Best Racing Wheels

Updated November 2020
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Updated November 2020
Written by Melinda Snowden Authors 's image

Buying guide for best racing wheels

Flying around a racetrack at triple-digit speeds is a joy few of us will ever experience — or at least it used to be. Racing simulation brings the pure adrenaline, precise control, and visceral feedback of motorsports right into your home, and a true racing sim just isn’t complete without a racing wheel. Yes, there are other, cheaper ways to drive digitally — mainly keyboards and controllers — but there’s nothing like the immersion of a racing wheel. The alternatives just don’t make you feel like you’re in the cockpit of a fine-tuned machine, and the control that a wheel affords is unmatched. 

Racing wheels come in all sorts of designs, from the basic and practical to the ornate and F1-inspired. They commonly wear various buttons and switches for in-game features, and some even have pedals like the real thing. Even if you never pull up to the starting line of a professional race, our favorite wheels for gaming provide the opportunity to pilot your favorite cars, blast around your favorite tracks, and cause endless chaos without consequence. 

A racing wheel is simply a must-have for anyone who loves racing games. Check out our buying guide and favorites to find your next gaming obsession.

For die-hard racing enthusiasts, re-creations of real-life steering wheels are available for your gaming needs. These are often in 9:10 or similar scale for ergonomic reasons, but they accurately replicate the look and feel of icons from Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche.

Key considerations

Size

Just like with a regular car, the size and ergonomics of your racing wheel play a big role in how much you’ll enjoy the experience. Generally, wheel diameters range from around 10 inches to approximately 13 inches, with larger units coming close to the size of steering wheels in passenger cars. When shopping, consider the size of your gaming space, but also your physical stature as well. Also, if you plan to move your racing wheel often, note its weight. Some models have large, heavy motors in them and can be rather difficult to maneuver. 

Button layout

Have you ever test-driven a new car and been thrown off by the unfamiliar layout of the controls? The same can apply to racing wheels, because there’s really no “right” way to do it. Study the layout of your chosen model before buying, noting the position of the shifter, lights, traction control settings, anti-lock braking settings, and others. Imagine what would be most comfortable, and peruse user reviews for feedback. Thankfully, the majority of games permit you to remap controls to whichever buttons work best for you.

Materials

Motorsports are tactile experiences. A huge part of winning races is feeling connected to your vehicle, and high-quality materials exponentially improve the overall experience.

There’s a huge amount of variance in this category. Smaller, cheaper units are constructed from basic plastic, but flagship models wear materials that cause luxury cars to blush. Depending on the model, your racing wheel can be bare metal, brushed metal, carbon fiber, or a combination, with choice accents like Alcantara, suede, and leather. Survey the competition and decide what style will suit your space. 

Rotation angle

A racing wheel’s rotation angle is supremely important to how much control it offers you. In the simplest terms, rotation angle determines how many times you can completely turn the wheel from lock to lock.

On the low end, you’ll find maximum rotation angles of around 240°. These are rather arcade-y and don’t boast much in terms of control. If you’re serious about racing simulation, look for wheels with 900° or more, allowing for multiple complete rotations. 

Did you know?
Racing wheels with force feedback equip brushless motors to apply torque to the wheel as you drive. The power of these motors is rated in watts, and the force they apply to the wheel is rated in newton-metres. The higher the newton-metres, the stronger the force feedback.
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Features

Wireless operation

Wireless mice and keyboards are ubiquitous nowadays, so it only makes sense for racing wheels to follow suit. The convenience is well worth it because you can race from any position or seat, and you aren’t limited by the length of a cord. What’s more, wireless latency is nigh undetectable with today’s tech, allowing you to make split-second adjustments and remain in control. Battery life is also solid for high-end products, as they commonly provide around 6 hours of gameplay on a single charge. 

Force feedback

Aside from VR, the biggest way to increase immersion in racing games is to use a wheel with force feedback. Force feedback systems have electric motors that send torque back to the wheel when you drive over bumps, crash into walls, hit speed boosts, or engage in other dramatic activities. There are a variety of techniques to apply that torque to the wheel — gears, belts, and direct-mount motors among them — but either way, the increased detail gives you a better idea of what you’re driving over. This info allows you to execute complex maneuvers more intuitively. Above all else, though, it’s just cool.

Pedal sets

Buying a racing wheel without a pedal set feels like a half measure. Not only do pedals provide a car-like feel, they also keep your eyes on the screen instead of down at your buttons. Some arrays only feature an accelerator and a brake, but others have a clutch as well for a realistic racing vibe. Keep an eye out for metal pedals with rubberized coatings because they last longer and provide more grip. 

We’re not done, though, as not all racing pedals are equal. Some models equip devices called potentiometers to digitally track the movement of the pedal. Potentiometers measure electromotive forces only, and do not gauge how hard you physically press the pedals. This is generally fine for clutches and accelerators, but for brakes, potentiometers can result in an imprecise, flat feel. 

That’s why we recommend you seek out pressure-sensitive pedals with load cells. They cost more, of course, but they can accurately replicate the feedback you get from real-life braking.

Integrated gauges

Part of the utility of racing wheels is that they bring all your controls front and center. What’s more, certain models wear a variety of gauges and indicators for even tighter focus. These include a tachometer that displays the revolutions per minute of your car’s virtual engine, shift lights, and a speedometer.

Expert Tip
Looking to get sideways? Select racing setups include hydraulic handbrakes that allow you to drift, U-turn, and rally in style. Once you’ve tried one, you’ll never go back to a button-operated handbrake ever again.
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Racing wheel prices

Compared to other products, racing wheels have very clear distinctions between entry-level, mid-range, and high-end versions.

Inexpensive: Entry-level racing wheels cost between $50 to $100 and are generally very simple. These are meant for kids. They’re generally fashioned from plastic, have low rotation angles, gear drives, and feel very arcade-y to use. 

Mid-range: At $150 to $300, you’ll enjoy a significant uptick in quality of construction materials, rotation angles, and features. Expect to see metal wheels with rubberized coatings, belt-drive tech, pedal sets, and wireless operation. 

Expensive: At the top of the range, you’ll pay $500 and up for beautifully fashioned wheels that wouldn’t look out of place in a real race car. Rotation angles are generous in this segment, as are the number of luxury trimmings, nonlinear pedal sets, and real metal switches. Direct-drive racing wheels are common in this segment, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a decent one for less than $800. 

Did you know?
Racing is an incredibly popular category among gamers, and it might be hard to find your starting point. We recommend titles like Forza Horizon 4 (PC, Xbox One), Gran Turismo Sport (PS4), F1 2019 (PC, Xbox One, PS4), and Dirt Rally 2.0 (PC, Xbox One, PS4).
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Tips

  • Think about your gaming setup. Before buying a racing wheel, consider where you’ll be using it. Will it be clamped to your desk or a wheel stand? Confirm you have the room to do so. Building a full-on racing simulator? Triple-check all the dimensions ahead of pulling the trigger. There’s more variance in racing wheel dimensions than you might think. 

  • Check compatibility. Always confirm the compatibility of your racing wheel before buying. While many work across multiple gaming platforms, not all of them do, and we’d hate for you to get stuck on the starting line because of a conflict. Also, double-check that your game supports wheel inputs. 

  • Keep the wheel charged. If you’re using a wireless racing wheel, leave it in its charging dock when you’re not using it. As obvious as it may sound, the last thing you want is to run out of battery mid-corner.

Found a racing wheel setup you love but the price tag is a bit too high? Search the manufacturer’s catalog for alternatives. Companies commonly offer different configurations of the same wheel with cheaper wraps, gauges, and pedal arrays.

FAQ

Q. What advantages do racing wheels have over controllers and mice/keyboards?
A. While every gamer has their own personal preference, each style of racing controls has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s start with the classic mouse and keyboard input. Compared to racing wheels and controllers, keyboards lack nuance because the keys are either 100% on or 100% off. This means no matter how softly you press your keys, your gas and brakes will either be fully pressed or depressed and your turns will be full lock. The nuance comes from how frequently you tap the keys. That’s not to say you can’t drive excellently with a mouse and keyboard, however. 

Controllers have long been the standard for racing games. This is because they’re ergonomic, offer gradual control, and are considerably less expensive than racing wheels. In addition, they wear an array of buttons that facilitate shifting gears, changing camera angles, and controlling menus without moving your hands too much.

When it comes to really feeling like a pro driver, though, nothing compares to a wheel. The immersion, force feedback, and precise control you get from these products is second to none, and while they do have learning curves, experienced e-racers profess they’re more than worth it.

Q. What are the differences between gear-drive, belt-drive, and direct-drive racing wheels?
A. These terms refer to the different types of force feedback that racing wheels offer, specifically the way the motor applies torque to the wheel. 

Belt drive: When you’re out and about doing research, you’ll likely see belt-drive wheels most often. These are very smooth and very quiet, but they aren’t without downsides. The rubber belt can stretch and degrade over time, losing some precision, and the rubber by nature absorbs some of the force feedback for a less stout result.

Gear drive: These wheels are similar, but the force is transferred through a network of gears rather than a belt. This is a durable system, but it’s noisy and can lack precision. Gear-drive tech is also among the oldest in the category and has been phased out in large part.

Direct drive: At the top of the range you’ll find direct-drive racing wheels. These include large motors that are connected directly to the wheel (hence the name), reducing latency and providing the highest amount of feedback. They’re considerably spendier than the alternatives, though, often costing $1,000 or more, but they are quite simply the best available. 

Q. What do I need to put together a realistic racing simulator?
A. While a portable racing wheel will satisfy the majority of gamers, hardcore motoring fans commonly go the extra mile with a purpose-built racing sim. These generally feature a custom cage, racing seat, monitor mounts, and, of course, the wheel and pedal setup. These are incredibly customizable, though, as gamers often add unique lighting rigs, handbrakes, shifters, cage shakers, and even live-streaming systems. 

The biggest advantage to a racing simulator is the seating position itself. In a real-life racecar, drivers sit very low in a deep, well-bolstered bucket seat, and you simply can’t replicate that feeling on a sofa or computer chair. Add a high-end racing wheel and pedal array, and you might just forget you’re not on a real track. 

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