Thrustmaster T500 RS review

For a long time -- a long, long time -- Logitech and Gran Turismo have gone together like rubber and asphalt. Like carbon fiber and fender flares. Like drivers' privates and their Nomex underpants. The two were tight, but with GT5 came a changing of the guard. Thrustmaster, a company world-renowned for its high-end flight controls and its giggle-inducing name, stepped in and bought the license. The purpose? To release the decidedly high-end T500 RS wheel, the controller designed to abolish memories of all the plasticy racing controllers that have come before from the company. Does it succeed, and is it worth the pucker-inducing price of $599? These questions and more answered below.

The hardware

You don't even need to take the T500 RS wheel and pedal set out of the box to know you're dealing with a serious piece of kit. The weight stamped on the side, 18KG or 40lbs, should be required by law to come with a warning about lifting with your knees. Those with weak lower backs be advised.

Strip away the shipping tape, gaze inside, and you'll see where that weight comes from. The pedal set is wrapped in diamond plate steel, the petals are made of metal, pedal box is made of metal -- in fact just about everything save the cord sticking out the back is made of metal.

The wheel assembly itself is not made of metal -- a good thing because it'd make heaving it up onto a desk more of a challenge. Even with its plastic construction it's still not an easy process, the wheel assembly itself being a full 13 inches deep and far bigger than the Logitech G27 or the Fanatec GT2 we just reviewed. Suffice to say it's sizeable, the power brick alone being nearly as big as the one that new Xbox 360 owners gape in horror at upon first unboxing their console.

Cabling is a bit more simple than with those two wheels mentioned above, but that's only because there's no separate H-pattern shifter available here. You get only big chrome paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, but not to the wheel itself. They don't turn, staying fixed in place. So, there's a cable running from pedals to wheel, another cable running up from the power brick, and naturally a USB cord running from the wheel on down to a PC or PS3.

It's only compatible with those two devices, and if you want it on your PS3 you'll need the latest system update from Sony. Even then it has only limited compatibility with games. Gran Turismo 5 is quite naturally on the list, and the upcoming Dirt 3 is as well, but that's it for now. That said, the wheel will work with just about any game you like on the PS3 -- but not with force feedback.

On the PC you'll need drivers as well and, thankfully, compatibility is more or less assured with everything from there on out.

Mounting and testing

The wheel mounts to a desk or table with a single, two-pronged clamp extending from underneath that giant plastic box. To clamp it down you simply spin a screw and it squeezes in place. Once clamped we found we were still able to tilt it slightly forward if we pulled, not quite as much as on the Fanatec GT2, but more so than the G27, which is still king for ease and stability for temporary mounting.

Indeed this is a wheel that's better held in place with bolts, and there are threaded holes in the bottom for just that purpose. It's so huge it's hard to fit on your average computer desk without moving some monitors and unwieldy enough to make mounting and dismounting a chore. Not a wheel for sometimes simmers.

Plug it in and connect it and it sweeps through its full range of motion to self-calibrate, 1,080 degrees. That's 180 more than most other wheels on the market and, really, 180 more than are seemingly needed. It's rare that racing games even make proper use of 900 degrees at this point -- the polygonal hands on the wheel in GT5 can't even shuffle-steer.



quite naturally works well with the wheel, offering a picture of the thing to help you assign controls to the buttons that are scattered throughout the wheel stalks and base. Every button on a PS3 controller is here, but you'll have to hunt to find them. Almost all are well out of thumb reach so you'll need to take a hand off the wheel. And yes, taking your hands off the wheel while driving is not a good idea.

Speaking of thumbs, we found ours not fitting comfortably in the narrow area where the spokes meet the wheel, and none of our fingers enjoyed the rubberized coating the wheel uses. It is effective enough at being grippy, but when the much cheaper competition are offering leather and Alcantara, well, rubber is disappointing.

We did extensive testing in GT5 on the PS3 and on the iRacing on the PC, both of which did a great job of highlighting the wheel's main asset: its force feedback. The 65 watt, belt-driven motor inside is strong, certainly having enough power to make your forearms burn and to rattle everything off of whatever desk you've mounted this to. It's impressively quiet, too, but most important is it's precision, offering extremely sharp and sensitive renditions of bumps and pavement creases.

The feel is fantastic and, with 16 bit resolution, responsiveness is high as well. The wheel uses a hall effect sensor to detect position magnetically, which should mean that precision will be maintained through the life of the wheel. The pedals, however, use rather more traditional potentiometers. They offer a good feel but pale in comparison to the Fanatec Clubsport pedals. Sure, Thrustmaster's floor jewelry is bigger, heavier, and more customizable, but all that weight just feels excessive. You can flip 'em upside down to replicate the layout of a formula or GT car but there's really not much difference in the experience. And, given how long it takes to un-screw the base plate and move everything about it's certainly not worth it if you'll be jumping from one type of car to another frequently.

Finally, the brake pedal here is not a load cell, just a potentiometer with a bunch of adjustable springs. It offers a better feel than that in the middle stomper on the Logitech G27 but again doesn't compare to the Clubsports.

And then there are the fixed shift paddles on the wheel, which some will deal with and others will hate. They don't rotate as you turn the wheel so up- and downshifting can be a bit interesting while turning. Their static position means they need to be very large, which makes it even more difficult to get your fingers behind. Their chrome finish looks and feels nice but it's more sticky than the matte paddles on most other wheels, grabbing your fingers a bit when you shift, creating a non-conducive environment for shifting while counter-steering. But, it must be said that the paddles' feel is quite good when it comes to the actual business of shifting. There's a surprisingly long throw here but a very positive clicky engagement that means accidental shifting is unlikely.


At $599 it's awfully hard to recommend this wheel and pedal combination. The wheel itself has a magnificent feel that's beginning to knock on the door of much more expensive offerings like a Frex or ECCI, and the number of inputs makes managing button-happy cars easier. But, those buttons are hard to find while driving and the rubber coating feels unfortunately low-rent. The massive size of the thing makes it best suited for semi-permanent installations and the limited PS3 compatibility is, for the moment at least, a disappointment.

Meanwhile the pedals are overkill yet underwhelming. They're heavy and won't go anywhere but all that weight feels excessive, unnecessary, and adorned with rubber feet that kept falling off. Not exactly what you'd expect for $599. Ultimately either the Logitech G27 or the Fanatec line of wheels offer nearly as good performance at a much more palatable cost -- and with designs less likely to give you a hernia when hauling about the house.