Steering wheels are generally the most expensive specialized controller, but they are a must for racing aficionados. These controllers include a steering-wheel dash unit and a floor pad with pedals. Today, most wheels also provide force feedback, which allows you to feel the car push back against you when you turn the wheel and kick in the throttle. Unfortunately for fans of car-racing simulations, the genre isn't as popular as it once was, and most of the lower-priced options on the market have been discontinued, leaving by and large only more expensive, though hyper-realistic, models in their stead.
The Logitech G27 Racing Wheel (*Est. $300) is by far the favorite racing wheel among reviewers. In direct competition with the Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS Clubsport Edition (*Est. $330) and the Fanatec Porsche 911 Turbo S (a high-end, limited edition wheel that's now discontinued) racing wheels, Logitech's controller wins every time. SimHQ.com, TomsGuide.com, GamingShogun.com and TheGamerAccess.com give it glowing, in-depth reviews, and while a Wired review gives the G27 a relatively ho-hum score (7 out of 10), the critique is largely enthusiastic, with most of the negatives having to do with non-performance-related issues. At Amazon.com, the Logitech G27 is the highest-rated racing wheel on the site on the back of about 150 user reviews, and over 30 Newegg.com users give the wheel an excellent 4-out-of-5-star rating, which is tied for best on that site as well.
Reviewers find a lot to love about the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel. They universally praise the 900-degree wheel turn and realistic force feedback, saying it is among the best available, although TomsGuide.com notes that the wheel doesn't respond with 100 percent authenticity when it's spun between 450 and 600 degrees in drifting maneuvers. They also praise its build quality, namely its leather wheel cover, gearbox and sturdy metal parts. Multiple reviewers appreciate its easy installation, dual shifting ability and 16 programmable buttons. Six of those are situated underneath drivers' thumbs on the steering wheel, which allows players to keep their eyes on the road while adjusting settings.
Reviewers note that purchasing the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel gets you not just a top-notch racing wheel but an entire racing system, including a six-speed gearbox and a clutch in addition to the standard brake and gas pedals. While these features set the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel apart from more affordable racing wheels and are the source of much praise, Wired's Terrence Russell finds their placement a bit cramped, although no other critic echoes those claims. Reviewers say that there are other small, but mentionable flaws. Serious racing buffs like the crew at SimHQ.com dislike the removal of an option to alter the gearbox to a sequential shifter mode (optimal for racing), which was available on the G25. Several reviewers say the wheel's clamp isn't strong enough. The two most common complaints aren't performance-related; critics wish the wheel worked with the Xbox 360 as well as the PC and PS3, and many feel that Logitech didn't add enough improvements over the now-discontinued and highly regarded Logitech G25 Racing Wheel (which cost about $225) to justify the newer version's $300 price tag -- although those critics are quick to mention that the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel is the best you'll find.
The aforementioned Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS also draws high regard, but it's only looked at in-depth by SimHQ.com and TomsGuide.com. The more expensive Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS Clubsport Edition adds a set of heavy-duty metal pedals -- which SimHQ.com calls "sexy" -- and an aluminum paddle shifter. The wheel itself is covered in genuine hand-stitched Alcantra leather and is a replica of the wheel found in the actual Porsche 911 GT3 RS -- and while that gives the wheel a professional and distinctive look, SimHQ.com notes that Fanatec couldn't place buttons directly on the face of the wheel due to the license.
Performance-wise, reviewers say the Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS delivers highly accurate feedback and response that rivals the Logitech G27 Racing Wheel. Critics like the pedals on the Fanatec model a bit more, while Logitech's gearbox gets the clear nod over its rival's cheap-feeling plastic shifter. That flimsy shifter leads TomsGuide.com to say "Logitech's G27 racing offers users the most realistic driving experience." SimHQ.com sounds a note of warning in its review of the Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS; they received a unit with faulty force-feedback controls and became exasperated by the sluggishness of Fanatec's response to the problem. They also note in the conclusion that several members in the SimHQ.com forums have reported hardware failures.
Companies like Extreme Competition Controls Inc (ECCI) and Hyper Stimulator make well-regarded cockpit components for full arcade-style racing simulation, but their prices start at four figures.
With the discontinuation of Logitech's MOMO Racing Force and other less expensive racing wheels, pickings are slim in the budget category. Lower-priced racing wheels often eschew the more complicated offerings found in high-priced models, such as customizable pedal settings and software that allows multiple racer profiles.
The Thrustmaster Ferrari GT Experience (*Est. $50) earns some praise at IGN.com for its PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 compatibility along with its "sufficient wheel resistance," and the wheel lands a spot on BrightHub.com's list of the top-ten racing accessories for the PC. The Genius Twin Wheel F1 (*Est. $50) also lands a spot on that list for its force-feedback support, four face buttons and low price, although several Amazon.com users comment that the wheel and pedals are a bit too small and the D-pad a tad too sticky for their tastes.
Some gamers simply prefer yokes to joysticks, and for those dedicated to maximum realism in flight simulation, they are an absolute must. Yokes are modeled after the steering controls found in civilian aircraft and are in many ways more similar to a steering wheel than a joystick, because they require you to grip them with both hands, turn from side-to-side and need pedals for complete control. Designed for flight simulation, yokes don't have the same range of motion as steering wheels, and the two types of controls can't be interchanged. Yokes have plenty of buttons to manipulate your flight simulator, but they are not intended for combat flight simulation, so you might not be able to launch your heat-seeking missiles as easily as you could with a top-of-the-line flight stick.
The Saitek Pro Flight Yoke (*Est. $150) is generally well reviewed. FileFactory Games' flight simulator expert Walter Hurdle gives the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke a stellar 93 percent rating and calls it the "best civilian flight yoke system," but his review suggests that the CH Products Flight Sim Yoke is both simpler to use and easier to mount on your desk. (The CH Products Flight Sim Yoke looks to be on its way out as it is only available directly through the manufacturer and various resellers.) FlightSim.com also points out that the Saitek yoke has fewer controls than the CH Products Flight Yoke, and multiple reviewers complain that the USB cable, which is shorter than CH Products', is not long enough.
Another worrying point is the user reviews on Newegg.com. Although the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke receives a solid 4-star overall average with over 35 users checking in, and most people are generally very happy with the system, a number of customers complain that the plastic yoke feels flimsy and cheaply made. Several users report that the yoke broke within six months of purchasing it, with several breaking a scant few weeks or days after unboxing.
FlightSim.com and BruceAir.com take a look at CH Products' Eclipse Yoke (*Est. $160), which improves upon the CH Products Pro Flight Yoke with several additional controls, more programmability options and thumb pedals so you don't have to buy separate rudder pedals, which flight instructor Bruce Williams appreciates. However, he notes that the fix to the "rudder problem" results in a less realistic experience. In general, the reviews are positive, calling the Eclipse Yoke an improvement over CH Product's basic Flight Sim Yoke. "The Eclipse gives the typical virtual aviator a compact, easy-to-use, option at a reasonable price," Williams writes, although he says realism buffs would be better off building their own "cockpit" from component parts rather than investing in this all-in-one solution.
Unless you take the dive with the CH Product Eclipse Yoke, you will need to invest in rudder pedals to go with your yoke. The Saitek Pro Flight Combat Rudder Pedals (*Est. $200) draw the strongest reviews. Critics love the sturdiness of the heavy plastic base in conjunction with the aluminum pedals themselves. Setup is a breeze, and although GamingShogun.com reports that the initial configuration can feel a bit "squishy," the multitude of configuration options allowed the editors to easily and quickly correct the problem.
Critics say the anti-slip pads on the bottom of the unit are strong enough that the rudder stays in place without the use of additional tape or fastening devices, a rarity among this variety of controllers. The praise piled atop the system isn't topped by any other rudder on the market; the small number of users checking in at Amazon.com all give the controller a flawless 5-star rating, GamingShogun.com calls the set "perfect," and FlightSim.com reviewer Nigel Martin says "I sincerely feel the pedals are without doubt the best all round pedals I have tested" -- and he's been reviewing flight simulation products for the site for several years.
Lower-cost rudder pedals such as the Saitek Rudder Pedals and CH Products Pro Pedals, both of which cost around $100, are now discontinued, with limited availability online. The best bet for budget shoppers -- who haven't yet purchased a yoke -- is probably the CH Products' Eclipse Yoke (*Est. $160), since it doesn't require rudder pedals.