Video games can only reach so far. Despite graphical updates, ray tracing, and higher resolutions, there will always be a disconnect between player input and the actions taking place on screen. In racing games, turning a thumb stick left and right simply does not translate the power and force of a car into one’s sense of touch. Thrustmaster has provided their solution to solve the problem of the dissociation between player input and game action. The TX Racing Wheel Leather Edition is a luxurious and elegant piece of hardware. It’s sole purpose, to bring you closer to the action.
Design: Premium materials and sturdy construction
The unboxing experience begins with the racing wheel on top surrounded by protective foam. Next comes the base and accessories including the cords and desk mount. Finally, the pedal assembly which includes three pedals. I was thrilled to see they included three pedals because it gives the potential for more accessories in the future, but more on that later.
The TX Racing Wheel Leather Edition makes great first impressions. The leather is soft and the stitching is well done. The irony did not take long to hit me that this gaming steering wheel felt nicer and better built than the one in my actual car. The brushed aluminum frame and paddle shifters give the wheel a solid, weighty character. It gives the idea that it was made for, and can handle consistent use.
The TX Racing Wheel Leather Edition is not simply hardware that controls your vehicles actions on screen. It is also reactive, responding to road conditions, speed, and your vehicle’s control. For example, if on a dirt road, the wheel will resist your control just like a real car would. Vibrations and counter movements made by motors inside the base simulate the physics of real world driving. It does this through the use of a duel-belt system connected to a latency-free servo, a contactless magnetic sensor with over 65,000 sensor values and a 900 degree rotation angle.
The buttons on the wheel face are formatted after the Xbox. Microsoft console owners will be immediately familiar with the ABXY setup. Although, the buttons are split between the two sides, with XY being accessible by one’s left thumb and AB by one’s right thumb. There’s a directional pad as well located on the left side of the wheel. Otherwise, navigating through menus would be a pain by turning the wheel left and right. There’s also a switch that can act as multiple buttons on the bottom right of the wheel. Finally there’s two buttons on the lower left that operate as Xbox’s option and menu buttons.
Prepare your desk
The base is heavy, even without the wheel. It’s understandable as there is a lot going on inside. There’s motors, pulleys, and the system’s power supply to weigh it down. There’s a good chance that the TX base will be the most substantial piece of hardware on your desk. I’d make sure one’s desk is sturdy enough to support the weight and the clamp force needed to keep it in place. The base material is hard plastic with vents made for airflow to keep the motor inside cool. The clamp used to secure it in place is simple to install and easy enough to tighten. It’s just one screw to turn and has adjustable feet to ensure good contact with the desk.
The pedal assembly is sizable as well. It provides a space for one’s feet to rest on while using the pedals. The wide foot pedal base also spreads out the force to help keep the pedals from slipping on the ground. Although, playing on carpet myself, the pedals did tend to nudge away from me after extended gameplay. I found the pedal spacing to be accurate and the pedal resistance to be appropriate. I did utilize the included but optional rubber cone for the brake pedal. This gives the pedal a firmer feel and also increases the pressure necessary for braking as you brake harder. For those who have racing simulator chairs and frames, both the wheel base and pedals come with mounting holes in the bottom.
Some assembly required
Installation of the wheel was fairly simple. The wheel must be aligned between the plastic tabs on the inside of the steering column to ensure that the connection is correct. Once the wheel is placed on the column, a tightening mechanism on the base is turned to pull the wheel into place. Finally a screw is turned to prevent the fastener from reversing or becoming undone. This was the only thing I found a bit awkward about the installation. The screw sticks far out of the neck of the column even after it is tightened. Fortunately, it’s not easily seen as it is usually out of sight, but for those who do spot it, it looks strange and unfinished.
Connecting the other parts together is an easy task as well. The foot pedal has a proprietary connector with a cord length I found to be plenty long enough to connect to the wheel base. The base itself has its own proprietary power cord. Finally, the base attaches through a USB cable to either one’s Xbox or PC. Owners have to be careful not to pinch the proprietary cords coming out of both the base and pedal assembly. If they were to break, it would be an expensive fix.
Performance: Feel the road
So how does all this hardware come together? In a word, excellently. The driving experience certainly rises above that of a controller. In fact, driving games become a more intense, distinct adventure altogether. The fun of the TX Racing wheel is not only in the accuracy of input to action, but also in learning the nuances of the system. One will find that the way they drove before no longer works as well when behind the physical wheel of their virtual vehicle. Perhaps a different camera angle needs to be used, or tactics on how to take that tricky turn.
When using a controller, the disconnect between mind, control, and action makes racing games more casual. When behind the TX Racing Wheel, racing becomes more impactful. Driving is no longer felt through the numb thumb sticks of the controller. The road, corners, and impacts can be felt through the force feedback of the steering wheel. Your feet, meanwhile, are using the pedals just like they would a real vehicle instead of the triggers on your controller. The entire system comes together in a way that feels as close to driving as possible. Because the sensation is similar to actually driving, the thrill is even greater, and the consequences of losing control of one’s vehicles seems more critical than other input methods.
One more race…
When playing with TX Racing Wheel, I found myself playing for longer than I would have without it. The “one more race” feeling from the fun of feeling the road beneath my hands stuck with me during my time in game. I played several games which were all compatible with the controller including Forza Horizon 4, Need For Speed: Heat, and Dirt 5. All were substantially improved by the TX Racing Wheel Leather Edition.
The comfort of the steering wheel is outstanding. The leather wheel has just the right amount of padding but not so much to feel mushy. Premium materials are what make the TX Leather Edition stand out over others and it doesn’t disappoint. Everything about the wheel itself feels like luxury from the leather, to the aluminum frame to the subtle yellow stripe to indicate which way is up. When getting into an expensive car in game, seeing the TX Leather Edition wheel in your hands feels right.
The resistance made by the force feedback does an excellent job at providing a realistic experience but does not hinder steering when not activated. Despite pulleys and motors connected to the wheel, the drag made by the components during gameplay is barely noticeable. When the feedback does kick in, it syncs up perfectly with what’s happening in game. Some games utilize the feedback differently. Switching between games can be a bit jarring, quite literally, if one is not prepared for the torque change.
Different games, same wheel
In Forza Horizon, the cars are beautifully crafted and their performance accurate to their specifications. Despite all the different types of cars and their behavior, the wheel was able to keep up the realism. From driving antique roadsters to Bugatti Veyrons, the TX Racing felt at home in any of their interiors. In Need for Speed: Heat, which tends to have a more arcadey approach to driving, the TX Racing Wheel didn’t miss a beat. Driving through the reflective night time city streets was really fun.
In Dirt 5 on Xbox, the force feedback really shone. Every water-filled mud puddle could be felt in the not so subtle jerk of the TX Racing Wheel. The transfer of the rocky digital road into tactile vibrations is really neat. However, the game which pushed the torque of the wheel to its limits was Wreckfest. Controlling a car in the junkyard racing game was all but a workout to keep the car on track. You can’t help but smile while fighting the wheel to keep the car on the dirt circuit. It seemed no matter what game or road condition I threw at it, Thrustmaster didn’t fail to make it more dynamic, and immersive.
Driver research. No, not that kind of driver
Playing on PC was not quite the plug and play experience it was on Xbox. There were drivers that needed to be installed and some games required drivers not by Thrustmaster at all – which was interesting. However, most half-savvy computer owners will be able to sort out the necessary software.
There was one thing I missed in my experience with the TX Racing Wheel and that was a manual shifter. Despite it not being included, however, it does come with the three pedal assembly that includes a clutch pedal, so it’s shifter ready if one wishes to purchase the shifter separately. For those who want a bridge between the automatic and manual, there’s always the paddle shifters which give a satisfying clunk when pulled.
It should also be mentioned that on PC, the buttons in-game are not referred to by their physical letters which show on the wheel. For example, the A button on PC would be referred to as “button 5.” This is disorienting when trying a new game or getting used to the wheel before all the button numbers are memorized. There’s a mapping of the buttons and their numbers in the included manual. However, looking up a button mapping mid game when prompted to do something is impossible and requires a bit of memorization.
The button profiling being what it is, the buttons themselves are excellently spaced on the wheel. I understood quickly why Thrustmaster split the buttons up between the two sides. Due to the way one’s hands hold a steering wheel, four buttons on one side would have been too much. Splitting them up was a smart choice for hectic driving when one needs to quickly activate an ability, ebrake, or switch views.
Overall, Thrustmaster’s TX Racing Wheel Leather Edition would be my choice of device when exploring simulator options for racing games. The force feedback is second to none. The quality of the materials, responsiveness, and accuracy is something that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. There were some software roadblocks which needed just a tiny bit of research to overcome, but once the TX Racing Wheel is working, it puts you closer to the driver seat than you have ever come before.