The Thrustmaster T300RS, like the Logitech G29, have for a long time been the two most affordable options for those who want to control their racing games with a steering wheel rather than a hand controller, all without having to get another mortgage. However, both of these hardware giants were late to jump on the rampant direct drive train, but after Logitech convinced with the somewhat strangely designed DD Pro last year, it is now time for the French Thrustmaster to do the same. The T818 is a direct drive steering wheel base, which means that the steering rod and thus the wheel is directly connected to an electric motor and this - unlike belt or chain drive - means that you as a player get more feedback, stronger feedback that contains more detail and is delivered without actual delay.
Direct drive is a superior technology in this regard, quite simply, and sim-racing giants such as Fanatec has been churning out steering wheel bases in various price ranges based on this technology for several years. Thrustmaster has its own ecosystem with wheels and wheel bases and, as we all know, like Logitech, has always been low in price in order to reach a particularly broad, racing-minded target group, and I have liked their T300RS and TS-XW wheels. Nice looking stuff for reasonable money, and it was written in stone before they showed off the T818 that it would be a Fanatec CSL DD as well as a Logitech DD Pro competitor rather than a flagship product in the same vein as the Fanatec DD2 or Simucube 2 Pro.
It may not have turned out to be quite right even if I was on the right track. The T818 costs £599.99, and even then no wheel is included. This means that you are forced to shell out around another £100 to get your hands on Thrustmaster's cheapest wheel and then you have suddenly spent approximately £700 for a steering wheel base plus steering wheel. Add to that you have to buy Thrustmaster's special plate for mounting the T818 on your sim-rig (the steering wheel base's M6 hole pattern does not fit either Simlab's stuff, or Trakracer's, Swedish Rig Designs', or Next Level Racing's products, and for that matter, Fanatec's Rennsport Cockpit). Since this "adapter " for simple assembly costs a further £20 or so, you reach a price tag of nearing £750 just to be able to start racing, and then of course you have reached a price level where clearly more impressive wheel bases compete for the throne.
Logitech DD Pro costs a little bit more, so does Fanatec's DD1 and Simucube's alternative but the question is... Can Thrustmaster compete with these impressive gadgets? The answer is unfortunately no. Let me make it as clear as I can. I want to start by talking about the the design and functionality first and then go into on the force feedback quality and the software. The first thing that does not hold a high enough class here is, as I mentioned before, the mounting pattern hole image and the problem of mounting the T818. I did not want to drill new holes in my rig and don't pay for the mounting plate and the fact that the steering wheel base is hexagonal also makes it a little too high when mounted and it affects stability, as the plate it stands on is much narrower than the width of the engine housing. Once it is mounted with Thrustmaster's associated adapter, we reach the next negative point; the new quick release. Thrustmaster has built a new quick release and compared to the competition, it is no good, unfortunately.
The biggest problem here is spelled manufacturing materials. Thrustmaster's new quick release is made of plastic. The material is too soft and there is flex here which I consider to be one of the biggest issues with the T818. For one thing, there is flex in the steering wheel base coupling and I think the plastic there will wear faster than Thrustmaster thinks. There is also plenty of flex in all three Thrustmaster wheels that we tested together with the T818 and here they should of course have looked a lot more at the simple NRG technology that Logitech uses on its DD Pro.
Driving mainly Dirt Rally 2.0 with a Thrustmaster Sparco P310 mounted on the T818 means that the steering wheel flexes like nothing else I've ever tested in direct drive with the torque set to maximum (100%). I experience the quick release as immediately "soft", and that's really the wrong way to go. There is talk in sim-racing circles sometimes that Fanatec's 15-year-old quick release is not built for DD technology and that it houses flex that shouldn't be there (and some of that criticism is true) but Fanatec's steel based solution is, no matter how you twist and turn at that, 200% better than anything Thrustmaster has achieved here, and of course that's a shame.
When it comes to the software for "tuning" the feel in games like Automobilista 2, Assetto Corsa Competizione, and Dirt Rally 2.0, the software and the settings Thrustmaster allows here are woefully poor. There simply aren't nearly enough customisation options, and the software itself is more reminiscent of a homegrown Dos program from 1997 than anything else. In Dirt Rally 2.0, I have sat for several hours and just tried to tune in the "right" feeling in the T818 but did not succeed. Either the force feedback portion feels spongy soft and slippery as if my car is sliding about 12 centimetres above the ground or the feeling in the steering wheel becomes scratchy with a jerkiness that makes driving more difficult than it should be.
Compared to the Logitech DD Pro, the softness of a steering wheel and how easy it is to steer right in a rally, the Thrustmaster is far, far behind here. It gets even worse in Assetto Corsa Competizione, where I haven't managed to get a sensible driving feeling at all, and there is something not really doing up for me about the force feedback in this wheel base. It feels peaked in a way that a small amplifier does when you play music at maximum volume. Like it's maxing out, all the time, not really keeping up and trying to compensate by just pushing more and more effects.
In Automobilista 2 I managed better and despite a strange mounting solution, a disturbing form factor and sub-par quick release, the force feedback in that game was fine together with the T818 but I wouldn't call this steering wheel better than the CSL DD with boost kit and it costs half as much. I also believe that especially the Fanatec DD1 (which currently costs around £1060) and the Logitech DD Pro are several levels better than Thrustmaster's first attempt. As a sim-racing fanatic, I love that more and more of the major manufacturers are going "all in", here, but the T818 is nothing I intend to recommend.