The Wheel Deal

By Philip Orona

If you are any kind of gear head who likes video games, chances are you have a steering wheel setup to run your more intense car-based simulator type games. If you are really ducky, you may also have a car seat set up for proper wheel and pedal placement. For those looking to get into the racing simulator game or for those looking to replace their old outdated hardware, they may find themselves spoiled for choice with the only real limitation being budget. Prices run the gamut from the bargain basement $100 arcade game plastic specials to “La Di Da” $1200 F1 simulator type wheels. In a conversation that was going on online, someone had asked what kind of wheel is the best bang for the buck?  Several people jumped on the “Go big or go home” train real quick recommending high end $500-$600 devices, while many others recommended a middle of the road approach. So the real question is, do you need something high end, realistic and complex? That depends. Are you planning on playing something like Gran Turismo Sport, iRacing or RaceRoom and want to become a ranked online racer or aspire to be an E-sports racing master? Then sure, the investment might be worthwhile. For the rest of us, should we pay for more than just basics? is it worth more? In an attempt to answer that, I will be comparing 2 devices that I own. A “lower end Premium” wheel, The Fanatec Porsche GT2 wheel, and a “mid-entry-level” wheel, The Logitech G29.  

The labels I am using are obviously subjective. When I say “lower-end premium” my words are based solely on price, not quality when it comes to anything from Fanatec. Fanatec is a company out of Germany that prides itself on selling high-quality gaming wheels. They like to partner up with German car companies to release replica editions of actual sports car steering wheels like Porsche and BMW in addition to all of the other Motorsport based gaming wheels they offer. The most expensive wheel they currently sell on their site at the time of this writing is $1200. When I purchased my GT2 wheel in 2011 to replace my Logitech Driving Force GT wheel, it was the cheapest (by price) wheel they sold at $299. That was for just the wheel. Does sir want Pedals to go with that? My options ranged from the basic 3 pedals constructed from plastic and metal to the hardcore aluminum cut club-sport pedals with a couple of options in between. The cost for the pedals ranged from $150 to $600. I opted for the basic 3 pedal setup for $150 and tacked on the 6 speed gated shifter for another $50. So all in, I was in the $500 neighborhood.  It took a couple of weeks to arrive as the product was shipped from Germany to my doorstep. I quickly unboxed it and set it up. The outgoing Driving Force GT wheel was purchased for playing Gran Turismo 5 and featured weak feedback, plastic-y floor pedals, and a non-removable shifter. Looking at the Porsche GT2 wheel, I marveled at the Alcantara on the steering wheel rim and the heft of the steering base and the pedals. Once it was set up, I had a real dilemma. This wheel unlike my Driving Force GT, supported both Xbox 360 and PS3. Do I jump into Gran Turismo or do I start with Forza Motorsport 3? Wanting a direct comparison, I opted to start with Gran Turismo. I selected a 1989 R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R for a free run of a track and what a revelation! The force feedback motor was smooth. The heft of the car could be better felt through the wheel on turns and If I went into the grass, the wheel would vibrate smoothly. The pedals simulated anti-lock braking vibration. All of the sensation of what the car was doing, that was lacking in the Driving Force GT, was here in the Porsche GT2 wheel. I was in petrolhead heaven. I took a spin in Forza 3 and it felt a little odd. Then I realized that there was a ton of settings and customization on the wheel itself through a small digital menu. I could see settings for dead zone, drift, and a lot of other things I didn’t quite understand. I did some research and found some PSN and racing game forums that had suggested settings for the GT2 wheel for different games.  I followed the instructions for Forza and the sensation of driving actually got better. After years of owning the device, the only minor gripes that I had about the device were, 1) it had a cooling fan that was a little loud when it kicked on after about 20 minutes of playtime. Although it was not overly distracting. 2) The gated 6-speed shifter was only supported by hand-full of games at the time so I opted to use the up and down shifter that came with the wheel for most of my gaming sessions. And 3rd, the method of flipping between PS3, and PC modes on the wheel wasn’t obvious and If I didn’t play for a few weeks, I had to consult the manual to remind me how to do it. This wheel lasted me 7 years until I finally purchased a PS4. While the Porsche GT2 wheel supposedly works on the PS4, It had a lot of compatibility issues. Suggestions from the Internet were to upgrade the software drivers on the device. Which I did to no avail. I played around with a few suggested drivers until I finally bricked the poor thing. So PS4 gaming on the Fanatec never materialized for me. I will say though, in terms of quality of materials, the wheel has really held up well in those 7 years. 

Last year I replaced my Fanatec with a Logitech G29, which is a bit of a downgrade. Nothing against Logitech by any means but looking at the price point and materials, it’s not hard to come to that conclusion. I knew this going in but I decided not to drop major coin this time around because my dedicated video game time was dwindling in lieu of spending time with my family. So it would have felt like a bit of a waste. I went back to Logitech because they have a rich history of producing controllers, keyboards, and mice for PC. It only seemed natural that they would produce controller accessories for video games.  Especially the flight simulator sticks. They have been making entry-level gaming wheels for quite a while now, which have typically reviewed well and the G29 was the latest and greatest they offered at the time of purchase. Swapping out the GT2 was a bit of a sad occasion. While the Logitech wasn’t exactly cheap at $200 all in, it didn’t feel nearly as special as the GT2 (rightfully so) and at that price did not include a separate shifter unit (an additional $60) but it does have some decent paddle shifters. So what did I lose? From an aesthetic standpoint, the pedals are not as well sprung and the Alcantara gave way to a leather-clad wheel. Also, the wheel felt smaller and lighter. Functionality wise, I lost the ability to go between Xbox and Playstation. The G29 is a Sony Playstation specific device. The Microsoft version for Xbox is the G920 model. Also, all the micro-adjust-ability that the Fanatec had was not present. Playing Dirt 4 on a rally stage in a Ford Focus RS and then playing Project Cars in a GT race with an Audi R8 was a bit difficult with the G29. Taking hard turns seemed to require more effort, the feedback motor isn’t as strong or smooth.  The G29 works just fine, but something just feels….off. I was spoiled by the Fanatec. I cant’ rightfully say I was disappointed as there is a $300 chasm that separates the devices but I didn’t expect to truly feel the difference so instantly. However, the G29 is far from a bad device. It’s certainly better than an entry-level Thrustmaster T80. Any positives about the G29 over the Porsche GT2 wheel? The pedals look nicer than the base Fanatec offering. Which spending more money rectifies, if you want to that is. Also, Alcantara can get a little discolored and grungy if not properly cleaned and cared for. With the G29 all I have to do is wipe the wheel down with some armor-all wipes and done. As stated before though, the GT2 wheel has held up surprisingly well despite how much my hands like to sweat. It’s also worth mentioning I played more than just the games I mentioned above. I played through quite a few different racing games from Arcade to Sim and everything in between. Think Initial D arcade to iRacing racing online with both wheels. Personal admission, I suck at iRacing. 

With certainty I can say you get what you pay for.  If you have a budget that allows you to spend roughly $500 on a steering wheel setup and have the time to enjoy it, do it. It is worth it. I was not merely paying for the Porsche badge and name, although I am certain there was some cost associated with that, there was some real substance in investing in a Fanatec product. But alas, the G29 is here to stay for the time being and I will be looking to get a few years of use out of it.  However, who knows where I will be when it comes to seat time in my “At-home racing” setup in the near future. With the PS5 around the corner and racing games becoming increasingly realistic, I may have to upgrade again.

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