For the past few years, two manufacturers have been competing in the field of upper-market steering wheels. While Logitech’s G25 and its successor the G27 are still the most popular wheels for sim racers, Fanatec’s line of Porsche wheels has been chipping away some of Logitech’s market share.
Now, Thrustmaster somewhat surprisingly joins the competition with a bang, introducing their T500 RS wheel that comes with a string of very impressive-sounding features. Is the T500 RS as innovative as it sounds or just a paper tiger? Read the review to find out!
The T500 RS is Thrustmaster’s first Force-Feedback wheel for the PC since the Ferrari F430 wheel that was released back in 2008. While the Ferrari wheel was aimed at budget buyers and lacked some features, the T500 RS is a different beast as Thrustmaster has cut absolutely no corners in terms of technical specs.
The 30-centimeter T500 RS wheel rim is powered by a industrial-grade 65 watts Force Feedback motor that uses a double-belt driven system to transmit the effects. The wheel comes with 1080 degrees of steering, edging out all other steering wheels on the market which are limited to 900 degrees of steering.
The wheel uses Thrusmtaster’s H.E.A.R.T HallEffect AccuRate Technology, using a contact-less magnet-sensor that offers 65536 values on the steering axis for maximum precision and no wear during the wheel’s lifetime.
Aside from nine buttons and a D-pad, the wheel comes with a pedal shift system, an optional H-shifter will be available later on. Unlike Fanatec, the T500 RS has no display or wireless functionality, it is connected via classical USB cable to the PC and the Playstation 3.
The specs of the pedal unit are no less impressive. Made of metal and weighing more than seven kilos, the three-pedal unit offers fully adjustable pedals that can be used both standing or hanging (inverted).
This is another innovation as inverted pedal sets have only been available from professional-grade manufacturers such as ECCI so far, the T500 RS is the first wheel to introduce this feature to a mainstream product.
Despite all the high-end features and materials, the pedal set does not offer a load-cell brake but relies on potentiometers as do most mass-market products aside from Fanatec’s Clubsport pedals.
Design & Build Quality
One of the first T500 RS details that emerged last year was that the wheel would be officially endorsed by Gran Turismo 5, making it the official GT5 wheel for the Playstation 3.
Many sim racers initially thought this means we´d be dealing with some kind of console toy but the first sight of the T500 RS box will make you change your mind.
The wheel ships in a massive 15-kilo box, indicating that the T500 RS is indeed serious business. That impression continues as soon as the box is opened as the T500 RS is a huge piece of kit.
While the wheel’s 30 centimeter rim is not bigger than the Fanatec wheels, the wheels base is more than twice as big and twice as heavy. While the wheels from the competition have somewhat of a road car look, Thrustmaster has been going for a no frills racing-inspired design.
The T500 RS wheel resembles the OMP racing wheels found in GT racing cars such as the Porsche 997 GT3 RSR, the wheel plate is rather slim and comes with small buttons to go along with the look.
The wheel’s paddle shift unit goes along with the “go-large” theme of the whole unit as the paddle are by far the largest I´ve ever seen on any wheel. This isn’t the only unusual aspect about them as the paddle are attached to the base and won’t turn with the wheel.
The aforementioned partnership with Gran Turismo is shown off by a big silver GT badge and Playstation-style buttons, a fact that only hardcore PC purists will take offense in. The wheel’s rim is coated by rather grippy rubber coating instead of real leather as found on some competitor products.
The wheel’s pedal unit is made completely of metal and features fully-adjustable pedals that can be tweaked both in terms of positioning, height and resistance. The required tools to adjust and invert the pedal unit are included, inverting the pedals requires a few steps to replace the floor plate and adjust the pedals.
Even though Thrustmaster isn’t using any posh materials such as Alcantara-leather, the whole unit feels well-made and sturdy with nothing to complain about in terms of build quality. The rather small buttons on the wheel are not too wobbly and the shifting levers have a nice mechanical click when pressed.
The full-metal pedal unit should give no one a headache in terms of durability either, the used materials look and feel top notch and strong enough to endure continued usage. After my 30+ hours of using the wheel, the whole unit felt still as new with no unwanted noise or any other sign of attrition.
If you have read some of my steering wheel reviews, you´ll know that I´m a big fan of the clamp-system that Thrustmaster introduced with the Ferrari F430 Force Feedback wheel. Thankfully, the T500 RS, despite being a whole lot bigger and much heavier than the Ferrari wheel, uses the exact same clamp and it works like a charm.
Even though the clamp is not as fancy as Fanatec’s built-in system, it’s a simple solution that does the trick. The clamp is fixed by one big screw that is connects it to the base, allowing you to firmly screw the wheel onto the table.
Of course, the T500 RS also comes with screw holes for those looking to attach it to a racing cockpit. In the past few weeks, pretty much all name-brand cockpit builders have introduced support for the T500 RS, owners of a cockpit should contact their manufacturer for a drilling template.
I´ve been reviewing the T500 RS using Fanatec’s Rennsport Wheel Stand and even though the wheel stand does not have matching holes for the wheel, I was able to perfectly fixate the wheel using the clamp mechanism. With the clamp put on tight, the wheel won’t move a single inch even if you pull at it or under heavy force-feedback usage.
Thrustmaster released the PC drivers for the wheel a few days after the launch, confining the wheel to the Playstation 3 for a few days. Even though the drivers were released late, Thrustmaster does not seem to have rushed them as everything works like a charm out of the box.
Since the T500 RS has no display and does not offer tuning-options during driving like the Fanatec wheels, all settings have to be made in the wheel control panel. This is a slight loss of comfort if you´re used to driving with the Porsche wheels as all changes require you to leave the game.
The driver software also comes with an easy to use firmware updater, during my review Thrustmaster released a new firmware version (V33) that further improved some details such as paddle precision.
While the Playstation 3 support works without drivers of course, it needs to be said that only Gran Turismo 5 fully supports the T500 RS so far. Other than the upcoming DiRT 3, no PS3 titles are compatible to the new wheel as of yet, other titles can be used with the wheel but won’t have any force feedback.
Driving & Force Feedback
Just as with meeting new people, a lot comes down to the first impression when using a new hardware device. The T500 RS does not fail in that regard as using the wheel is an impressive affair right from the getgo.
The H.E.A.R.T HallEffect AccuRate Technology is much more than just a nice-sounding feature as the T500 RS offers the most stunning precision I´ve never experienced with any other wheel before. There’s virtually no deadzone or lag as the wheel feels extremely responsive in any given situation.
Adding to that is the force feedback that blows other wheels out of the water, the effects are both incredibly strong and detailed and come with barely any noise attached. Even after continued usage for hours, the wheel stays amazingly silent as the wheel and its cooling fans can barely be heard with other noise in the room.
Users that try the wheel only using Gran Turismo 5 will most likely not be impressed as the console racer is not taking advantage of the wheel’s full potential at all.
When fired up with iRacing, the T500 RS really starts to shine. The wheel’s highest-possible FFB settings are unusable strong, fans of strong force feedback will find everything they ever looked for with the T500 RS.
The pedal unit is a little less impressive as it lacks a bit of innovation. There’s nothing wrong with the pedals as such, the whole unit is extremely sturdy and adjustable. Even in stock settings, the brake is stiff enough and can be further adjusted tweaking the spring or using the optional real-brake mod.
The lack of a load-cell brake makes the pedal set pale in comparison to Fanatec’s Clubsport pedals though as sim racers who’ve used a load-cell brake before will most likely not want to go back to a potentiometer-based setup.
The inverted pedals are a nice touch and more or less a matter of taste as the difference in feel or usability between the two setups is not that big. Given the work involved to switch the pedal options, most buyers will most likely set for one option and not switch back and forth.
The hardest thing to come to grips with are the paddle shifters though. Thrustmaster opted to fix the paddles to the base instead of the wheel, meaning that the paddles won’t turn with the wheel. This is by no means unrealistic as some road & race cars have pedals that are not fixed to the wheel, sim racers are not used to this though and will have to adjust to it first.
While it is no big problem during driving in general, I found myself to be screwing up shifts especially during hectic situations such as spins as the brain takes a while to let go of old reflexes – Especially in combination with 1080 degree steering. This can be a bit frustrating as there`s no way around this other to get rid of old habits.
So, is the T500 RS as innovative as the long feature list and the rather hefty price tag of 499€/$599 suggests? In one word: Yes!
Don’t get fooled by the Gran Turismo badge, this wheel is most likely the most advanced product ever offered in this price range. The wheel’s precision is unmatched and the very strong & silent force feedback even edges out Fanatec’s Turbo S wheel.
I´ve reviewed quite a lot of wheels and I´ve never instantly clicked with a new product as I did with the T500 RS. Usually, it takes me a bit of time to get up to speed with a new wheel but the T500 RS gave me instant confidence thanks to the great force feedback and the overall amazing feel provided when driving.
Sadly, the pedal unit falls a bit off in terms of features, a load-cell brake would have been a fitting feature to make the pedals match the wheel and make it easier for more professional racers to consider switching to the T500 RS.
Thrustmaster has put together a wheel that can compete even with professional wheels from niche-manufacturers that often sell for more than three times the price.
And while some competitors might offer some features the T500 RS does not have (more expensive materials, a built-in display) the wheel is certainly the new benchmark in terms of precision, raw force feedback power and overall feel that will satisfy even the most demanding sim racers.