Shifters are sometimes forgotten in the sim racing hardware market today. Unlike the Logitech G25 and G27, which dominated the landscape in years’ past, few wheel sets include an independent shifter accessory nowadays, relying on paddles instead.
Paddle shifters are great, of course – they’re generally considered to be faster and easier use – but when it comes to creating that sense of immersion and fun you feel when driving an actual car, a stick shift is an absolutely essential piece of hardware for any serious sim racing rig. Unfortunately, there are few standalone shifters being sold today; fortunately, the ones that are available are very, very good, and Thrustmaster’s TH8A is one of the most versatile and widely supported shifters on the market.
I received my TH8A as part of a larger package from Thrustmaster, when they asked me if I’d like to review the Thrustmaster T300RS wheel (they’ve also purchased banner advertising on GTPlanet in the past). The T300RS doesn’t include a shifter out of the box, so the TH8A is the only option from the Thrustmaster brand – it’s also the only shifter compatible with the PlayStation 4.
Fortunately, the TH8A lives up to the price tag in terms of build quality. It’s a sharp looking piece of equipment that looks like it could have been pulled straight from a Lamborghini Gallardo or Audi R8, with bright silver gates and a sturdy stick and shift knob. The interior parts are made entirely out of metal, and you can feel the weight and significance of the components inside; you won’t be embarrassed to show this off to your gear-head friends.
Despite the slick appearance, it hasn’t sacrificed practicality: by changing the shift plates, you can convert the TH8A from a gated to sequential configuration in just a few minutes. Each plate can be swapped by removing the screws and shift knob, then rotating the internal mechanism by 90 degrees and installing the new plate. The shifter detects when you’re using the sequential plate and automatically re-configures itself.
If you’re like me and enjoy driving virtual cars with whatever type of shifting configuration they use in real life, you’ll appreciate this functionality. Although it does take a few minutes to change thanks to the screws (it’s not as quick as the old Logitech G25 shifter), this versatility sets the TH8A apart from other shifters on the market.
Having said that, I find the gated shifter offers the most satisfying experience in terms of tactile feedback. There is a nice “clunk” when throwing the gears between the gates; it feels solid and steady. The feeling isn’t quite the same as you’ll feel in a real car, but it is adjustable: by turning a screw on the side of the shifter’s housing, you can add more resistance to the stick’s movement.
One frequent criticism leveled against the gated shifter is its relatively long throw (the distance between the resting place of the shifter in each gear position). As with the variation you find in every real-world gearbox, you do get used to it. There are some aftermarket plates by third-parties which provide a shorter throw, but it would be nice if Thrustmaster provided one in the box.
I was less satisfied by the movement of the stick in sequential mode; you typically want a nice “clickity-clack”, ratcheting sensation when shifting a sequential gearbox, but the TH8A feels more “springy” as you move the stick forwards and back. It is not necessarily bad, but if you are particularly demanding about the “feel” of sequential shifts, you might be disappointed.
For most users, though, the flexibility in the TH8A’s design will make up for this. You can, for example, rotate the shift stick housing by 360 degrees, in either sequential or gated configuration. This should prove especially useful for those of you with custom-built driving rigs who may need to mount the shifter at an unusual angle. It’s all made possible by Thrustmaster’s magnetic “H.E.A.R.T.” technology, which detects the shifter’s position without requiring any physical or mechanical switches that could break or wear out.
The TH8A can be attached to just about anything with a sturdy clamp that’s into position – there’s texturized rubber on the top and bottom so it won’t harm your furniture if you’re attaching this to a table. The clamping mechanism can also be rotated by a full 360 degrees.
I quickly mounted it onto the shifter attachment of my Obutto rig with the clamp and it has held steady so far, but there are two M6-sized bolt holes on the bottom of the shifter housing if you need more permanent placement.
Last but certainly not least: the TH8A features special firmware which can be reprogrammed using free PC software available from Thrustmaster’s website. This allows you to fully customize the threshold location for each gear or change its location altogether. The gated shift plate has eight different gates, all of which can be programmed to your liking. Your changes will be saved to the TH8A’s internal memory, and will be applied to any game on any platform you use it with, including consoles.
That’s important, because the TH8A is probably one of the most widely compatible sim racing hardware accessories on the market: it can be used with the PS3, PS4, Xbox One (when paired with a compatible Thrustmaster wheel), or the PC, thanks to a set of included DIN/USB adapter cables. Most of the time, you’ll want to plug the shifter directly into your PC or console via USB, so make sure you have an additional port open; check the manual for a complete overview of when it’s best to plug the shifter into the wheel unit with the DIN/DIN cable.
Ultimately, wide compatibility, a handsome appearance, advanced custom control configurations, durable construction, and gated/sequential versatility make the TH8A an excellent choice, despite a few shortcomings. For Gran Turismo players, it’s an especially practical option, with PS3 compatibility available for today and PS4 compatibility for tomorrow.
If you found this review helpful, you can purchase the TH8A on Amazon for $149.99 via this affiliate link. As always, leave any questions in the comments below, or stop by our Sim Racing Hardware forum for more in-depth discussions with other TH8A owners.