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Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR Wheel and Elite Pedals Review (X360, PS3, PC)

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Steering wheel peripherals make racing games more fun. Period. They don't always make you faster on the track (some of us are just too used to controllers) but the feel of a wheel in your hands and real pedals under your feet make the whole experience more fun even if there is a bit of a learning curve before you really start to drive well. That learning curve is flattened a bit with a better quality wheel. When you feel like you're driving a real car, with real feeling pedals and real force feedback in the wheel, making the adjustment is a lot easier. Which is where the Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR Wheel, Pedals, and Shifter come in. These are high-end, high-quality, finely tuned peripherals for serious race fans. And they actually can make you drive better.
Game Details

  • Manufacturer: Fanatec
  • Genre: Steering Wheel, Pedals, Shifter
  • Compatibility: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
  • Pros: Metal everywhere!; smooth force feedback; great feeling pedals; real H-shifter; very adjustable; works with 360, PC, and PS3
  • Cons: Wheel fan a bit noisy; high MSRP means it isn't for everyone

Growing up in a family that didn't always have a lot of extra cash on hand, we lived by the idea that just because something was more expensive it wasn't necessarily better. Now as an adult with a fair bit of spending money, I realize that is mostly hogwash. The difference between an off the rack set of beginner golf clubs, and a set of custom clubs is huge. The difference between Wal-Mart cookware and high end knives and pans is huge. Lower-end things are okay and certainly get the job done, but higher-end products are more expensive for a reason. They are better constructed, tend to last longer, and generally work better.

That is pretty much the Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR line in a nutshell. It is expensive - CSR Wheel is $250, CSR Elite pedals are $150, and the CSR Shifter set is $60 - for a total of $460 for everything (and more if you want to throw in a racing seat or wheel stand or inversion kit for the pedals). But if you are a serious race fan, you won't find a better set for the Xbox 360 right now. Compared to most of the plastic, flimsy, weak force feedback wheels for the Xbox 360, the Fanatec CSR line is clearly the best.

I'm going to talk about these products as a set, but you can buy them all separately. You can buy just the wheel if you want, but keep in mind that it won't offer nearly as good of an experience since you won't have the fine throttle and brake control the pedals offer and it is pretty much impossible to play with a manual transmission with just the wheel. A set of pedals is highly recommended. In a nice touch, the CSR Wheel is fully compatible with other Fanatec Pedal and Shifter sets, besides the CSR line, so if you already have Clubsport or Porsche pedals or the Standard Shifter Set from Fanatec, you don't absolutely have to buy the CSR stuff.

Multiplatform Compatibility

Also worth noting is that despite being specifically Forza Motorsport branded and an officially licensed Xbox 360 peripheral, the CSR line is fully compatible with the PC and PlayStation 3. The wheel connects to the Xbox 360 wirelessly, but requires a USB cable (included) for the PS3 and PC. It works great with all of the platforms and it is nice to have one wheel that will cover you wherever you play.

CSR Wheel

Fanatec
The CSR Wheel is a mix of black plastic and aluminum with some suede-like material on the grips that is very comfortable to hold. All of the Xbox 360 face buttons are present, along with a little analog stick nub for menu navigation. The button placement is a little hard to reach unless you have super long thumbs, which is a big reason why pedals are pretty much required, even though they are technically optional, since you can't easily reach the buttons in the heat of a race. The wheel also features wide aluminum paddle shifters. If you don't have pedals, the paddle shifters serve as gas/brake, but they are only on/off switches with no control in between, which obviously make them less than ideal for a game like Forza 4 where fine throttle control is important. Like I said, you need a set of pedals.

Our only other little niggling complaint with the wheel is that it has a fan inside the body of the unit that is sort of high pitched and annoying. If you remember the first run of the Microsoft Wireless Steering Wheel where the motor inside overheated easily, you'll understand why fans are necessary even if they are a little annoying. With that said, though, when you're actually racing you won't really notice the sound of the fan. But you'll definitely hear it on the menus.

The actual performance of the wheel is really, really nice. The force feedback is very smooth and feels really good. Unlike the Microsoft Wireless wheel (forgive me comparing them so much, it is the only other wheel I have a lot of experience with), which is very stuttery and jerky with its movements and sometimes felt like it was driving you instead of you being in control, the force feedback on the CSR Wheel is very smooth and works with you instead of against you. This smoothness makes racing a bit easier as it offers resistance, but isn't trying to jerk itself out of your hands. The wheel is smooth, so you are smooth, so your car on the track is smooth, which results in faster lap times. In addition to the wheel tuning options you can use in-game in Forza 4, you can also fine tune the performance of the wheel with a little display on the wheel itself to change sensitivity, force feedback strength, dead zone, and more. With a bit of tuning, you can make it handle however you like. The wheel also has 5 special settings for Drifting so the force feedback won't be as strong while you're trying to throw your car around corners.

CSR Elite Pedals

The CSR Elite pedals are really impressive when you take them out of the box. They are big, heavy, and covered in sexy aluminum. The standard layout of the pedals has them pivoting from the bottom, like most pedal peripherals, but you can also buy an inversion kit to make the pedals pivot from the top like a real car. It is a little change, but can make a bit difference in how everything feels and, thus, how you drive.

The feel of the pedals is also very distinctive. The gas pedal has a very light touch and is very sensitive, so it is easy to feather the throttle to perfectly ease around corners without breaking the rear wheels loose. The clutch pedal isn't very noteworthy, just because it doesn't have to be. It is smooth to depress and spring back, so you can't ask for much more unless you think it needs rumble or something so you can feel the gears engage (but that'll be next-gen).

The brake pedal, on the other hand, is pretty high-tech. It uses a load cell technology to accurately translate the pressure you're placing on it into the game. There is resistance in the brake pedal compared to virtually none in the other two, and the hardware can tell the difference between light pressure and hard braking and your car will react appropriately on the track. I know it is complicated sounding, but there is a big difference between a pressure sensor like found here versus a "push the brake pedal farther down to stop faster" like is found on most other pedals. It works more like a real car this way.

Shifter Set

The final piece of the CSR set is the CSR Shifter. It comes with two metal poles that you use to solidly connect the shifter to the wheel and you can adjust it so it is as close or far from the wheel as you like. The Shifter set includes both a simple up/down sequential shifter as well as a 6-speed "H" shifter. The "H" shifter is very, very cool. It can feel a little weird at first since it is kind of small so you don't actually move the shifter very far to find the right gear, but it works well when you get used to it. I'll tell you one thing, though, driving a race car going around a twisty track at up to 180+ MPH and having to manually shift gears with a real shifter AND with a clutch is pretty thrilling.

Bottom Line

Fanatec
All in all, the Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR line is very impressive. The build quality is exceptional and the performance out on the track is incredible. It is pretty easily the best wheel you can buy for Xbox 360. With that said, it is also very expensive (with an even more expensive "Elite" version of the wheel coming out sometime soon) and you will have to be a very serious racing fan for it to truly be worth it. It is without a doubt the best, but not everyone needs it or will even be able to tell the difference. For serious race fans, though, who actually race weekly or even daily (so their wheel isn't collecting dust 51 weeks a year like so many of us) and can spend $450+ on a wheel without batting an eye, it is totally worth it.

You can buy the Fanatec Forza Motorsport CSR Wheel, Pedals, and Shifter set from Fanatec's online shop.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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