The New Corinthian Leather?

A high end rim for maximum racing experience

I really do not know what happened to me, but I used to hate racing games.  I mean, really hate them.  I played old, old racing games on Atari.  I had some of the first ones available on PC.  They did not appeal to me in the least.  Instant buyer’s remorse for the most part.  Then something strange happened.  3D graphics technology changed that opinion.  Not only did hardware accelerated 3D help me get over my dislike, but the improvements in physical simulations also allowed a greater depth of experience.  Throw in getting my first force feedback device and NFS: Porsche Unleashed and I was hooked from then on out.

The front of the box shows the lovely Ferrari 599XX supercar with the wheel in the foreground.

The itch to improve the driving experience only grows as time goes on.  More and more flashy looking titles are released, some of which actually improve upon the simulation with complex physics rewrites, all of which consume more horsepower from the CPU and GPU.  This then leads to more hardware upgrades.  The next thing a person knows they are ordering multiple monitors so they can just experience racing in Surround/Eyefinity (probably the best overall usage for the technology).

One bad thing about having a passion for something is that itch to improve the experience never goes away.  DiRT 2 inspired me to purchase my first FFB wheel, the TM Ferrari F420 model.  Several games later and my disappointment for the F420’s 270 degree steering had me pursue my next purchase which was a TX F458 Ferrari Edition racing wheel.  This featured the TX base, the stock/plastic Ferrari wheel, and the two pedal set.  This was a tremendous upgrade from the older TM F420 and the improvement to 900 degrees of rotation and far better FFB effects was tremendous.  Not only that, but the TX platform could be upgradeable.  The gate leading to madness was now open.

The TX base can fit a variety of 2 and 3 pedal systems, but the big push is towards the actual wheel itself.  Thrustmaster has several products that fit the base that feature a materials such as plastic, rubber, and leather.  These products go from $120 on up to around $150.  These are comprised of three GT style wheels and one F1 wheel.  All of them look pretty interesting and are a big step up from the bundled F458 replica that comes standard with the TX set.

The rear shows the rim itself at actual size.

I honestly had not thought about upgrading to any of these units as I was pleased with the feel and performance of the stock wheel.  It seemed to have fit my needs.  Then it happened.  Thrustmaster announced the Ferrari 599XX EVO wheel with honest-to-goodness Alcantara ™ construction.  The more I read about this wheel, the more I wanted it.  The only problem in my mind is that it is priced at a rather dramatic $179.  I had purchased the entire TX F458 setup on sale for only $280 some months before!  Was the purchase of the 599XX worth it?  Would it dramatically change my gaming experience?  I guess there is only one way to find out.  I hid the credit card statement and told my wife, “Hey, look what I got in for review!”

Click here to read the entire Thrusmaster 599XX EVO Alcantara Edition Wheel Review!

The Wheel

The Ferrari 599XX EVO wheel is a direct replica of the wheel included in the, you guessed it, Ferrari 599XX supercar.  It is an 8:10 replica of the wheel which is a good choice considering most situations this will be mounted in.  It also is a good choice when it comes to simple physics.

The wheel is wrapped in hand-stitched Alcantara.  This sounds pretty dramatic and luxurious, but the truth is actually pretty amusing.  Think “Corinthian Leather”, but for microfiber cloths.  Many years ago the Japanese developed “Ultrasuede”, one of the original microfiber based materials.  It had a variety of uses in clothing and coverings, but it is highly suited for wheels.  So what does Alcantara have to do with Ultrasuede?  Well, the Japanese company that developed it licensed the technology to a partially owned partner company in Italy, and the agreement stated that the cloth can only be called Alcantara if it was manufactured in Italy.  It was considered a marketing coup at the time and won awards for the company.

The construction of the wheel/rim is extremely solid.  The base plate is a 2mm thick aluminum piece that is brushed and anodized.  The Ferrari logo is mounted in the middle and is comprised of plastic, but luckily that piece will likely not see a lot of wear.  The hoop is a solid piece of steel surrounded by polyurethane.  The Alcantara wrap is then applied with a strip of red leather to indicate wheel position at the top.  There are six buttons on the hub as well as a three-position dial that can also be depressed and used as a button.  On the left side of the hub is a eight-position D-Pad.  There are no LEDs or lighting to be found on this wheel, which would have been a nice addition on some of the buttons.

The rim itself is gorgeous.  The craftsmanship really stands out with this particular piece.

The polyurethane composition is softer to the touch than other compounds on higher end wheels.  It is not plush, but it is not overly firm.  The combination of the firmness and the Alcantara wrap is actually quite comfortable while driving.  The paddle shifters are quite large and easy to find.  Their position is not adjustable, but they are in a place that is comfortable for me.  Competing products from Fanatec have the ability to set the paddles into several positions, but where TM has decided to place them works perfectly fine for me.  It is not a stretch to get my fingers into position to upshift or downshift.  The paddles offer a nice amount of travel and a solid “click” when engaged.

The buttons, dial, and D-Pad are all molded plastic of several different colors for easy recognition.  These are solid feeling pieces with good travel, but do not have the same tactile response as a higher priced Fanatec unit might.  The difference is noticeable when just sitting around doing A/B comparisons, but that feeling is likely lost when actually racing and the driver is paying more attention to their racing rather than how a button feels.

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