My first experience driving was when I was seven. It was in a remote parking lot in Northridge, where my father, brother and I would go to play roller hockey on the weekends. We coaxed dad into letting us drive the mini van, a Toyota Previa. My year-and-a-month older brother went first, and then it was my turn. My dad sat me on his lap, I put both hands on the wheel, and slammed on the gas. I nearly flipped the car. Thankfully my dad was quick and turned hard.

That first feeling of flying off into the unknown…that’s what the Thrustmaster T500RS felt like when I first sat down and tried it.

The first licensed Gran Turismo 5 racing wheel, the T500RS is ridiculously powerful. When I first started driving it and previously mentioned memory passed and words began to describe feelings, my first thought was “holy crap.” Racing on an off-road map going 45 MPH was overwhelmingly difficult.

And why not? It should be. Debris littering the road, dirt wreaking havoc to torque, dust kicking up and killing visibility…there’s a good reason off-road driving is so damn tough. But with past racing wheels, I’d never experienced such difficulty with driving. The T500RS wasn’t playing, it was in simulation mode and I was holding on for dear life.

I managed to complete the race in 3:08, compared to the AI’s 2:12. “Not bad,” said the PR rep showing off the wheel. “Most people just give up.” I can see why. Thrustmaster earned the right to develop, manufacture and sell a licensed Gran Turismo 5 racing wheel because they were willing to make the most realistic racing experience for the game, not worrying about cost. And I was blown away by how accurate, and how fast, the wheel feels.

Most racing wheels have the tendency to be too slow, which is critical when maneuvering a fishtailing simulated car back into control. Even Logitech and Fanatec’s more recent racing wheels are slow in this regard. If you drift and allow the wheel to turn, as is done by professional drivers, you will not make the drift. The wheel is just too slow. But with the T500RS, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The reason? “We put a chip directly into the racing wheel to calculate, in real time, how it should behave.” All prior racing wheels relied on the game engine to calculate that, which means play the game, simultaneously calculate how the wheel should turn, send the signal to the wheel, and then the wheel acts. When racing at 145MPH, that takes too much time, so Thrustmaster cut out the middleman. And from what I’ve gathered thus far, it’s working out pretty well.

That, and the motor feels a hell of a lot more powerful. The power brick was practically a foot long. I don’t know what motor it’s using, but no racing wheel I’ve tested was as strong as the T500RS.

What’s great is that the T500RS comes with a full aluminum pedalboard, including gas, brake and clutch. It’s a strong board, though I’m not sure if it’s better than Fanatec’s Clubsport pedals, my personal favorite. At the moment, the T500RS does not ship with a gearbox, nor does it come with a port to support a possible upgrade. I was told that they’re working on it, and that it’ll probably connect to the same USB cable that attaches to the PS3/PC.

The big news is that the T500RS is out now. For just $600, you get the wheel, pedalboard, and the most street cred anyone can get from owning a racing wheel. And possibly the chance to get a real racing – ahem, driving – education.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.