Setup, Software, and Impressions
This is not an easy snap-together installation like competing Thrustmaster wheels that I have used so far. Each component is quite separate from each other and needs to be assembled using heavy duty hex bolts. The rim needs to be attached to the hub and then snapped into place on the base. The mounting plates need to be also attached via hex bolts.
Another view of the back side of the pedals. The interchangeable springs and adjustable brake pressure really make this stand above the crowd.
The instructions are not great here and I had to figure out more than a few things myself by trial and error. In all it took around one hour to get the setup to where I want it. I had to change it after testing it due to the slight wobble of the portion on the main base mounting mechanism that was not 100% locked down. I also removed the cable/accessory arm.
Keep the Fanatec website handy as many of the manuals are located there in PDF form. There is a specific calibration routine that needs to be done on the base when attached to the hub for the first time and installed on the PC. Failure to go into this calibration mode will cause the wheel to not work correctly. Another annoyance is that when attached to the PC and the base is turned on, it does not go automatically into PC mode. The default mode is Xbox One mode, and a combination of buttons has to be pushed to enable PC compatibility.
The driver and control panel installation is quite painless. This is a nice change as compared to getting to this point. A single file is downloaded and installed on the machine. It takes the user through when the base should be plugged into the USB and turned on. It then completes the installation without a problem and the wheel is ready to go (after calibration, of course).
The control panel is laid out in three separate tabs that handle the functionality tests, the settings, and the firmware update. The base handles up to 900 degrees of rotation as compared to the 1080 degrees of competing products from Thrustmaster and Logitech. Users can lower that rotation to as low as they want, but sticking to 900 degrees is a pretty good option.
Updating the firmware is a very simple procedure. Simply download the firmware file from Fanatec, go to the Update tab, and then click the button to start the update program. Point that program to the file that was downloaded and everything else is automatic. I flashed the base twice during the time I had it. The first time for the initial compatibility for the Xbox One Universal Hub and then for the fan issue that cropped up.
Once everything is setup and running it is hard not to be impressed. This is essentially $2000 worth of hardware that is for racing only. The fit and finish of the parts immediately make one think of the stereotypical “German engineering” slogan. The parts are all beautifully constructed and are extremely solid. Before even firing up a racing game the user is immediately struck by the appearance, heft, and quality materials of the product. There is hardly any plastic to speak of in the base, rim, pedals, and shifter. The Xbox Hub is mostly housed in plastic, but the mounting plates and quick release hub are all aluminum.
The force that the base exerts on the user is really impressive. It will not break wrists, but it can certainly cause some discomfort if the driver is not paying attention during a crash or sticking their arms through the spaces in the rim. In extreme crashes I did lose grip of the wheel as it was jerked around quite violently. Going back and forth from this setup to the Thrustmaster TX and T300 setups made me realize how much stronger the motor is in the Fanatec unit. The T300 felt positively weak. The lower end T150/TMX is anemic at best when it comes to the forces applied to the wheel.
The pedals had great feel. The accelerator was easy to adjust to, but the brake pedal took me a while. The extra force required as compared to the cheaper Thrustmaster bases I had used before was quite a change. Once I put more wheel time into the experience I discovered I had a lot more control over braking and had faster lap times in multiple applications. Of interest is the video by a 24 Hours of Le Mans racer that uses these exact pedals and how they compare to his race car. The actual differences are minimal at best.
The wheel itself was comfortable after extended hours of racing with no apparent wear or staining due to the dye not being entirely cured. The white stitching does absorb oil and dirt so after a while it turns more beige than white. A good soapy scrub can probably cure that.
The hub features the LED display that shows the gear the user currently is in. I found the position to be hard to focus on so I didn’t pay attention to it. I instead relied on what I saw on screen rather than that LED. It might have been better if it showed revs rather than the gear, but there is only so much space on that little pop-up LED.
The fan noise initially was really loud. When I turned on the base it quickly rose in pitch and volume and was quite annoying when not in game. It turns out that a batch of these bases had a small hardware change that caused the fans to go full speed all the time. I was able to flash the base with a beta firmware that fixed this problem entirely. After I applied the new firmware I could barely hear the fan at startup. Even with 100% force enabled and hour long gaming sessions, I never heard the fan above a very low hum.
Using the sequential shifter in rally cross was a lot of fun. After watching Solberg, Loeb, Bakkerrud, and others grab a handful of shifter and quickly storm through gears in FIA RX races makes one of course want to experience that themselves. It takes a little bit of practice after being used to the paddle shifters for many years, but having a separate sequential shifter off of the wheel does make upshifts and downshifts much easier than using paddles that spin with the wheel. Plus grabbing that shifter and slamming it back and forth is cathartic after a long day of work. Take that as you will.
If there is a weakness to the set up it is that subtle variations in force feedback can be lost due to the significant mass of the hub and wheel. Other Fanatec products feature rims that do not have to use the Xbox Universal Hub, and that saves on a lot of weight. The aluminum shaft that connects the motor to the hub does a very good job of transferring these forces, but just the amount of mass that is comprised of the hub and rim does not necessarily translate into small changes of feedback with differing conditions.