Choosing the Best Steering Wheel: A Guide to Help You Choose
Interior modifications are extremely important to most car enthusiasts, as that’s where you spend most of your time. There are endless interior upgrades that you can do to really fine-tune your driving experience. That can include everything from your shift knob, seats, gauges, and steering wheel. Installing a high-quality aftermarket steering wheel can give you a more responsive steering feel from your car while also injecting a bit of personality into your vehicle’s cabin.
Aftermarket steering wheels come in many shapes and sizes. Literally. For that reason, it is important that you consider your preferences beforehand. Do you want a steering wheel primarily for its aesthetics? Are you looking for a wheel for a track-oriented build? Is a squared or round wheel more comfortable? How many spokes is the right amount? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself.
Of course, build materials and quality are extremely important to consider as well. First and foremost, an aftermarket wheel needs to be sturdy enough to take some abuse. Some cheap steering wheels can actually bend under strain. You want to avoid that at all costs. Some wheels are wood, leather, alcantara, or cloth. Keep in mind that some materials wear faster than others, especially when exposed to heat.
Best Steering Wheel: Considerations
As we glossed over previously, there are a few considerations that you need to take into account before you pull the trigger on a new steering wheel. Most of the important aspects boil down to build materials and strength. Obviously, you’ll want a wheel that feels good in your hands. Material preference and steering wheel size vary quite a bit when it comes to different manufacturers and applications.
Under high-performance driving situations, your vehicle’s steering wheel has to cope with a pretty high amount of force. Whether or not you realize it, on the track, a lot of force is directed towards the front of your car with your hands. Especially under braking. For that reason, it is extremely important that you find a wheel that has a high-quality metal base to prevent it from bending under force.
In addition to having a strong core material, it is also important that you choose the right grip material for your application. There are a few common grip materials used on performance steering wheels. Some of the most prevalent include alcantara, leather, laminated wood, and plastic vinyl.
Alcantara provides the highest amount of grip but is very high maintenance and fades quickly. Leather is also very grippy and provides a bit more longevity. Laminated wood wheels typically aren’t the best in terms of grip, but they add a lot of aesthetic appeal. Plastic vinyl provides the least amount of grip and is typically found on cheaper steering wheel options.
Best Steering Wheel – Size
Most aftermarket steering wheels are offered in diameters ranging from 300-400mm. There are benefits to both a smaller and larger steering wheel. Smaller wheels tend to be better for the track, as they don’t take up as much space in the cabin and allow a driver to make faster and more direct steering inputs. With that being said, they also make everyday driving a bit more challenging due to the additional steering input required.
Larger steering wheels are better suited for street driving, as you don’t have to turn the wheel as much to get the desired steering angle. They are, however, more cumbersome in the cabin and can take up too much space for larger drivers.
Grip thickness is another size-related factor that varies a ton based on personal preference. There isn’t necessarily a right answer here from a performance perspective. Some people prefer a steering wheel with a hefty grip, while some drivers like a thin grip. Go for the wheel that allows you to hold onto it most comfortably.
Best Steering Wheel – Shape
As with size, steering wheels come in many different shapes as well. While most cars come from the factory with round wheels, there are some benefits to different-shaped steering wheels. Classic Formula 1 cars, for example, generally used an open-top wheel with a flat bottom. Open-top wheels are meant to help with gauge visibility on track and can be used for a similar purpose on a dedicated track car.
Flat bottom wheels aid in a driver’s ability to get in and out of a car. This is especially helpful for larger and taller drivers, as flat bottom wheels clear up a bit more leg room as opposed to a rounded option. Square or rectangular wheels typically adopt that same philosophy. However, squared wheels can make maneuvering in tight spaces quite difficult and generally aren’t the best option for a street car.
Wheel depth is another aspect of aftermarket steering wheels that you’ll have to consider. Some steering wheels have a concave design, meaning that the grip section extends beyond the steering wheel’s face. Other wheels have a flat face, meaning that the spokes and grip of the wheel are flush. Deciding between the two is once again personal preference. Some people prefer a wheel where the grip extends so that the spokes don’t interfere with hand movement. Other people prefer a flat-faced wheel as they don’t extend as far back into your seating position and save a bit of room to get in and out.
Aftermarket Steering Wheel Quick Release
A common theme with steering wheels is choosing one that fits inside your vehicle’s cabin comfortably without it encumbering your ability to get in and out. If you have a smaller chassis and are a larger or taller person, clearance can be an issue regardless of your choice. If that is the case, there are still a few options that can make getting in and out easier.
One of the most popular options for track-oriented builds is a quick-release steering wheel adapter/hub. A quick-release is a hub that bolts up to the rear of your steering wheel that allows you to remove it at the press of a button or turn of a collar. The benefit is exactly what we were discussing above. It allows you to remove your steering wheel easily while getting out of your vehicle and put it back on easily once you sit down.
Quick-release hubs are relatively inexpensive and can really help those that need to clear a bit of room. If you are considering a quick release, it is important to make sure that its bolt pattern corresponds to the bolt pattern of your steering wheel.
Best Steering Wheel: Our Top Picks
By this point, it should be clear that there are a lot of options out there as far as aftermarket steering wheels are concerned. For that reason, it is hard to narrow them down into a short, all-inclusive list. With that being said, our picks include a little bit of everything with regard to build materials, shapes, and sizes. All of the wheels that we recommend are from manufacturers that have established themselves as trustworthy and dependable.
1) OMP Velocita Steering Wheel
Grip Material: Black Suede
Grip Thickness: 30x25mm
Bolt Fitment: 6 x 70mm
Purchase Here: Competitionmotorsports.com
Up first is a round, flat-faced steering wheel that comes with some pedigree. OMP is one of the most established names in the world of motorsport, providing quality Italian racing parts since 1973. OMP parts have been used in Formula 1, World Rallycross, Formula E, and even NASCAR. That should be all that you need to know to get a feel for OMP’s quality control.
The OMP Velocita splits the difference perfectly in terms of its diameter. At 350mm, it gives the steering responsiveness of a smaller wheel without sacrificing too much visibility or legroom. The black suede grip is perfect for a driver looking for a very sticky wheel that will remain in your hands through demanding turns. While the Velocita will unquestionably hold its grip for quite a while, suede tends to fade after continual use, especially when exposed to the sun for long durations.
The Velocita’s 30x25mm grip thickness is on the narrower side, which is generally better for performance driving with racing gloves. The OMP shares a bolt pattern with quite a few other performance wheel manufacturers including Sparco, Momo, and Sabelt. That means that if you already have a hub or adapter that works with those wheels, you won’t need a new one.
2) Nardi Classic Deep Corn Wood Steering Wheel
Grip Material: Mahogany Wood
Grip Thickness: N/A Thinner-Style
Bolt Fitment: 6 x 74 mm
Purchase Here: jhpusa.com
Like OMP, Nardi is a steering wheel manufacturer that is rich in history. The company’s founder, Enrico Nardi, was the first Ferrari test driver and engineer in the late 1930s. He built up such a rapport and reputation for producing quality products that Ferrari began using Nardi steering wheels in their own road and racecars. That lineage continues to this day, as Nardi is known as one of the most premium steering wheel manufacturers in the world.
That certainly shines through with their wood grain wheels. While the Nardi catalog is massive, including both race and aesthetic-focused options, their wood grain wheels truly stand out. A Nardi wood gain can be used in a competitive setting, but the reason that we chose it is because it is utterly gorgeous. If you are looking for a wheel that will round out your interior and make it pop, look no further.
At 360mm, this particular Nardi wood grain is quite large in comparison to some of the other choices on this list. For that reason, larger drivers might struggle with it in a smaller chassis. The grip thickness is not specified by Nardi, but it is generally concluded that it is on the thinner side. The high-gloss mahogany grip isn’t the most sticky, so it might not be the best for high-intensity applications. With that being said, you’ll almost certainly get compliments any time you show up to a car meet or function.
3) Sparco L360 Leather/Suede Steering Wheel
Grip Material: Leather / Suede
Grip Thickness: Medium Grip Thickness
Bolt Fitment: 6 x 70 mm
Purchase Here: sparcousa.com
Wow, there really are a lot of reputable steering wheel manufacturers out there, huh? Well, Sparco is no exception. Sparco is yet another Italian racing parts manufacturer that has been in the business of producing high-quality parts for nearly a half-century. They are known for their seats, harnesses, racewear, helmets, and, you guessed it, steering wheels.
The L360 is a street-car-focused steering wheel that is certainly right at home on the track as well. The L360 features a flat-faced, 3-spoke design that truly gives a high-performance feel. The L360 also features a flat bottom, which, as we discussed earlier, makes getting in and out of your car easier. At 330mm in diameter, the L360 is a smaller wheel that is more geared toward racing applications.
The L360 is available with either a leather or suede grip. If maximum grip is your aim, go for the suede. Just keep in mind that it won’t be the most durable. Otherwise, if good grip and better longevity are the aims, go for the leather grip. In terms of grip thickness, the Sparco splits the difference between the thinner grip that you’ll find with a Nardi wheel and a thicker, OEM type of grip. Either way, it should feel comfortable in your hands.
4) Vertex “King” 330mm Steering Wheel
Grip Material: Stitched Leather
Grip Thickness: Medium Grip Thickness
Bolt Fitment: 6×70 mm
Purchase Here: vertex-usa.com
In terms of overall style and appeal, Vertex exists in a very unique niche of its own. To understand Vertex’s appeal, you have to look at their history. Vertex was founded in 1996 by Takahiro Ueno, a professional drifter, and businessman. He expanded into the Japanese performance aftermarket community and has been creating body kits and steering wheels that are “simple, yet aggressive,” ever since.
The Vertex “King” 330mm steering wheel is a deeply concave wheel with a concave distance of 90mm. That means that the wheel’s grip extends 90mm beyond the wheel’s face. It features three aluminum spokes and a custom Vertex horn button. Vertex is a very popular brand in the drifting community, as concave wheels are perfect for it. Since the grip protrudes away from the face, the spokes don’t get in the way as the wheel spins freely while linking a track. The medium grip thickness is perfect for grabbing mid-corner.
Beyond the practical benefit for the drifting community, all of Vertex’s wheels are stunning to look at. While the black edition of the “King” wheel has hard-to-see black stitching, some of the other models have vibrant stitched lettering and symbology that makes them a real treat on the eyes. If you are looking for a finishing touch for your JDM build, Vertex has you.
5) NRG Innovations 350mm 3” Deep Dish
Grip Material: Suede
Grip Thickness: Thick Grip
Bolt Fitment: 6×70 mm
Purchase Here: getnrg.com
NRG is a relatively new manufacturer on the scene, producing steering wheels and related items since 2003. While they might not have the pedigree of the other names on this list, they have been making a name for themselves since they started. NRG is one of the most budget-friendly manufacturers out there. Despite having comparatively lower prices than OMP, Nardi, or Sparco, they are still solid wheels.
The NRG Innovations 350mm Deep Dish is another concave steering wheel that features three spokes with a split-spoke design. Like the Vertex, the NRG is best suited for drift applications due to the extended grip. With that being said, it would make a good addition to any streetcar that could use a more precise steering feel. Unlike the other wheels on this list, the NRG features a distinctly thick grip which is good for drivers that have large hands or who prefer to have more to grab onto.
Since NRG Innovation wheels use a 6x70mm bolt pattern, they are compatible with quite a few steering wheel components made for other brands. Some other brands that use a 6x70mm bolt pattern include OMP, Sparco, and MOMO.
Best Steering Wheel Guide Summary
Steering wheels are one of those modifications that can really start or finish off, a nice build. Aesthetically, a nice aftermarket steering wheel can be the centerpiece of your interior. Beyond appearances, a quality wheel can enhance your vehicle’s steering feel substantially and give you some more hand grip on the track.
Steering wheels come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. More traditional round wheels are best for street cars that require a good amount of maneuvering through city streets. Square or flat-bottom wheels can clear up some legroom for taller drivers. Wheel diameter matters a lot too. Smaller diameter wheels tend to give more direct steering feel while also requiring more effort for more steering angle. Larger wheels require less work to achieve more angle but aren’t as direct and responsive.
If you are looking for the grippiest wheel possible, pick one with a suede or alcantara grip. That is if you are okay with a somewhat shorter lifespan as suede tends to degrade quickly. Otherwise, a leather grip wheel is a good compromise between grip and longevity. Other materials like wood are nice and solid, but likely won’t provide the grip needed for more intensive applications.
As a final note, it is important to remember that most aftermarket wheels will require a specialized hub that allows them to fit on your vehicle. Be sure to know your chosen wheel’s bolt pattern and purchase a corresponding hub. Some hubs are interchangeable between brands, meaning that if the bolt pattern remains the same, the hub will likely work.