Forza Motorsport CSR and CSR Elite wheel and pedals hands-on

If you're a console racer and you own an Xbox 360 then you know Forza Motorsport is among the best, but you also know that your selection of compatible controllers has left a bit to be desired. At this year's E3, which saw Microsoft peeling the protective tape from the bumpers and fenders of Forza Motorsport 4, there was actually an abundance of compatible wheels on display, but it's clear which were the most serious: two new wheels from Fanatec. They're called the CSR and CSR Elite, and there's a new set of pedals to match. Click on through for our detailed impressions.

First up is the CSR, the lesser of the two and built on a design similar to the Porsche GT2 wheel we reviewed earlier this year. But they're far from the same, with new electronics inside and a new design for the wheel itself outside. It's much more racy, rather less Porsche, with a new thumbstick D-pad on the left, four face buttons on the right, and a further four buttons up top, flanking a small LCD. On the back are two big flappy paddles with long throws and clicky detents. Finally, an optional shifter pops on the side using a pair of rails, just like the GT2, and you can source a proper handbrake as well.

Those who take their racing a little more seriously will want to step up to the CSR Elite, which is a fully new design featuring a metal case and CNC-machined internals -- internals that are exposed through a transparent window on the top. It's kind of like gazing through the engine cover on a Ferrari 458 Italia, except instead of eight cylinders here you see the belt-driven force feedback. The wheel uses an optical sensor with a disc on the wheel's axis, separated from the feedback mechanism and, in theory, eliminating that hugely annoying shudder you can get when going down the straights on other wheels.

Unfortunately we didn't get to experience this wheel's feedback effects, but our brief hands-on time definitely left us feeling confident of its build quality and precision. We felt similarly good about the new CSR pedals, which take a lot of design cues from the Clubsport pedals, but will be offered with a lower price. Like the Clubsports, there's still an adjustable load cell for the brake, but accelerator and clutch have moved to simpler potentiometers. The design is a bit simpler too, but for those who want to get the GT-style, top-mounted pedal feel, Fanatec will offer a kit that will let you flip any pedal you like (and only those pedals you like) upside down -- ala the Thrustmaster T500 RS, but more gracefully.

And, hopefully, less expensively. Both wheels and the pedals are said to be shipping sometime before the year is through, but at this point no price has been established. The systems will all be modular, meaning you can package any wheel, pedals, shifter, and handbrake combination that your budget will allow. Still, you'll probably be looking at around $300 and up for these setups, and if that's too rich for your blood Microsoft also has lesser-expensive options coming from Mad Catz and its own goofy-looking, U-shaped Speed Wheel, which will set you back $59.99.