Fanatec is a brand dear to the heart of the many dedicated fans of the Forza Motorsport franchise as their Porsche 911 wheels (the discontinued Turbo S model first and then the GT2) have been for a long time the only high-end wheels compatible with the Xbox 360, providing a level of precision and response on Microsoft’s console that no other racing peripheral managed to rival and that simply blew out of the water the official Microsoft wireless wheel.
That’s why it was rather natural for Fanatec to get the license to produce the official wheel for Forza Motorsport 4 alongside its accessories, giving birth to the CSR Wheel, the CSR Elite pedals and the CSR shifters. An Elite version of the wheel and a standard version of the pedals are in production but aren’t yet available for purchase.
Let’s get a misconception out of the way immediately. While the CSR is the official Forza Motorsport 4 wheel, its compatibility isn’t limited to the Xbox 360. You can use it with the same results and features on on the PC and the PS3. This makes it, alongside with its older Fanatec sister Porsche 911 GT2, the only wheel available on the market to cover all platforms (Yes, it doesn’t support the Wii, but if you race on the Wii… well… let’s just drop it). This is, in itself, a massive advantage this wheel has over all competing ones, as having to own different peripherals for different platforms is definitely inconvenient, especially since the whole equipment tends to be rather bulky and pricey, if you’re looking for quality.
The only noticeable difference in using the wheel with different platforms is that it connects in wireless mode only with the Xbox 360, while interfacing with PC and PS3 is done via an USB cord.
Thanks to the multiplatform nature of the wheel I was able to test it on Forza Motorsport 4, Gran Turismo 5, F1 2011 (on PC) and iRacing, creating a nice and varied test benchmark of simulators and semi-simulators to see how the wheel performed in every possible condition and with every possible kind of car. If you read my F1 2011 review, you probably already know that I was very pleased by how the CSR performed with it, but today I’m going to go much deeper in the capabilities and features of the set.
The first thing that you will notice when unboxing the wheel are its looks. The CSR is big and imposing, with its machined aluminium center plate and the racey design of the rim. The rim itself is made mostly of hard plastic, with the 3 and 9 points wrapped in rubber and Alcantara, and the flat six point covered in rubber only. Together with the metal plate and the six big screws that hold it in place, this use of four different materials in a carefully designed pattern gives the wheel an essential but composite and aggressive look that really resembles that of a real racing wheel.
While the elegant design of the Porsche 911 GT2 wheel seems to be made for a posh Sunday driver and his posh car with its posh engine built in the wrong place, the looks of the CSR cater to racers (even if virtual) with speed in their blood, that love to hurl their cars plastered with numbers and sponsors down the Flugplatz of the Nürburgring at 170 miles per hour.
The body behind the wheel is equally aggressive, and while it shares the same bodywork of the 911 GT2, the red grills that cover the air vents give it a more striking style that follows the colors of the Forza franchise.
The design of the pedals follows the same phylosophy, aggressive and racey, with all the relevant parts made with sturdy metal and the machined aluminium pedal pads that definitely resemble those that you’d see on a 500 hp tuner car. Only the shifters leave me a little cold, as their design is really simple, while this is more of a matter of taste, as some may enjoy the essential and solid nature of their build.
While I take a small issue with the glossy finish of the plastic parts, that as all glossy surfaces is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, as a whole the CSR set is an absolutely beautiful piece of machinery. I used to tuck away my previous wheels when I had guests, but now I have absolutely no problem proudly displaying the CSR in front of my TV when someone comes to see me, whether he’s a gamer or not.
The wheel isn’t only beautiful to look at, but it also feels great to the touch. The mix of alcantara and rubber allows for a solid, smooth grip, and all the primary controls are easily reachable with small movements. This is the first time I try a wheel that doesn’t leave me with pain in my palms and thumbs after several hours of virtual driving. The naked metal parts are a little cold, but personally I love how they feel, and how the aluminium gives a jolt to my nerves every time I reach out for the shifter.
The same can be said about the pedals, that are solid but sensitive enough to be effective while wearing shoes (which is quite rare for console-dedicated pedals), even if using them barefoot or just wearing socks will allow for a much better feel and precision.
The impact of the wheel on your ears is rather subtle, as the belt powered force feedback is much more silent than the gear based vibration you’ll find in lower-end wheels, allowing you to drive at night without waking up the whole flat. Even while playing with the most violent force feedback there won’t be the usual hellish cacophony produced by grinding gears, but just the soft noise of the two cooling fans built into the body of the CSR.
I did notice a small flaw, though: the force feedback motor produces, for some unfathomable reason, an higher pitched noise when the wheel is connected to the Xbox 360, while the same noise is completely absent when operating in PC or PS3 mode. It’s still less noisy than the average 360, mind you, especially if you have an older model, but it can be slightly annoying. Luckily Fanatec announced that they already identified and solved the problem, and a firmware update will remove it soon.
So far I analyzed the CSR Wheel as a quite great piece of furniture, but of course there’s much more beyond that. Its true potential is revealed only when you take it for a spin on your favorite virtual track.
The precision of control is absolutely amazing, there are no deadzones (unless you set them yourself, of course) or wobbling of any kind. The wheel feels solid as a rock but smooth at the same time, allowing you to almost hand-lead even the most unruly cars into the most challenging corners without the slightest hitch. Of course this doesn’t mean you won’t need to know what you’re doing, but if you do, this wheel will turn your car into clay you’ll be able to mold to full satisfaction, even thanks to the 900 degrees turning range that improves precision of control a lot over the lower-quality 270 degrees wheels.
This is crucial not only when you’re doing things right, but even when you screw up. When your tires lose grip and you risk to be sent into a disastrous spin, the CSR makes it easy to detect the danger and to react quickly and precisely to correct it before it’s too late. I don’t think I ever tried a single wheel that allowed me to recover from my errors as easily and seamlessly as this one. If you tend to be a little heavy on the gas pedal, which makes spins more frequent, the CSR will allow you to put a patch on it while you learn to be more subtle with your footwork, even with the most powerful cars.