Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition review: The perfect Flight Simulator pairing

Thrustmaster remixes its joystick with an Airbus A320-inspired design, primed for Microsoft's latest release, and is among the best simulation peripherals you can buy in the category.

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition
(Image: © Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Thrustmaster comes with an established legacy in virtual aviation accessories, with years of iteration reflected on its entry-level and top-tier simulation gear. It's little surprise they're the go-to for hands-on throttle-and-stick solutions, with proven designs and technologies to back. That all translates to its Thrustmaster Civil Aviation (TCA) series, introducing an Airbus product range in collaboration with the aeronautical giant.

The signature Airbus sidestick is the first on store shelves, providing a feature-packed setup that's already in high demand. It revises a staple with a new appearance and added functionality, catering to aviation nuts and newcomers, at a respectable price.

What I liked about the Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Sidestick

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition Base

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

This airliner-inspired kit is well-timed, given the return of Microsoft Flight Simulator, rocking the genre with an innovative yet accessible entry. Satellite data and artificial intelligence fuse for an attractive premise, with skyrocketing hardware sales, even making the new TCA sidestick hard to find in late 2020. The partnership brings some unique considerations for airliners, working well with Microsoft's latest release, while still retaining the versatility of its best-selling sticks.

The TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition's lineage traces back to the T.16000, one of the best PC joysticks, boasting an extensive list of features at an affordable price. Thrustmaster remixed the design with inspiration from the real-world Airbus A320 sidestick, changing its capabilities and aesthetics, in line with the civil aviation theme.

A sidestick covers all your fundamentals, bundling dozens of buttons and inputs fit for even the most complex airliners, while also robust to handle. That's chiefly down the firm's much-touted HEART magnetic sensor technology, used up to the top-end sticks like the HOTAS Warthog. The 16-bit tracking results in consistently accurate stick inputs, with only minimal dead zones helping convey smaller attitude adjustments. The chosen internals also aid long-term durability, according to Thrustmaster, even if hard to test on this specific model.

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition Trigger

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Thrustmaster crammed 17 assignable buttons across the joystick and base, coupled with a single eight-way hat switch admire the vistas. But the best comes with the TCA sidestick's tweaks, introducing additional value through its Airbus influences.

The A320 styling makes this entirely ambidextrous, with both left-handed and right-handed configurations, thanks to its modular head. You can swap out the buttons across four included modules, with the capability to mirror the default configuration, as you'd find in an A320 cockpit. And with shared cockpit multiplayer on the roadmap for Flight Simulator 2020, the possibility of a cooperative partner further sweetens this concept. The process to change modules is a little finicky, requiring a crosshead screwdriver, even if, in reality, this won't be changed often.

Thrustmaster also brings a thrust reverser mechanism with this revision, bolstered beyond the usual throttle slider. This integrated control covers your basics, with reverse thrust catering toward its airliner-inspired focus. It makes the stick more capable if used standalone, although we're hoping the upcoming TCA throttle quadrant completes the experience.

There's a sleek new paint job too, ditching the space-age design and vibrant accents for a more muted color palette. The all-black stick and pastel blue base make for smarter styling, which while down to personal preference, I dig the design shift.

It leaves the Thrustmaster TCA sidestick as a highly-recommended joystick, enhancing a robust, proven design with added airliner features. It makes a versatile stick even better suited for the new Microsoft Flight Simulator, where most of my testing took place, alongside other HOTAS-friendly titles. The collaboration results in a sleek accessory, either ideal as a mid-range component in a setup, or for newcomers choosing their first purchase, with added style.

What I disliked about the Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Sidestick

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition Buttons

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Thrustmaster rarely disappoints with flight gear in this range, and its work with Airbus brings more to the table. But for those in the market for new accessories, it's worth raising the finer details to consider.

Our review partially falters with the exclusion of the accompanying throttle quadrant, designed in a two-piece set. It drops later in September 2020, designed to provide further control over engines and an optional add-on pack for additional levers. This will be sold both as a standalone upgrade or the complete "Officer Pack" bundle alongside the sidestick. While the quadrant isn't essential, the stick's integrated throttle slider is a little flimsy, lacking granular control. The standalone sidestick works best in entry-level usage, but enthusiasts should look at the duo, for the full experience.

And while more than acceptable, the build quality falls in line with expectations for the cost of the device. The mostly plastic construction is robust and reliable, and while also rich in functionality, it lacks a premium in-hand feel. It means our best HOTAS joystick and throttle, the Thrustmaster Warthog, could be for you, if demanding the metal components or higher precision.

Should you buy the Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Sidestick?

While the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition isn't a sizeable departure from past joysticks, it reworks the proven foundations of the T.16000M series, coupled with considerations for simulators. The collaboration resulted in a versatile stick for all types of flight, notably improving the experience when eyeing an authentic, full-fledged airliner experience. The A320 influence delivers a striking replica of the real-world counterpart, proving yet another mid-range contender.

The TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition is out now, but the main challenge is finding it. Microsoft Flight Simulator's arrival has seen hardware sales spike, leaving it hard to find almost anything suited for the job. That impacts the new TCA line, with this sidestick near-impossible to find, especially at that $70 retail price. While the standalone stick is a tricky buy, some still stock the Officer Pack, bundling the throttle quadrant at $160.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.