Fanatec CSR racing combo for Xbox 360 (hands- and feet-on)
We upgrade our virtual car tech with Fanatec's new top-tier steering wheel, pedal, and shifter peripherals for the Xbox 360 console.
I've previously confessed to being a fan of Fanatec's series of racing wheels, I even use its original Porsche 911 Turbo styled wheel, pedal, and shifter combo as my daily digital driver when piloting the virtual cars 'round the tracks of my racing sim du jour.
But my now-discontinued Fanatec kit sits at the bottom of manufacturer's line of racing peripherals and leaves much to be desired.The plasticy buttons on the wheel's face feel cheap with vague tactile feedback; the pedals, while accurate throughout their travel, are too light and mushy for furious racing; and the H-pattern shifter's poorly defined gates have cost me more races than I can count. Most of these issues have been addressed with subsequent versions of Fanatec's Porsche wheels and at the core of this kit is a fantastically accurate 900-degree racing wheel with strong force feedback, great sensitivity, and the ability to be customized on-the-fly to the user's needs. I always wondered, what would happen if you took that awesome core steering wheel hardware and upgraded the components and build materials?
This is the point in our story where the Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR wheel and shifter kit and CSR Elite pedal set landed at my desk. These components aim to address each of the issues that I have with my current setup.
Forza Motorsport CSR wheel
The Forza Motorsport CSR wheel sits at the center of Fanatec's CSR system and, as racing wheels go, is quite nice. Forgoing the Porsche styling of the rest of Fanatec's line, this wheel sports a universal aesthetic that more barebones racer than German luxury. The Forza logo sits front and center on the wheel, indicating that this product was designed with the Turn 10'sin mind, but this universal wheel should work just as well with other games, personal computers, and the Playstation 3 console.
The wheel itself features a bushed aluminum face littered with buttons. The D-pad falls nicely under the user's thumb while the ABXY bank of buttons falls under the right giving the driver easy access to both without removing hands from the wheel. There are also four red buttons near the top of the wheels face, two that correspond to the Xbox 360's shoulder buttons and two more that come into play when paired with a PC or PS3.
Top and center on the wheel's face is a matrix LED display that allows users to adjust a number of parameters relevant to the wheel's sensitivity. Here user can adjust degrees of sensitivity (90-degrees to 900-degrees), force feedback strength, and vibration strength. There's also a drift mode that allows for faster turning with five levels of adjustability and settings for adjusting linearity, dead spot, spring back, and dampening. Once you've got everything set up the way you like it for one game, there are four more preset slots for making adjustments for other games or for different users in multi-user households.
The wheel's rim is made of a sturdy plastic with a thick grip circumference. A flat bottom gives the wheel a racy look and Alcantara inserts at the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions boost grip as you saw away at the wheel. I'd have liked to see a full Alcantara wrap (or at least a soft vinyl) at this price point, but the glossy plastic wheel doesn't feel too cheap.
Just behind the wheel are a pair of aluminum paddle shifters for quick gear changes should you decide to forgo the separate shifter kit. Wider and taller than the shift buttons on the back of my old Porsche wheel, these paddles are easier to reach and offer much more positive engagement, sounding off each shift with a crisp click. Additionally, the metal construction means that you can smack them without fear of breaking one off.
Behind the wheel is the unit's chassis which houses the force feedback motor, input sensors, connections for accessories and power, and a fan to keep it all cool. The force feedback motor is remarkably strong and, at it's strongest setting, will likely yank the wheel out of your hand on your first virtual outing. After wrestling the spinning wheel under control, I was pleased with the accuracy and responsiveness that the CSR wheel afforded around the digital racetrack.
I did note that the force feedback motor and fan can be rather noisy in their operation. Factor in the clicking of the shifter and you'll be generating quite a bit of sound. Fortunately, this is easily overcome by simply cranking the volume on your gaming rig.
Like the rest of Fanatec's wheels and any other Xbox controller, the CSR connects to the Xbox 360 wirelessly by pressing the Xbox logo button located on the unit's base. Users who want to use the wheel with a PC or Mac can connect via USB, which is also how it connects to the Playstation 3 console.
CSR shifter kit
I stated earlier that my least favorite bit of my current Fanatec set is the H-pattern shifter. The CSR shifter is a marked improvement, but not dramatically so. The CSR shifter kit actually consists of two shifters that the user can choose from: an H-pattern and a sequential-type shifter.
The H-pattern shifter features positions for six gears and reverse. Right out of the box, I noticed that the shift knob itself is larger and is made of metal rather than plastic. At the top of the shifter is a recessed shift pattern detailing the various available gear positions, which is a nice touch. Gear changes are announced with a loud click. Perhaps its the better materials used in the construction, but the CSR shifter's "chunk" sounds less annoying than the "crack" sound made by my older Porsche shifter.
The shifter attaches to the Fanatec CSR or any of the Porsche wheels on a pair of rails that are pushed through the wheel's base. Users can mount the shifter on either side of the wheel to simulate left- and right-hand drive configurations. It doesn't seem like the two hollow rails should be as sturdy as they are, but I was never in fear of breaking anything as I rowed through the gears with a reasonable amount of effort. Pushing too hard could cause the mounting assembly to twist up to a half-inch fore and aft.
The shifters gates are slightly more clearly defined than my old Porsche Turbo shifter, but are really still too vague for my tastes. Quick downshifts from third to second gear in preparation for a turn became exercises in patience as the lever would stick on the edge of its gate, landing squarely in neutral. I suspect that at least part of the shifter's inaccuracy is the fact that the whole base moves about quite a bit during fevered racing. Whatever the case, the shifter has always been my least favorite part of Fanatec's system and that doesn't change with the CSR.
The sequential shifter also features a metal knob and feels great in the hand. It lacks the shift graphic of the H-pattern shifter. Then again, it only moves forward for downshifts and backward for upshifts, so one isn't really necessary. However, beyond the better materials, the it also doesn't dramatically improve over the sequential shifter included with the Porsche kit, which wasn't bad to begin with.
Personally, I think the inclusion of the sequential shifter in the either of these kits is nice, but if I'm not using the H-pattern lever then I'm probably defaulting to the wheel's own paddle shifters, so I'd like the option of skipping the sequential bit for a few bucks of savings.
CSR Elite pedal set
The CSR Elite pedal set is easily the most improved player on this team. Where my old pedals featured a light, plastic base that had a bad habit of sliding all over the place when heel and toe shifting or simply braking. The CSR Elite set is, firstly, quite heavy and features ten 3/4-inch rubber feet. I was able to press into the brake pedal with my full strength and barely budge the pedals. More often, my seat slid before the pedal set did.
The CSR Elite's three pedals are constructed completely out of aluminum with drilled surfaces for the clutch and brake pedals for increased grip. Even the heel plate is made of bushed aluminum. It's almost too pretty to put your feet onto. Each of the pedals is horizontally and vertically adjustable by unscrewing and relocating the pivot points. User can even adjust the lateral position of each pedal within the base for closer spacing. The clutch and gas pedals feature customizable preload on their springs while the stiff brake pedal features an adjustable load cell that can be tweaked for different levels of pressure sensitivity.
Users can even upgrade the pedals further with an inversion kit ($49.95) that allows the pedals to be individually flipped to place the hinge point above the pedal like it is in most cars. The base features mounting screw points (and a downloadable drilling template) for users who want to permanently mount the set. Advanced users can even remove the pedals and their tracks from the base to install on a custom built cockpit or stand.
Even in their default position, the pedals feel fantastic underfoot. It felt great to be able to cut loose and really pound on the pedals and not have to worry about kicking the set away or, worse, breaking the plastic components of a cheaper pedal set. However $149.95 for the CSR Elite pedals is pretty steep. Users who want to save a few bucks can step down to the "non-elite" CSR pedals ($79.95), which make use of more plastic and lose a bit of adjustability, but maintain the heavy base and inversion kit compatibility.
At $249 for the CSR wheel, $59 for the CSR shifter set, and $149 for the CSR Elite pedals, we're talking about $460 worth of equipment here before tax and shipping is even factored in. However, I think that the well constructed components of the CSR and CSR Elite series are worth every penny. If there's an exception to this rule, it's the CSR H-pattern shifter, which really is the weakest link in this otherwise fantastic kit.
Owners of previous generation Fanatec wheel sets looking to upgrade their current setup, should definitely find a way to get their feet onto the CSR Elite pedal set, which--as I stated earlier--is the most improved component in the series.
For a limited time, Fanatec is selling the CSR Wheel and the CSR pedal set (non-Elite) in a value pack bundle for $299.95, which represents a $30 savings versus buying the components separately. As using the wheel sans pedals can be pretty awkward, I think this is definitely worth a look.