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When I look back, many of my favorite games deliver a distinct sense of motion, a sort of redesigned physics that directly connects my hands to the physicality of the thing I’m controlling on the screen. This thrill is the main reason why I especially like driving games. In a good racing game like Gran Turismofor example, each car tells a different story with each track, whether I’m driving a luxury sports car through the corners of the Nürburgring or a Sambabus down the Tokyo Expressway.

However, exactly how much detail the digital cars can convey in these games can feel limited by a standard gamepad. But with a good racing steering wheel and pedals, those finer sensations—bumping into a curb, going from concrete to dirt, battling a tight corner while your car resists—are more intimate. The way the bike forces me to put my whole body into driving the car only makes me more connected and engaged. And in racing games, its detail can be a big benefit. I’ve recently been reminded of these post-lift pleasures Thrustmaster’s T300RS GT Edition.

This is not my first bike. Before that I used Logitech’s G29, a popular entry-level model. It has helped my lap times for many years and I would still consider it a decent buy if you can find it, or its slightly improved successor, G923, with a big discount. But as I continued to spend more time on different types of simulators and racing games, I felt that I could do better. The Logitech brake pedal can feel stiff and erratic – even preventing me from stopping 100 percent in SIM as Assetto Corsa unless I effectively stand on it – and it is gear driven force feedback can come off a bit clunky and imprecise.

After spending a few hours browsing reviews and gaming forums, I settled on belt drive T300RS GT as my upgrade. This is a clear step behind direct drive wheels that exist at the higher end of this market, but I’m more of an enthusiast than a high-level racer. And at $450, that’s about as much as I can consciously invest in a gaming controller, especially a niche one. After about six months of use, however, I can confidently recommend it to others upgrading from an entry-level bike, or those looking to buy their first bike and know they’ll benefit from the extra investment.

Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The T300RS leaves a favorable impression right out of the box. Although the wheel is covered in rubber (instead of the G29’s leather), it’s solid, sturdy and pleasantly smooth. The three metal pedals feel cool and solid, and their base stays in place no matter how much force I apply. The full set of gamepad buttons built into the wheel are easy enough to reach, and the metal levers on the back of the wheel have a solid click when shifting gears. The wheel can also be completely detached from its base if I happen to ever want to put it on different instead.

It’s a Gran Turismo branded wheel, and since Gran Turismo is a PlayStation franchise, all the buttons follow the PlayStation iconography. Thrustmaster let go of that wheel in 2016, so it’s plug-and-play with PS5, PS4, and PS3 (which I appreciate as someone who likes to review older games). The device also works on PC, but unsurprisingly Xbox and Nintendo consoles are not supported.

The multi-piece wheel assembly setup requires more work to attach to a desk than Logitech’s built-in wheel clamps, but it’s not difficult enough to be a major hindrance. However, the wheelbase is heavier and, as with any wheel, you’ll want to have plenty of room to hang everything.

Once locked in, the T300RS GT Edition gives me little reason to complain. The purpose of the racing wheel is to effectively communicate what your virtual car is doing. This does this. When I start to lose traction after a too-hot corner, I can feel it and can tell what fine adjustments I need to make to regain control. It’s not as realistic as a direct drive wheel, but its belt force feedback is powerful and strikingly smooth, as opposed to the stepped feel I’d get with the G29. It’s also noticeably less noisy than the Logitech steering 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 got a feel for how much force was needed to properly hit the throttle or come to a complete stop. In general, the pedals don’t require significant pressure, which I like. However, you can adjust the sensitivity of the pedal, among other bits, via the wheel settings on a computer.

One consequence of this motorized setup is that it needs internal fans and heatsinks to cool itself. When you push it, a fan at the top of the wheelbase will blow hot air. It’s quiet, but sometimes you can smell it. Spinning the feedback effects is also not the wisest idea for the long-term durability of this kind of wheel, so it pays to keep the force feedback at a moderate level overall.

The GT edition here is a variant of the Thrustmaster one standard T300RSwhich it usually is $50 or less. (Both wheels appear to have stock issues at the time of writing.) The main difference, apart from the GT branding, is that the former has a nicer three-pedal kit with a built-in clutch pedal. The latter has only gas and brake pedals. The GT Edition also includes a spongy “conical brake mod” that you can place behind the brake to provide a more realistic feeling of resistance, although I prefer the looser feel of driving without it. The GT Edition pedal upgrade was worth the extra change for me, but to be clear, the two wheels are otherwise identical and it’s always possible to upgrade pedals on both models down the line.

You should see all my praise here on a curve. Hardcore contestants who only play sims as iRacing or rfactor 2 they can do better and they already know it. The racing wheel isn’t some magical cheat code, either: A gamepad user will be faster than a steering wheel user if they’ve spent more time perfecting their lines and braking points on a given track. If anything, riding a bike for the first time can feel like learning to drive all over again.

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

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