Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR wheel and Elite pedals review

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

It's amazing to realize that about two years ago Fanatec's first Xbox 360 racing wheel, the Forza 3 Porsche 911 Turbo Wheel, hit the scene. Although it turned out to be a mixed bag, Fanatec pleasantly surprised us with its Porsche GT2 and Clubsport Pedals in January of this year -- despite a roaring fan and shaky shifter mounts. Now, we're saying hello to a new trio of racing sim-related goods intended for Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox 360: the $249.95 Forza Motorsport CSR Wheel, $59.95 shifter set, and $149.95 CSR Elite Pedals.

If you'll recall, it was back in March that we checked some of this kit out, and now with Forza 4 here, we hooked this mashup of gear up with our Playseat Evolution for a massive amount of virtual spins. So, did this combination help speed past the checkerboard with a respectable feel? Shift past the break find out in our full review. %Gallery-140233%


Admittedly, you may find yourself procuring only a portion of the items featured here -- after all, Fanatec is stranger to catering to folks who love piecemeal. But for what's at hand, all together it weighs it weighs in at over 30 pounds -- we'd like to apologize to the UPS worker tasked with carrying it all to our door. Inside of each box we found a variety of cables, screws and each unit itself, but needed to supply our own hex wrenches (and a drill) for installation. Essentially, you should anticipate having at least a semi-permanent setup for this rig.

From the rear, the CSR wheel appears strikingly similar to Fanatec's GT2, and that's because they're more or less built from the same foundation. The CSR wheel is said to have "updated internals," but like its older brother, it's packing a belt-driven Mabuchi 550 force feedback motor along with two other motors that handle vibration. What has definitely changed, however, is the overall theme -- namely, all of the Forza inspired tweaks like its red and black color scheme. Along the right side, you'll find a duo of PS/2 ports for connecting the shifter pedals, as well as a power jack and an on / off button. Meanwhile, on the left, there's an Xbox Live headset jack, a USB standard-B port (for PC / PS3 hookup) and another shifter connector if you'd prefer it there or want to hookup a handbrake. Notably, you'll be able to connect many of Fanatec's other shifters / pedals, and with an optional adapter, even Logitech's G25 / 27 gear. Lastly, positioned on the wheel's dash is the familiar Xbox guide button.

The wheel's inner rim is fashioned from a slab of brushed-aluminum and features the Forza logo dead center with Xbox buttons are laid out in a cluster on the right, a three-number presets LCD planted top-center (more on this later), four red buttons around it and a new 5-way d-pad on the left. All of the buttons are easily within thumbs' reach, and best of all, on back you'll find sizeable metal paddle shifters that move with the wheel. The most obvious change, though, is the racing-styled wheel grip.

At the CSR's nine and three o'clock positions are comfortable contours fashioned with smooth rubber and Alcantara for extra tack, ensuring our sweaty hands never slipped or cramped. The rest of the wheel however (excluding the bit of rubber on its underside), is made of slick and glossy black plastic. Although we normally positioned our hands on two of the three aforementioned sections, full rotations had us yearning for an all around soft-touch feel. (Not to mention that the GT2 spoiled us with its full Alcantara covering.)

If you're not fond of paddles, that's where the optional shifter set comes in -- and just like the GT2, you'll get a rail-mountable sequential, and 6-1 H-pattern shifter. Both have a similar base with the same glossy plastic as the wheel, while the hand-grips are fashioned completely from metal. They're noticeably larger than than those made for the GT2, and feel superb in palm. Oddly, though, the PS/2 port for hookup is loaded on the bottom of each unit, which caused them to sometimes become loose from hitting our knees.

Completing this trio are the CSR Elite pedals, which are a step up from the plasticky entry-level CSR pedals, but still a slightly cheaper answer to last to Fanatec's Clubsports Like their CSR counterpart, the pedals come pre-assembled on a huge plastic and metal base with adjustable and removable aluminum pedals. This Elite version, however, opts for less plastic, using width- adjustable metal rails for each pedal assembly, pedals (with adjustable plates) and tension-adjustable pedal posts.

The whole system is certainly an option for custom setups, and once more, a pedal inversion kit is available for extra realism. Notably, the Elite Pedals feature an adjustable load cell (pressure sensitive) brake like the Clubsports, but forgo any built-in ABS vibration (good riddance), instead leaving it to the CSR wheel. The clutch and gas are also like the Clubsports, packing distance-sensing potentiometers.

Installation and setup

As you'd expect with a serious gear like this there are mounting options aplenty, and it's laid out exactly like the GT2. For those not familiar, the underside of the CSR wheel is loaded with a removeable desk clamp, and smathering of rubber pads and screw-holes on its base for permanent placement.

To be blunt, the desk clamp is rather mediocre. We annoyingly needed a surface that was about an inch thick to start, and after twisting its hand screw to a secure fit we were still getting slight wheel wobble. While it's not uncommon for many wheels -- and mostly adequate for quick setup and teardown -- we can't help to note that our $150 Logitech Driving Force GT mounts better to a variety of surfaces. It's not something of concern during races, but we're surprised Fanatec hasn't reworked this fitting. With that said, it'll ideally be screwed into a racing rig like Fanatec's $150 Rennsport wheel stand -- as we've noted in the past, these racing setups can thin-wallets with a single card swipe depending on your wants.

Although the stand was sent to aid our testing, we opted to hook up to our Playseat Evolution sim-racing cockpit. As w mentioned in a recent IRL piece, this is an extremely solid offering that allows for a permanent yet movable setup, and a proper racing seat feel. To start, we used a downloadable drill template to create two new holes on our Playseat's wheel bracket, and then bolted the CSR wheel in with its included hex screws. Interestingly, the wheel has a few more sections for screws, but just the two gave us a tight fit that was free of any give.

Next up, was mounting the shifter rails. They slide in through the side of the wheel's base, and then get locked by twisting using two coin screws. Past that, any of the two shifters can be hooked into place -- it does take a bit of force, however, and it's hard to gauge when the screws are twisted tight. The trickiest part of setup was figuring out how to secure the CSR Elite pedals' wide base onto the Playseat's smaller pedal plate. The base (like the wheel) can also be bolted down, but for our needs a combination of Velcro loops and locking zip-ties kept it free from budging loose (sometimes, you gotta do, what you gotta do). It's worth noting that its nearly 10-pound weight and size keeps it from shifting on hard floors.

The last step was wiring it all it all together... the shifter plugs into the wheel, which connects with the pedals and its power adapter. That's it. Overall, the initial setup does take quite of bit time, but it's no worse than what we've experienced with similar kits. The CSR is technically "wireless" like an Xbox controller, and getting it to sync with our Xbox was just as simple. Oddly though, it doesn't function correctly unless the console is turned on first -- at best it's a minor announce. Upon powering up, the CSR wheel's fans kick in, followed by the wheel itself doing some quick calibration spins. Notably, the wheel works for PS3 and PC as well, requiring all but a USB connection.

We can't believe we're saying this again, but its fan is annoyingly whizzy, similar to our experience with the GT2. Amazingly, it managed to worsen once synced with the Xbox, as a shrill eeeEeeeEeee sound got added in fray. Now, before you say, "but surely some moderate volume eases that pain away" -- not a chance, even with a gaming headset on. Fanatec thankfully offers some consolation for the problem this time around with a button combo that'll have the fans remain off until the wheel determines it needs cooling. Still, the high pitched whine always remains as an ever-present reminder that you're behind the wheel of a virtual sports car.

In use

So, was the somewhat arduous setup process worth it? In couple of words: oh yes. The CSR wheel provides an impressive amount of force feedback, which let us clearly feel whether we were slipping or gripping the asphalt. Steering movements are fluid and responsive, being swift to react in turns with nary a bit of lag when spinning through its 900 degrees of rotation. The internal motor is also extremely smooth and not too noisy, even when fighting for control after taking a corner to tight. With certain games like Forza, you'll also get the added benefit of shock vibration, letting you feel bumps, scrapes and even engine revs, but just like the Forza 3 911 wheel, it's much too tame for our taste -- even when cranked up. While it certainly makes the game feel more immersive, you'll still need to rely on your on-screen RPMs for those perfect shifts.

One of the major highlights of this wheel is how customizable it is. Remember that LCD display we mentioned? It's your own personal tuneup shop within the wheel itself and can be accessed by simply hitting small button to the right of the display. The LCD lights up, letting you save up to five custom presets including adjustments for: Sensitivity (from 90 to 900 degrees of total spin), Force Feedback, Shock Vibration, five Drift Modes (which actually uses the motor to help you turn the wheel faster), ABS Vibration (how soon the wheel vibrates to simulate brake lockup), Linearity (how much actual wheel spin is required for it to translate to 900 degrees of rotation) and its center Dead Zone. (Console users also benefit from Spring and Damper settings.)

All of these options allowed us to quickly create a variety of helpful tunings, but it should be noted that it can also make the wheel act in a less than realistic manner -- like how we set the drift mode to allow for super-human speed while turning through chicanes. Even so, with the right tweaks the CSR wheel has the potential to feel extremely personalized, offering a better feel for how your virtual car is reacting to your inputs. Of course, any decent steering rig will offer an advantage over your average controller, but having an array of constantly tweakable parameters on a smoothly performing wheel is really something of a joy.

Speaking of shifting, all three options (paddles, sequential and H-pattern sticks), for the most part, worked admirably. The paddles were easy to press with a finger and met with a reassuring click, while the sequential shifter offered the same in an arcade-style stick layout. Our weapon of choice, however, was the six-speed H-pattern unit. Each gear slot is tightly lined and the stick itself has an awesome amount of tension to it. Every shift feels very mechanical, save for the slight click you get in each position. Despite their plastic foundations, both sticks and the paddles held their own even if we chose to be heavy-handed when quickly downshifting. Our only real gripe is that, again like the GT2, we couldn't manage to get the rails totally secure and it allowed the shifters to sway a bit more than we'd have preferred while in use.

We were also pleased by the performance of the pedals. For our use, we adjusted the spring tension for a slightly looser brake (setting the dial to 7 for compensation) and a tighter throttle so we could attain a more selective grip through its range. Notably, we needed our own hex screw to do so, but the process took no more than a few minutes. The clutch also acted as we expected with a long and smooth throw that functioned precisely in tune with our shifts. There is one bothersome issue we came across, though. Despite the various tweaks that can be made to the peds, disappointingly, the rake attack of each one is fixed -- essentially, cockpit users will need their own tiltable pedal plate if they'd prefer a custom angle. Pulling off the plastic screw spacers between the posts and the pedals gave us a bit of extra rearward tilt, but it was still far from ideal given the permanent angle of our Playseat. Overall, it's exciting to have this level of foot control in something slightly less wallet-thinning than the Clubsports.


So, let's break it all down. For better or worse, the CSR wheel and shifter set function very much like a racing-styled rebadge of the Porsche GT2, offering a familiar interface and basically the same performance we enjoyed last time around, albeit with a new set of grips and re-aligned buttons. That being the case, it's hard to be okay with finding similar issues we brought up with past wheels cropping up again -- like the noisy fan and finicky shifter rails, for instance. The CSR wheel itself isn't a terribly exciting addition to Fanatec's lineup aside from looks, but that doesn't make it any less excellent of a Forza 4 companion. If you weren't sold on the GT2's looks or shape, but wanted the functionality it offered, then the CSR wheel may be for you. Of course, Fanatec will release its extra-serious $500 dollar CSR Elite in December, so those who'd consider themselves among the most serious Forza drivers may want to hold off until then. We also can neglect to mention that this is an Xbox 360 wheel at its core, and while it will work with PS3s and PCs, the experience is a bit less streamlined.

When it comes to the CSR Elite pedals, we'd easily recommend them at their $150 price point. You're getting highly adjustable, fluid feeling pedals and an extra realistic movement on the brake itself -- not to mention the build quality is top notch. Overall, we'd have no qualms using them in place of the slightly spendier Clubsports, whose built-in vibration was passble at best. It is worth noting that Fanatec does offer a non-Elite version of the pedals with less features priced at $80, if Elites are a bit to rich.

As a package, the CSR wheel, Elite pedals and shifter set are an amazing complement to Forza 4 and any titles that can benefit from what it has to offer. Furthermore, while the pieces are modular within Fanatec's (and some of Logitech's) other racing gear, it always leaves the option for changing out parts down the line or upgrading a section of your current setup. At $460 dollars combined, this setup is certainly reserved for only those ready to throw countless hours playing time in, but it certainly isn't a compelling upgrade if you're already rocking a GT2 with Clubsports. Overall, if you're ready to pay the premium, Fanatec's latest creations will do an admirable job of helping you out on the virtual track.