The main thing keeping prospective sim racers to take the step into the virtual sim world tends to be price. Racing sim peripherals can set you back various hundreds of dollars, and many consumers are uncertain as to whether they should invest the money. The great news is that more and more wheels have become accessible price-wise. Sure, they won’t have all the top-tier features that you may find in very expensive wheels, but you’ll still be able to make the jump in quality and realism with these solid purchases. Without further ado, here are our top five budget wheel choices for 2020.
Top Pick: Thrustmaster TMX/TMX Pro
The top pick for our budget wheels doesn’t sacrifice force-feedback smoothness for the price, making it the best quality affordable wheel on the market.
The Thrustmaster TMX is an excellent wheel, which is why we’ve done an in-depth review of it before (which you can read here). But if you’re looking for the Sparknotes of it all, here it is:
The TMX, by utilizing a mix of both belt and gear systems, allows for a smooth feel when driving, which is supplemented by the force that the gear portion outputs. You’ll almost certainly avoid the “notchiness” that other wheels in this list will fall victim to, and it’s no small feat.
The build quality is also quite good, though nothing to write home about. It’s made of robust hard plastic, and it feels like it can take quite a bit of punishment. Its rotation range remains within the 900° needed for an authentic feel.
The last point to consider is why we’ve included both the TMX and TMX Pro. The normal TMX model comes with a pair of pretty awful pedals. As a start there’s only two of them, meaning that you can forget about the clutch. The break doesn’t get stiffer as you press down on it, again detracting from the realistic feel.
The Pro on the other hand comes with the incredible T3PA pedals, which fix all of the faults of the normal set. What’s more interesting however is that, on occasion, you can find the TMX Pro bundled with the T3PA for a cheaper price than the basic model, which is a fantastic steal!
Also, this wheel is Xbox and Windows exclusive.
Runner Up: Logitech G29/290
This excellent wheel managed to make the podium on our best wheels of 2020 list, so it should be no surprise that it ranks highly here too.
The Logitech G29/290 is a mainstay in many racing sim households, and for good reason. At a reasonable price, you get a good looking and well-built steering wheel. It’s made of steel with an actual leather cover, which are features even more expensive wheels often don’t offer. Its rotation range is 900°, which is just right to make you feel like you’re taking control of an actual sports vehicle. The force-feedback is powerful, but more rugged than the one of the T150, meaning you’ll feel it being notchy in certain occasions.
It also comes with a set of decent pedals, much better than the TMX’s basic set. The Logitech ones offer up to 256 registerable positions, look pretty and grip both your foot and your floor admirably. If you’re looking for a more well-rounded package then perhaps the G29/290 is what you should go for. As a starter set, you’ll get a good wheel and good pedals for a very reasonable amount.
As a last note, the only difference between the G29 and the G290 is the console they operate one (The PS4 uses the G29, and the Xbox the G290).
Third Place: Thrustmaster T150
A fantastic cheap wheel that delivers incredible force-feedback. If you’re looking for the best price-quality ratio, you’ve found it!
The T150 is a fantastic wheel. At first, it may not seem like that due to hard plastic and rubber build of the T150, but give it time and it will win you over. The T150 has an above-average rotation range of 1080°, which is more than some top-class wheels can say. It’s also slightly larger (11”/28cm) than most wheels, which most race sim drivers find nice. It’s also armed with apt force-feedback for its price. A mix of belt and gear systems deliver a powerful and usually quite smooth feeling when you drive, though it can get a bit more notchy when taking hard turns.
The T150 also comes with a pedal set, but it’s a lot more disappointing than the one found in the G29/290. They are the same as the TMX set: they feel flimsy, don’t look good, and there’s no clutch.
The T150 will work on PS4, PS3 and PC.
Fourth Place: Hori Racing Wheel Apex (RWA)
This wheel doesn’t have force-feedback, but it executes everything else wonderfully and for a very cheap price. If you simply can’t afford any of the other wheels, then give this one a look.
The Hori wheel is very accessible but doesn’t feel like it’s inexpensive. The build quality is excellent, utilizing only high-quality materials. It’s also very customizable, with multiple programmable buttons and functions. Finally, it comes with an included pedal set. It’s not excellent by any stretch of the imagination, but to include anything extra for such a low price is a great deal, especially if you want to round out a more complete, low-cost, set-up.
The main drawback of the Hori is that it doesn’t have force-feedback. This is a major loss in authenticity and realism, which is why we can’t rank the wheel any higher. That being said, it does try to mitigate this loss with powerful vibrations, which will still feel a lot more authentic and engrossing than a controller.
As a final note, this wheel only works on Playstation and PCs, sorry Xbox fans!
Fifth Place: Thrustmaster T80
A solid wheel that delivers on most of its promises, it’s high(er) price-tag and lack of force-feedback relegate it to position 5.
The Thrustmaster T80 is a good wheel for first time sim pilots. It’s made from hard plastic, it’s sturdy, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. Of course, this isn’t the most important factor to consider, but for an entry-level wheel, it’s still welcome. It also comes with the default (read low quality) Thrustmaster pedal set. It’s hard to criticize something that’s added on for free, but if you’ve read our previous reviews on this list you’ll know what we think about it.
The T80 does have glaring issues, however. It’s rotation-range is a measly 200°, well below the ideal minimum of 900°. It also doesn’t have force-feedback. It tries to make this up with a “bungee-cord resistance” system, but the two are apples and oranges: they can’t be compared seriously. The final issue with the T80 is the price tag. It’s more expensive than the Hori and about the same price as the T150 though offering substantially less.
It’s a good wheel, but the other options on this list are superior.
The T80 is PS4, PS3, and PC compatible but, as it’s older, make sure to go through the compatibles games list on the Thrustmaster website before purchasing it.
What to Look for In a Cheap Racing Wheel
When looking for any sort of purchase there are always certain key features to keep in mind. We’ve selected four key ones for when you’re looking at budget wheels.
Force-feedback is how the wheel behaves vis-à-vis your actions, the race conditions, and what is happening in the racing sim/game. It tracks and opposes your movements by applying force. If you take a sharp corner at high speeds, the wheel will push back against you, making it harder to turn. This is not the same as vibrating, as force-feedback will try to replicate the feelings an actual wheel would have in that specific situation. Vibration is inferior as it only shakes the wheel.
Rotation Range what differentiates between how an arcade wheel and a simulator wheel feel. If you have to turn the physical wheel more than what the in-game sim asks of you, you will feel like you’re in an arcade, not in the cockpit of a sports car. We recommend looking for wheels that offer 900° or more of rotation range. Anything extra is a welcome bonus, but 900° is the magic number.
Obviously, when looking for budget wheels a main consideration has to be price or at least price to quality. We’ve tried to keep this list fairly accessible, but what constitutes a budget wheel will depend on your specific situation. Moreover, don’t assume that a higher price point equates to a better wheel. As you’ll see, some “cheap” wheels do their jobs much better than other more expensive and “high quality” alternatives out there.
Careful not to purchase something that doesn’t work on the console you’re utilizing. As a rule of thumb, PC gamers can relax, as all wheels will work for them. If, however, you play on a PlayStation or Xbox always double-check on the wheel’s website that it is compatible with your gaming system!
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