This applies to pretty much any racing game. What advantages, if any, does a steering wheel controller offer over a standard (analog) controller that will help me improve?

Or is the steering wheel just for fun?

Edit note: I changed the wording of this question to make it less subjective. The original intent is the same, though.

  • 1
    Now I feel schizophrenic because I upvoted both answers even though they say the exact opposite of one another... :) Jul 7, 2010 at 22:02
  • Just means they're both good answers. Also that the question's a little subjective.
    – user56
    Jul 7, 2010 at 22:33
  • crosses fingers for eventually creating a mainstream tag
    – Earlz
    Jul 7, 2010 at 23:05
  • 1
    @Galactic - I edited this to make it less subjective.
    – user113
    Jul 8, 2010 at 13:16

5 Answers 5


The answer to your question really depends on a number of factors:

  • Do you approach it as a "game" or a "sim"? I.e. what level of realism do you want? For a realistic experience, you just can't beat a wheel and pedals.
  • What kind of controller do you use? A cheap plastic wheel with bungie cord springs isn't going to give you the same level of enjoyment and realism as a high-quality wheel. However, you can pay a lot of money for dedicated controllers that will end up seeing relatively little use.
  • Does the game support multiple analog inputs, and/or allow you to map the inputs according to your play style? Regardless of controller, in many games it is important to be able to feather the throttle, etc. I really hate the games that only give you a couple of preset controller mappings, since they almost never match what I want.

For myself, I have used the following:

  • Joystick
  • Home-built wheel/pedals (can't use it anymore because my computer no longer has a game port)
  • Act Labs Force RS wheel/pedals/shifter (with "pro" pedals)
  • Multiple gamepads and console controllers

Of these, I still use the Act Labs whenever I want to do "serious" racing but the gamepad is sufficient for arcade racers. I've played all the way through NFS: Underground with the wheel and a gamepad, and wouldn't say it was significantly better one way or the other.

Background/disclaimer: for a number of years I was deeply involved in the racing simulation scene, including an extended stint as the webmaster of Sim Racing Connection where I also maintained the track/addon lists for GPL, DTR and SCGT. I've played just about every racing sim/game ever made, all the way from Grand Prix Legends to Mario Kart. :)


From my point of view: Not at all. All steering wheels I tested didn't help me to drive better. It somehow feels very unnatural (nothing compared to sitting in a real car - maybe due to the lack of g forces/inertia).

Therefore I prefer game pads with analog sticks: The sticks give You enough precision to confidently maneuver Your car and - at the same time - allow for fast reactions due to the short moving radius.


I have played Gran Tourismo 3 (yea, that long ago) with both a racing wheel and a regular PS2 controller. Over all I would say that it did not help my driving. The thing I like about a regular controller is that you can move the joystick way faster than you can a racing wheel. For some this is bad because their turns need to be precise. For others this is good because you can quickly correct a bad turn.

Basically, it's all a series of trade offs and it's not a one-size-fits-all type of thing.


In general, yes it's better to have a steering wheel, but theoretically, any analog control stick can give you the same precision, but it would be a lot harder to use such a controller as effectively as a racing wheel, because it's easier to get the right amount of turn.


The game should play equally well with either controller. Unless they distribute a wheel controller free with the game the manufacturers can't force people to buy the extra hardware.

There might be a different experience, but the game should be playable without a wheel.

  • That's just an opinion on how games should be made. Besides, "playable" isn't the point the point here, the question is about the differences between a wheel and a gamepad.
    – kotekzot
    Sep 6, 2012 at 14:57

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