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What we bought: Thrustmaster’s T300RS GT Edition has made my digital driving a joy

It's the racing wheel I’d recommend to first-time upgraders.

Jeff Dunn / Engadget

When I look back, many of my favorite games supply a distinct sense of movement, a kind of reworked physics that directly connects my hands to the physicality of the thing I’m controlling onscreen. This thrill is the main reason I particularly enjoy driving games. In a good racing game like Gran Turismo, for instance, each car tells a different story with each track, whether I’m threading a luxury sports car through the curves of the Nurburgring or lugging a Sambabus down the Tokyo Expressway.

That said, exactly how much detail the digital cars in these games can convey can feel limited by a standard gamepad. But with a good racing wheel and pedals, those finer sensations – bumping over a curb, transitioning from concrete to dirt, fighting through a tight corner as your car resists – are more intimate. The way a wheel forces me to put my whole body into steering the car only makes me more connected and engaged. And in competitive games, its granularity can be a great benefit. Recently, I’ve been reminded of these pleasures after picking up Thrustmaster’s T300RS GT Edition.

This is not my first wheel. Previously, I used Logitech’s G29, a popular entry-level model. It helped my lap times for many years, and I’d still consider it a decent buy if you can find it, or its mildly upgraded successor, the G923, on deep discount. But as I continued to sink more time into different kinds of simulators and racing games, I felt I could do better. Logitech’s brake pedal could feel stiff and inconsistent – even preventing me from braking 100 percent in a sim like Assetto Corsa unless I effectively stood on it – and its gear-driven force feedback could come off a bit clunky and imprecise.

After spending several hours combing through reviews and game forums, I settled on the belt-driven T300RS GT as my upgrade. It’s a clear step behind the direct drive wheels that exist at the top end of this market, but I’m more of an enthusiast than a high-level sim racer. And at $450, it’s about as much as I can consciously invest in a game controller, especially a niche one. After roughly six months of use, however, I can confidently recommend it to others upgrading from an entry-level wheel, or those who are looking to buy their first wheel and know they’ll make use of the extra investment.

The pedals included with the Thrustmaster T300 RS GT Edition racing wheel resting on the ground.
Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The T300RS gives a favorable impression out of the box. Though the wheel is coated in rubber (rather than the G29’s leather), it’s grippy, sturdy and pleasingly smooth. The three metal pedals feel cool and solid, and their base stays in place regardless of how much force I put down. The full set of gamepad buttons built into the wheel are easy enough to reach, and the metallic paddle shifters on the back of the wheel have a tight click when changing gears. The wheel is also completely detachable from its base, on the off chance I ever want to pop on a different one instead.

This is a Gran Turismo-branded wheel, and since Gran Turismo is a PlayStation franchise, all the buttons follow PlayStation’s iconography. Thrustmaster launched this wheel back in 2016, so it’s plug-and-play with the PS5, PS4 and PS3 (which I appreciate as someone who enjoys revisiting older games). The device also works on PC, but, unsurprisingly, Xbox and Nintendo consoles aren’t supported.

The wheel’s multi-piece mounting setup requires more work to attach to a desk than the Logitech wheel’s built-in clamps, but it’s not arduous enough to be a serious hindrance. The wheelbase is on the heavy side, though and, as with any wheel, you’ll want to have ample space to hook everything up.

Once it’s locked in, the T300RS GT Edition gives me little to complain about. The point of a racing wheel is to effectively communicate what your virtual car is doing. This does that. When I start to lose grip after taking a corner too hot, I feel it, and I can tell what subtle corrections I need to make to regain control. It’s not as true-to-life as a direct drive wheel, but its belt-driven force feedback is powerful and strikingly smooth, unlike the stepped sensation I’d get with the G29. It’s also noticeably less noisy than the Logitech wheel, which is great when I want to get in a few races later at night.

Likewise, it didn’t take me long to get used to the pedals, and within a few races I had a good sense of how much force was needed to properly feather the accelerator or fully brake. In general, the pedals don’t require significant pressure, which I like. Still, you can adjust the pedal sensitivity, among other bits, through the wheel’s settings on a PC.

One consequence of this motorized setup is that it needs internal fans and heatsinks to keep itself cool. When you’re pushing it, a fan at the top of the wheelbase will blow out hot air. It’s quiet, but you can sometimes smell it. Cranking the feedback effects isn’t the wisest idea for this kind of wheel’s long-term durability, either, so it’s worth keeping the force feedback at a moderate level more generally.

The GT Edition here is a variant of Thrustmaster’s standard T300RS, which is usually $50 or so cheaper. (Both wheels look to be having stock issues as of this writing.) The main difference, besides the GT branding, is that the former has a nicer-feeling three-pedal set with a built-in clutch pedal. The latter just has gas and brake pedals. The GT Edition also includes a spongy “conical brake mod” that you can stick behind the brake to provide a more realistic sense of resistance, though I prefer the looser feel of driving without it. The pedal upgrade of the GT Edition was worth the extra change for me, but, to be clear, the two wheels are otherwise the same, and it’s always possible to upgrade either model’s pedals down the line.

You should view all of my praise here on a curve. Hardcore racers who only play sims like iRacing or rFactor 2 can do better, and they already know that. A racing wheel isn’t some magic cheat code, either: A gamepad user will be faster than wheel user if they’ve spent more time perfecting their lines and braking points on a given track. If anything, using a wheel for the first time can feel like learning to drive again.

Still, the T300RS GT Edition should be an ideal performer for new converts and moderate enthusiasts looking to upgrade. Even if it’s been around for a while, there still aren’t that many belt-driven alternatives that are truly competing with it in its price range.