market for the previous generation G27, but they have been increasingly hard to find. The Logitech G29 is a dual belt-driven force feedback wheel featuring a leather rim and exceptional build quality for PlayStation and PC. The G920 is the same model but for Xbox One and PC.

The Logitech is the value pick. A refurbished G29 and pedal set will set you back less than $200 all-day. The G29 has been out for many years now and that price has been stable for at least the last two years so a play and flip will likely cost you nothing. It is the most arcade-like of the three recommendations and at times the force-feedback can feel more faked than forced. The pedal set does feature a non-linear brake pedal but the force required is definitely arcade-y. This can be hacked by a picking up a pool noodle from the dollar store. If you know you’re going to be more of a casual sim racer this is the wheel to get.

Thrustmaster T300RS

If you’re alright spending a bit more for more realistic feedback and even better perceived build quality, take a look at the Thrustmaster T300RS. As compared to the G29-series, the wheel on the Thrustmaster feels slightly more realistic and the force-feedback mechanism as well. Be careful, the force on the Thrustmaster can break your fingers in a crash if you’re not careful.

The included pedals on the Thrustmaster kit feel like a slight upgrade from the G29, but also require the pool noodle mod to get any sense of hydraulic resistance. In terms of cost, you’re only looking at a slight premium to the PlayStation and PC-compatible T300RS, with prices around $250 new on eBay. As a downside to that aforementioned force, I found that my T300RS consistently ran hot after just half an hour. The force-feedback also failed just shortly after the 2-year warranty mark so consider this setup a wear item. I would recommend buying this wheel new.

Fanatec CSL Elite

As previously mentioned there are belt-driven and direct-driven force feedback mechanisms. The Logitech and Thrustmaster wheels mentioned above feature dual-belts while the Fanatec CSL Elite features a single-belt that is closer in nature and feel to a direct-drive unit. After all, Fanatec will sell you a $600 CSL Elite setup but will be much happier if you eventually upgrade to a $2,000+ Podium setup.

With the Fanatec CSL Elite, you get the fantastic build quality and force-feedback feel that Fanatec engineers put in, and a relatively low price. The CSL Elite pedals feature a (paid upgrade) “load cell” mechanism to give you actual resistance. Sure they are charging you a heck of a lot of money for poly bushings of varying durometers, but the payback in feel and load times is well worth the price. The CSL Elite is compatible with PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

For “budget” picks you can’t go wrong with either the Logitech, Thrustmaster, or the Fanatec. If you’re going to drop some money on one today as a newbie, I would pick the Thrustmaster. When it gives out on you in a couple of years you have a built in excuse to upgrade. You’re welcome.

Coffee time,

daily automotive addiction.