I’ll get this out of the way first: if you want to truly experience a game like Gran Turismo, iRacing, Project Cars, Forza Motorsport, or any other sim racer out there, then you’ll need a racing wheel. It’s as simple as that. Sim racers, while playable with a controller, are meant to be fully experienced with a wheel. The attention to detail and realistic physics demands the feedback that a wheel and pedal setup can provide, and is nearly impossible to replicate using a controller. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still pretty awesome at a game like Gran Turismo with my controller only (#humblebrag), but I am that much better with a wheel. You are simply able to feel the car and road more, which leads to more precise movements from you, the driver.
But what if you can’t stand Gran Turismo or Forza, and instead find yourself enjoying something more along the lines of Need For Speed Rivals or Driveclub? Then yes, I will freely admit that spending hundreds of dollars on a wheel is probably a waste of your hard earned cash. Arcade racers don’t (for the most part) put too much emphasis on the feel of the road and grip of the tires, instead opting to allow players to toss their cars around with reckless abandon.
With that in mind, it’s clear that the racing wheel is aimed at a very specific audience, one that loves this niche sub-genre and is willing to toss hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into a racing wheel/pedal/possibly even cockpit setup. In fact, I’ve seen some some setups that costs TENS of thousands. It’s almost to the point where I have to wonder if a racing license and cheap car would have been cheaper; but again, that’s not the point. The point is to experience the closest thing to racing on the track with the convenience of not having to leave your house and pay for track use fees. And if you have the time, the money, and love sim racing, then more power to you.
While the the racing wheel is both unnecessary to some, and yet so very necessary to others, if you’re a dedicated racing fan (especially sim racers), then there is no other way to experience the full immersion these sim racers have to offer. To play both sides, it’s hard to justify, even to die hard racing fanatics, purchasing an accessory that often costs more than the console itself, is not useable outside of one specific genre, and at times is not even cross compatible with other platforms. Whew.
I used to own a Logitech DFGT wheel. It was a good entry-level wheel that I paid approximately $150 for. It was basic; just a plastic/rubber wheel with a sequential shifter built in, and a set of hard plastic pedals. It offered a decent amount of force feedback and gave me 900 degrees of steering. The DFGT was optimized for Gran Turismo 5, and for years, that was the wheel I was happy using.
Enter the Thrustmaster T300RS wheel. With all due respect to the DFGT, I cannot imagine ever going back to my old wheel. The T300RS is so many leaps and bounds better than the DFGT in almost every aspect that it’s almost mind boggling. Where the DFGT offered 900 degrees of rotation, the T300RS offers 1080 degrees (not that I would ever need to use the full range of motion). Where the DFGT had an audible whirring sound every time I spun the wheel, the T300RS is whisper silent (due to a dual belt, friction free mechanism). Where the DFGT had a more than decent force feedback mechanic that would rattle my setup, the T300RS has a brushless motor with a smoother and more responsive FFB experience that takes the violence of the road up a notch. Other than the price ($399 on Amazon), the T300RS is head and shoulders above anything else I have owned.
Let’s start with the look. Simply put, the T300RS is a beautiful looking wheel. The entire wheel, motor housing, and mounting clip are a solid black, with the wheel grip being a comfortable rubber. The only color on the wheel is a small strip of glossy blue to indicate the top of the wheel. Behind the wheel are two black steel paddle shifters, which which activate with a satisfying click. Down below, the pedals are mounted onto a solid black footrest while the pedals themselves are a shiny steel, with the word “Thrustmaster” etched into a blue backing on each pedal. Nothing feels cheap and flimsy, though I would have preferred the base of the pedals/footrest to be a bit heftier. That’s the only portion of the entire unit that feels a bit on the “light” side. In addition, there is no carpet grip on the bottom, so you’re going to slide around if you don’t have a mounting solution.
Speaking of mounting solutions, I sure hope you have one if you are considering the T300RS. This is not a wheel that was designed to be used on your lap. First off, it’s pretty heavy, and the bottom of the motor housing is flat as opposed to fitted with leg grooves like the Xbox 360 wireless racing wheel. Plus, the force feedback is so strong that it’s going to destroy your thighs. I have an old Wheel Stand Pro that I used, and the T300RS mounts to it just fine. There aren’t any mounting holes for the pedals, so I had to get creative with some 3M double sided hanging strips and zip ties to ensure that the pedals stayed put. It looks horrible, but hey, at least it works.
The T300RS is the first racing wheel designed for the PS4, but we run into a few issues here. First off, there are no sim racing games out for PS4 yet, though Project CARS is just around the corner. As of now, you have two options: Need For Speed Rivals, and Driveclub…not exactly the best titles to show off the capabilities of the T300RS. Now granted, Driveclub is more “sim-cade” than a full arcade racer, so using a wheel is actually quite nice, but NFS plays just like any arcade cabinet. Nothing special.
But rather than be a punk and make the wheel work ONLY with PS4, the T300RS is also compatible with the PS3 and PC. That opens up a whole slew of racing titles to choose from. Everything from Gran Turismo 6 to rFactor worked very well. I could jump from a couple of hot laps in F1 2014 on my PC to GT6 in the living room, and later to DriveClub just by flipping a switch between “PS4” and “PS3.” There are a few PC titles that didn’t work, but it’s really no big loss. In my testing, neither of the Need For Speed Shift games worked, and I had issues with Test Drive Unlimited 2 as well (PC; the PS3 version worked just fine). Assetto Corsa worked, but all the controls were backwards right out of the box for some reason. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed via custom button mapping, of course.
The reason why the T300 RS is so much nicer of an experience (and so much pricier) than something like the DFGT comes down to its internals. What does the T300 RS have inside that casing that differentiates itself from a cheaper wheel?
It all comes down to the use of brushless motors, which utilize sensors in place of brushes. This leads to no friction and less wear and tear. It’s also a much more quiet system, bordering on a virtually silent experience (until the cooling fan kicks in). The DFGT had a loud whirring noise whenever I spun the wheel, and the force feedback was met with loud clicks and clacks. The T300 RS has no such issues; spinning the wheel around violently and fighting the FFB was basically noiseless. After about 30 minutes of heavy use (Gran Turismo dirt/snow stages), a cooling fan inside the housing kicked on, but other than that, the actual usage of the wheel was very quiet. I’ve read that some people complained that the fan was too loud, but it’s not that bad. it certainly is NOT as loud as a Xbox 360’s power brick, like some have suggested. It’s just…noticeable. It’s there. That’s really it. Considering how much abuse you’re throwing at this wheel, it’s surprising that the fan isn’t louder.
As far as setup goes, the T300 RS could not have been easier. Since Thrustmaster seems to be developing a shared ecosystem for their wheels, the T300 RS utilizes the Quick Release system, which allows for a detachable wheel that can be swapped out for others. The motor housing has a quick lock mechanism that simply screws the wheel onto the base. If you have another wheel, simply unscrew the current one, and pop the new one on without having to change out the entire setup. Mounting the wheel to my Wheel Stand Pro was as simple as attaching the clamp with the large bolt that is included in the package. Once that was set up, the pedals were attached via a RG45 cord.
The pedals are perhaps the one thing that prevents the entire T300 RS setup from being a true high end wheel set. The 3 pedal set that came with the T500 RS GT wheel were of an extremely high quality steel with a variety of different mounting options. It felt sturdy and bulky. The T300 RS’s pedals are essentially a slightly beefier version of the plastic pedals I had on the DFGT. The base itself is a black plastic, while the actual pedals themselves are a nice steel, which can be mounted in six different spacing configurations. It’s not terrible looking by any means and it IS better than an entire pedal set made of plastic, but it still feels light and offers poor grip. If you don’t have a stand or cockpit to mount the pedals, you’re going to be sliding around. A lot.
I tested the T300 RS out with a variety of games across three different platforms, including: DriveClub (PS4), Gran Turismo 5&6, Dirt 3, Test Drive Unlimited 2 (PS3), and Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, F1 2014, iRacing, rFactor, WRC 3, The Crew, GRID Autosport, and GTR Evolution. The T300 RS may be marketed as the PS4’s first racing wheel, but man, it sure works across a variety of platforms and with a ton of games. Racing fans with either or all of the above mentioned systems should find great value with this wheel.
Performance-wise, the T300 RS is considerably more powerful than my old DFGT, which I would expect for something that’s over double the price. Playing DriveClub doesn’t really do the wheel justice, though it’s really your best and only option on the PS4 at the moment (not counting NFS Rivals). I’m sure when Project CARS launches on May 31st, PS4 racing fans will get a much better feel for what the T300 RS is capable of when applied to a true sim setting. Of course, one would also expect Gran Turismo 7 to launch somewhere down the line, hopefully in our lifetimes.
If you really want to feel how much this wheel can kick your butt, hook it up to Gran Turismo 5/6 on PS3, or Assetto Corsa, iRacing, and surprisingly, The Crew for PC. These games, when used with max force feedback, will give you giant Popeye arms after a few hours of play. The force feedback is that strong. I suggest trying a game where you can go from tarmac directly onto grass or dirt. The Eiger Nordwand K Trail from Gran Turismo is a good one, and also pretty much any area in The Crew. Enjoy how much you’ll need to fight the wheel just to drive in a straight line when bouncing around on dirt. I’ve driven a Ferrari 458 on a racetrack before, and it’s freaky how similar the wheel feels to the real thing. Now granted, you can’t really replicate the way the G forces affect your body, nor do you have “the fear” when racing in a virtual simulation, but it’s about as close as I ever got to sitting in the real thing.
The T300 RS is pricey when compared to an entry level wheel like the DFGT, but even though the pedals could be a bit nicer, you definitely get your money’s worth. This isn’t a “play wheel;” this is a serious piece of machinery that’s meant to replicate the sensation of driving as close as possible to the real thing. It has a powerful motor that will have you reacting to every bump in the road and fighting to maintain control when your tires dig into a high speed corner. It’s attractive to look at, and nice to hold. Also, for an even more realistic experience, it is also compatible with the T3PA 3 pedal set and the TH8A shifter. Thrustmaster was not able to provide me with these accessories during the time of this review, so unfortunately I cannot give any impressions on driving with a clutch and stick with the T300 RS, but other than that, I highly recommend this wheel to any sim racing fan. Tune in later this week for our review on Thrustmaster’s Xbox One counterpart, the TX Racing Wheel!
available at: amazon.com