Once you start to make more and more purchases for racing sims, two brands will emerge as market leaders: Fanatec and Thrustmaster. These two constantly put out top of the range products that more than often fall in the top positions in our best of 2021 lists. For this reason, we thought that a small head to head comparison of the two would be advantageous for you, the buyer. So, without much further ado, here’s our comparison of the two brands.
Fanatec products can range from having incredible build quality to an averaging one. Take the Fanatec CSL. The wheel itself is great. The force-feedback is powerful, there’s plenty to adjust, and it comes with a well-built pedal set (The CSL Elite Pedals). The CSL wheel, however, does not have a build quality like the rest of its line. The housing is made from plastic, which cheapens the feel even though the wheel itself is quite resistant inside, more than capable of handling what you hand out. If, on the other hand, you look at more expensive products like the fantastic DD1 or DD2, the build quality is incredible. They’re hefty, made of metal, super resistant, and feel great.
Thrustmaster’s build quality can also vary quite a bit, but for some reason, it isn’t related to price. You can have cheap models like the T80 that are very solidly built (for the price it goes at that is), and more expensive models like the TMX or the T150 that don’t feel nearly as good. When you get to models with a great build quality, however (say the T-GT for example) it’s such a pleasure to hold and feel under your palms.
Overall it’s hard to make a call here because it’s inherently so product-specific. It’s hard to go wrong with either company though. Both make high-quality products, and even when their build quality isn’t up to standards, it’s purely from a feeling perspective, as all their wheels and other peripherals are resistant and made to last.
Fanatec’s design philosophy is to make things worthy of professional racing vehicles. This means that, from mid-range products such as the Clubsport 2.5 to their top-class products ranging from the aforementioned DD wheels to the SQ Shifter or ClubSport Handbrake, everything looks authentic. This is great not only because it’s pleasing to the eye, but because it will really help with immersion when you’re ready to burn rubber on the track. The only exception is the CSL wheel, which doesn’t look as nice as the rest of Fanatec’s products.
Thrustmaster also ranks heavily in the design perspective. They are minimalist in the best possible way, occasionally going for elegance over downright emulation. We say this as a positive though. Products such as the TH8A and TSSH are beautiful in a sort of powerful way. Lower budget wheels aren’t stunning (take the T150 for example), but when you move up to stuff like the T-GT it’s a whole new world!
Another tie once again. Thrustmaster and Fanatec inherently favor different types of aesthetic looks, but both do a fantastic job. Of course, if you pick one brand and stick with it your set-up is going to look better than if you mix and match.
Fanatec tends to be an expensive brand, especially because the products you should consider when buying from them are Direct Drive wheels. These can put you back a pretty penny, but they are also incredibly satisfying to drive with. There are some less expensive products like the Clubsport 2.5 or the CSL, but they aren’t the flagship wheels that Fanatec truly wants you to look at.
Thrustmaster varies a lot in price. Some of their wheels can mirror Fanatec’s Direct Drive series while not even being direct drive at all… Some however can be very inexpensive and very good. Take the T150 as an example. It’s a fantastic wheel that will have beginners and slightly less experienced drivers absolutely loving every minute of being on the track, and it can cost a mere fraction of more expensive models like the T300 or the T-GT.
Price-wise Thrustmaster has an advantage over Fanatec. That’s not to say that they consistently put out cheaper wheels, but that they have a greater variety in price. Fanatec will offer some products that are more affordable and aimed towards beginners, but that’s not what they’re known for. Thrustmaster casts a wide net. Looking for a cheap beginner wheel? Got you covered. Looking for an expensive, more complete wheel? Also got you.
The main consideration we have to draw here is who these wheels are made for, that is: who is the target consumer? Fanatec very clearly favors expert drivers. Drivers that want more from their racing set-up. They look for those who wish to have an almost 1:1 experience with how driving a real race car would feel like. This is also the reason why their products tend to cost more.
Thrustmaster, as mentioned before, doesn’t preclude anyone. This is a company that clearly wants to bring excellence to all racing sim lovers. Whether you’ve been into this genre for years, or whether you just want to casually play with friends, Thrustmaster has a product for you.
For this reason in and of itself, before you make any purchase, you should ask yourself where you see this hobby going forwards? Is it purely for fun, using a great wheel and pedals on weekends to take your mind off of things? Or do you plan on putting in hours behind the wheel and really push your limits, something which you couldn’t do without an authentic feel and wheel?
It’s simple to see why these two brands are loved so much in the racing sim community. They both offer fantastic products that go a long way in making you feel like a professional pilot on the track. They’re built with quality materials, they look good, they feel good (which is the most important thing) and they both have great ecosystems. There’s a myriad of fantastic peripherals we could have mentioned in this guide from both Fanatec (a great example being the Clubsport V3 pedals, and their inverted version) as well as Thrustmaster (please look at the T-LCM pedals, they’re a marvel), but simply lacked the time.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to go wrong with either choice. The best question you could ask yourself in order to decide which brand is right for you is the following: are you planning on purchasing a direct-drive wheel? If no then Thrustmaster will likely be your best option. If, on the other hand, you crave direct-drive wheels, then perhaps look at some of Fanatec’s great offerings.
Whatever you pick, we’re fairly certain you’re going to be more than satisfied with your choice!
Last Updated on January 23, 2021 by Thomas Bush