The Thrustmaster T80 presents itself as an entry-level steering wheel for racing simulators. Changing from a controller to a steering wheel is almost essential if you want to elevate your experience from a racing game to a racing sim. Better immersion, added precision, and overall more fun are all things that a good steering wheel adds to your experience. For this reason, we researched whether the T80 is a product that fulfills these goals, or whether you should avoid it.
What to Consider Before Buying Non-Direct Drive Wheels
There are two types of wheels, non-direct drive, and direct drive wheels. The latter are incredibly accurate and immersive but also come at a very expensive buy-point. Non-direct drive wheels are cheaper, can still be very precise and pull you into the game, and overall better suited for those who are newer to racing sims, or simply lack several thousand dollars needed for DD wheels.
When purchasing non-direct drive wheels (henceforth just wheels) there are several key factors to keep in mind. The first is force-feedback. In simple terms, this is the wheel behaving like a wheel. Force feedback differentiates from simple vibration because of the feedback it gives you. Vibration can vary in intensity, but that’s about it. Force-feedback tracks and opposes the user’s movements by applying force. To give a simple example, if you take a sharp corner at high speeds, the wheel will push back against you, making it harder to turn. It is essential when buying a wheel that has force feedback. Broadly speaking there are two types of force feedback: belt and gear. Belt delivered force feedback is smoother and more realistic, but often more expensive. The gear delivered force feedback is less expensive but can feel notchy when turning.
The second most important factor is the rotation range. Rotation range is what will distinguish how your wheel feels compared to a wheel you could find at an arcade. We recommend that wheels have at least a 900° rotation range. Below that you will have to turn the physical wheel more than what the in-game sim asks of you, making you feel like you’re back in the arcade.
The final consideration should be the build quality of the wheel. Though not as important as the other factors, a wheel made from cheap plastic will simply not be able to compare with one made from durable materials.
The Thrustmaster T80
The Thrustmaster T80 is a PS4 and PS3 compatible racing wheel marketed towards newcomers to the racing sim world. It doesn’t promise to be a high-end product, but to be an affordable entry for those who’ve never before purchased a wheel. It comes with a wheel and a two-pedal set. When comparing it with the market leader (in this case we’d probably have to go for the Thrustmaster T-GT) it simply doesn’t hold up. In all aspects it’s inferior, but this isn’t fair criticism. The T-GT costs over four times as much, it’s normal that this translates into better performance.
If you have used a racing wheel before, then avoid the T80. More than likely it’s a step down from what you’ve used before. If you’re looking to buy a child a racing wheel, then the T80 is a good choice.
Features & Benefits
(Lack of) Force Feedback
This has to be the biggest criticism against the T80. It has absolutely no form of force-feedback. This, in turn, yields you with a steering wheel that doesn’t make you feel like you’re driving. It does attempt to rectify this with the alternative “bungee-cord resistance” system it has set up but it simply can’t compare. Feedback-wise the T80 is still a step up from a controller, but we’d expect more from any racing peripheral we could recommend.
(Small) Rotation Range
As mentioned before, the benchmark rotation range a good wheel should aim for is 900° or more. The T80 falls spectacularly short, reaching only around 200°! This, especially when coupled with the literally inexistent force feedback, yields a wholly un-immersive experience.
Surprisingly, the T80 has a very respectable build quality. It’s made from hard plastic, is sturdy, and is aesthetically pleasing. This isn’t the most important factor, but for a cheap wheel, it’s both surprising and welcome.
Free Pedal Set
It’s hard to criticize anything bundled for free, especially considering the low price point. The pedal-set is not up to standards for those who are looking for realistic peripherals. It’s made from plastic rather than metal, it lacks the precision that higher-range pedals offer, and the worst mistake is that it only has two pedals (no clutch). Nevertheless, we reiterate, this is a free pedal set bundled at a very low price-tag.
Although being marginally more expensive, the T150 offers a myriad of improvements. It delivers force feedback, has an incredible rotation range (1080°, more than some higher-end wheels), and also comes with a bundled two pedalboard. If you’re looking for a beginner wheel, this one is for you.
There’s a reason this wheel will have appeared in all of your searches. It’s more expensive but beloved by the community. It’s beautiful in its design, delivers good force feedback, and often goes on discount. If you’re looking for a step up from the T150 and T80, then consider the G29/290 but also look at the…
On the border between a mid-range and cheap wheel, we find a fantastic buy for beginners and veteran players alike. The T300 has a brushless force feedback motor, rotates to 1080°, and is officially licensed by Ferrari to give you an 8:10 replica of what you would feel when driving a 599xx EVO. What more could you want?
Stepping up from a controller to a wheel is imperative for an immersive and challenging racing sim experience. Simply put, this is the first step to become a serious virtual driver. The T80 doesn’t shine in this regard, failing to meet a lot of our goals. That being said, if this is a present for a child or a younger member of the family then the T80 is sure to yield them a lot of fun afternoons racing their favorite car. It all depends on what you’re looking for, which is why you should consider giving the T80 a look.
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