To play a hardcore PC driving sim like iRacing or rFactor with a control pad or — even more disgustingly — a keyboard, is like taking a Ferrari for a test drive in a speed-limited school zone; a disgusting waste of a potentially amazing experience. To truly immerse yourself in the delights of these professional-level sims requires a steering wheel and pedals, and Fanatec has established itself as one of the premium brands in the business. They’ve turned their Germaneering experience to a sexy new product in the CSR Wheel and CSR Elite pedals, and as an owner of their earlier wheels I just had to take this package for a test drive.
The Wheel Deal
The key new feature of this wheel is its support for Xbox 360, evident by the prominent Forza 4 branding plastered all over it. This makes it a very rare creature indeed, being the only wheel on the market that is on friendly terms with the PS3, 360 and PC. It uses a wireless connection to communicate to the 360, while a USB cable is used for PC and PS3 use. This focus on 360 compatibility has seen the face of the wheel change dramatically from the earlier 911 GT3 RS wheel I own, and from which the CSR has evolved. The buttons are now clearly labeled to represent the 360 controller’s buttons, while an analogue stick makes its debut. This is fantastic for Forza players, but if you want to use the CSR on your PC there’s one major problem with the button renovation — they’re now much, much harder to reach while driving.
You’ll need extra-long thumbs to reach the buttons and you’ll probably resort to taking your hand off the wheel to activate them. This strange decision is the one major flaw in an otherwise excellent design, so you’ll need to ask yourself how often you need to use your buttons if you’re thinking of upgrading. Thankfully the new shifter paddles alleviate these issues somewhat — they’re big and clicky, much better than previous Fanatec paddles.
The second major change is a total redesign of the wheel’s ergonomics. Where the earlier 911 wheels looked more at home in a gentleman’s Mercedes Benz, the CRS has been raised on pit lane, force fed a diet of pure adrenaline and kerosene. It looks much more like a real racing car’s wheel, and is comprised primarily of plastic and aluminum. Unlike the GT3 it’s got just a couple of patches of leather at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, so I had to adjust my 10 and 2 positioning to better fit the wheel. Not only does it look better, the new lightweight construction has a major impact on the way the wheel feels. The CSR might be packing the same Mabuchi RS 550 Motor for force feedback effects, but it feels very different. I strapped it into my beautiful Obutto racing frame for a spot of iRacing, and was immediately impressed by how alive if felt in comparison to the already excellent 911 GT3 RS. When the wheel starts kicking like a bucking bronco as you start to snap into oversteer, it feels much more powerful; the engine has less weight in the wheel to drive, so more of the oomph gets transmitted to the driver. The wheel also rotates more easily, making corrections through the full 900 degree of range snappier and more responsive. This reason alone has made me swap out the CSR as my full time weapon of choice.
Pedal to the Metal
Debuting with the CSR is a new set of pedals from Fanatec, the CSR Elite Pedals. Like the ClubSport Pedals that Fanatec is famous for, this cheaper version uses the famous load cell technology for the brake. This means that the brake pedal works based on the amount of foot pressure, like a real car, as opposed to the moving brake position used in Logitech and Thrustmaster products. Unlike the CSP’s, the load cell adjusting dial now has markings, making it easy to see what level you’ve tuned them to.
$50 cheaper than the CSPs, at $149.95, the CSR Elite pedals have cut costs by swapping out the all-metal construction of the CSPs with a hybrid aluminum/plastic design. Given the immense pressure pedals go through in the heat of battle I’m a little concerned about how the plastic will hold up over time. The gas pedal is also extremely light, needing a featherweight touch to activate. They’ve got one major strength though — the ability to be configured in a more realistic hanging configuration, which the CSPs can’t do without some major modding. Still, the light gas pedal and plastic construction leaves me still more than happy with my CSP purchase.
The H-shifter and sequential shifter have also seen some love, now using a metallic construction that feels much more sturdy and is reassuringly cool to the touch. Despite the tougher build quality, the sensation of swapping gears still feels a little bit soft, a problem it has in common with its ancestor. Finding first gear can sometimes be a little tricky, but it’s still a decent shifter kit for the price.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
If you’re not a serious racer, the price of this kit is sure to send your wallet into cardiac arrest; $249.95 for the wheel, $149.95 for the pedals and $59.95 for the shifters. That’s a total cost of $460, so you’d better be damn certain that you’re going to get your money’s worth. However, if you’re a serious racer who likes to share their driving time between all three platforms, there’s no other alternative. Dedicated 360 racers won’t find anything that comes close to the performance or feature set of this kit, but what about those who only want a kit for PC racing?
Well, if you can live with the uncomfortable button placement and lack of leather the CSR is the new king of Fanatec’s slightly affordable range (we haven’t tested the insanely expensive CSR Elite… yet). The extra crisp response puts it a step ahead of the 911 GT3 range, and the force feedback is on an entirely different level to nearly every other wheel on the market, so we happily give the CSR the nod to racing aficionados. Just please don’t waste it on the arcade delights of something in the Need for Speed range, or we’ll hunt you down and steal the wheel for underprivileged sim racers. Unfortunately the CSR Elite pedals aren’t quite up to the same standards; the ability to go for a hanging configuration is cool, but the plastic construction is of real concern.