If you’re a true racing simulator enthusiast, then you most likely leave your controller sitting on the table, in favor of a solid steering wheel setup. Many of these wheels can be offered, with limited functionality, for an economical price of $100-$150 from your local GameStop. However, these wheels oftentimes don’t offer the full experience of sitting behind the wheel of an F1 racer. Typically made of plastic and some metals, they usually don’t satisfy the need to have something real in your hands, something that fights back when you’re moving into the turns at 100+ miles an hour. Fortunately, our friends at Thrustmaster have just what you need, if you’re serious enough. Meet the Ferrari Integral T500.
The Ferrari Integral T500 steering wheel setup comes complete with a fully licensed Ferrari F1 racing wheel modeled after the Ferrari 150th Italia. When you pull it out for the first time, the first thing you’ll notice, aside from the weight, is the exceptional detail of the wheel. The rubberized handles allow you to hold the wheel comfortably in your hands and keep them from easily getting sore, or tired, as compared to other wheels that are made of plastic. In addition to an expertly detailed steering wheel, the wheel mount is fully detachable for future upgradeability, which gives you some additional value for the investment.
Ringed around the outside of the wheel are fully functional buttons that not only serve specific purposes in F1 2011 (the game for which it was designed and modeled), but are also mapped to the various buttons on a standard PS3 controller. The inner ring is trimmed with molded, nonfunctional dials that resemble the various gauges on a true F1 steering wheel. Brushed metal sequential (flappy-pedal) gear shifters are mounted on the back of the wheel and are easily accessible with a quick trigger-finger pull. But this is only half of the setup.
The Integral T500 also comes with a full framed steel pedal base with tensioned pedals for added realism. Each pedal (clutch, brake, and gas) carries a different amount of tension like you would find in a standard vehicle. The pedals can be positioned as F1 style pedals (floor mounted) or GT style (raised) for personal preference. The base is made from high quality steel with a chrome grated plate to rest your heels on.
The steering wheel contains a heavy duty motor which is capable of providing 150 Nm of torque (roughly 110 foot pounds) to give you exceptionally realistic feedback when taking those corners at high speeds (or in the typical case of this writer, trying to recover from spinouts in the grass). Buyer be warned, unlike some wheels that you can set in your lap, you won’t want to do that with this one, lest you find out what that industrial motor does to a person’s middle parts. Make sure you at the very least have it mounted on a table. The flappy pedal shifters have just the right amount of tension behind them to give them a tight and responsive feel when shifting, with perfect positioning so as not to distract you from the TV where your attention should be focused.
While designed for F1 2011, we also tested the wheel on Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3. It works exceptionally well with the game, although you will want to spend some time getting used to the feel of the new controls. Spending a few laps on some of the less curvy tracks to get used to the handling and force feedback is a must, in case you find yourself spinning off onto the grass or gravel rather frequently. Doing so is a bit more jarring with the Integral T500 setup due to the heavier duty motor providing the force feedback. However, after an hour or two of tweaking your driving habits, you’ll find yourself negotiating even the most difficult tracks with precision.
Serious driving sim enthusiasts only need apply here. The Thrustmaster Ferrari Integral T500 will cost you around $880 for the wheel and pedals. An optional eight throw shifter, for those who prefer rowing through the gears as opposed to a sequential shift, is available for an additional $150. While you can set the steering wheel and base down on your coffee table for support, it would be recommendable to consider purchasing a racing wheel stand such as the one offered by WheelStand Pro for about $200. If you’re dead set on going for the full Monty, a PlaySeat GT 5 setup can be picked up for roughly $500. However, for gamers that want a premium experience, money won’t be much of an obstacle.
Overall, the Thrustmaster Ferrari Integral T500 racing wheel setup is surely a top notch addition to the racing enthusiast’s home. Realistic force feedback and tensioned pedals bring you closer to the experience of driving a real car without having Skip Barber himself in the passenger’s seat. The only issue with the system is a USB cable that’s only six feet long, leaving it a bit on the short side if you’re using a television that’s larger than 50 inches, but for the experience that you’re paying for this is a small complaint. Much like the Ferrari brand, you’re getting what you pay for: a premium experience and the best performance. Unlike the Ferrari brand, however, this unit won’t catch fire when you give it the beans.
The Thrustmaster Ferrari Integral T500 Racing Wheel receives a score of 4.75/5
Review by Will Anderson from www.gamerliving.net