Formula and GT Simulator Cockpit Under 500 USD
We visited NLR some weeks ago when I reviewed their standalone TV stand. It was a solid product at a reasonable price that could handle up to 55” TVs for those looking to utilize a more mobile solution for their sim rig.
NLR was founded only in 2009, but their product portfolio has grown impressively and they are a well regarded company in the very competitive sim market. 14 years is not a huge amount of time to be around compared to the likes of Playseat which was founded in 1995.
What we can say about NLR is that they appear to be an aggressive company who offers a wide range of products at competitive price points and they keep pushing that envelope with full motion units as well as their latest haptic feedback seat accessory.
For users looking to graduate from clamping their wheel to their desk or using wheel stand, the F-GT is essentially an entry level product for the full cockpit simulator. Far more expensive units featuring aluminum profile frames may be lighter, stiffer, and more adjustable to allow for complex configurations. These units tend to start at $750 and include only the frame, with compatible seats going in price from $200 to $600+.
A fully kitted out aluminum profile rig will easily set back a user $1000 US at the very minimum. Next Level Racing is providing its consumers with a choice that is half that. The NLR F-GT retails at $499 US and is available through a wide variety of resellers as well as direct from NLR.
- Supported Max Weight – 130 kg or 285 lbs
- Dimensions –Formula 170 x 60 x 100 cm or 67 x 24 x 39 inches. GT 140 x 60 x 125 cm or 55 x 24 x 49 inches
- Boxed Dimensions – 96 x 50 x 40 cm or 38 x 20 x 16 inches
- Boxed Weight – 45 kg or 99 lbs
- Part Number – NLR-S010
$499 USD (NLR direct link)
“The revolutionary Next Level Racing F-GT design allows you to be in true racing positions for both formula and GT racing. You will no longer need an expensive cockpit just for formula racing, instead, the Next Level Racing F-GT suits all your racing titles by offering dual racing positions. The F-GT Cockpit was used by the Real Esport team to win the GTR Endurance eRacing World Championship.”
Packaging and Contents
The F-GT cockpit has multiple layers of protection for shipping that includes and outer box, an inner retail box, and then multiple layers of packing and bubble wrap and yet a third box on the inside.
The box itself weighs around 80 pounds when it hits the porch. Included in the box are all the necessary tools (allen wrenches, a single hand wrench) to build the cockpit. It may take two people to unbox it all from the external packaging, but I was able to get it all done by myself.
The instruction booklet is actually nicely illustrated and the directions were clear on what to do. Some of the illustrations were a little hard to discern in terms of exact placement of parts, but once something was not in the right area or orientation it became very obvious and it was easy to take those pieces off and correct the mistake.
The nuts, washers, and bolts are all organized in a plastic blister pack that is easily accessible due to the cardboard backing. Small animals such as cats and excitable dogs will be attracted to the opened blister pack and jump on it, thereby spreading all of the components across the room where construction is occurring.
Achieving the Price Point
There is a significant challenge in providing the consumer with a fully featured sim cockpit, but also achieving a (barely) sub-$500 price. Someone over in marketing also threw in a wrench by demanding that it be adjustable for both Formula and GT racing positions. The engineers and designers were able to fulfill these requirements by very clever design and choice of materials.
Steel is much less expensive than extruded aluminum, but it is going to be harder to form into useful shapes while still retaining strength and not weighing 1000 pounds. NLR took square, cold rolled steel tubing as the base material to create the F-GT.
These pieces are cut, welded, and drilled to maximize strength while allowing enough slots and holes to be able to make the cockpit as flexible as possible in terms of positioning the components for a wide variety of body sizes and shapes (as well as Formula and GT positions).
These tubes are then powder coated and baked. The finish is remarkably durable, but also very attractive. It is a matte black that is easily cleaned and survives some hardship as well with bumps and scratches. The welds used are very good in terms of full metal penetration between pieces. We see a little bit of splatter and the welds may not always see any grinding or finishing touches, but in terms of structural strength these welds will not be an issue.
NLR finishes the frame with some tasteful graphics/branding stickers that are nicely centered and applied. These stickers are covered with a stronger plastic strip that ensures that no damage to the graphics occurs during shipping.
If there was one issue I ran into during construction is that there are not enough washers to adequately support and strengthen some of the connections with the bolts. While the steel tubing is strong, you can see some dimpling when really clamping down on some of these nuts and bolts when running low on washers.
Users will need to take a little time and think about what major structural components could use a washer on each end vs. only one end. This by no means will cause the rig to be structurally unsound or sacrifice stiffness. In this case it is a matter of taste and being careful.
If there is one design characteristic of entry level cockpits that I absolutely can not stand it is that of a single, central support for the wheel and base. When using a high nm base a single column is not going to have the necessary stiffness to handle that type of lateral force.
Also, when using all 3 pedals a user’s knees are invariably going to knock on that column as well as potentially uncomfortably torque their knee in an odd direction when using a load cell brake pedal. NLR gets around this by just offering a two column support platform for the wheel base. It is far more sturdy, stable, and stuff than a single piece.
The initial build took about an hour to complete. I was not entirely in a hurry to get it done, so other users can actually finish it sooner. Converting from the GT position to Formula takes around 20 minutes. Fingers should be watched carefully during the conversion, as the seat portion could drop suddenly when going from GT to Formula once the last stanchion is removed.
The pedal assembly takes a little more time to convert due to the addition of an extra piece for Formula as compared to GT positioning. Users can mix and match these positions according to their preferences. The Formula setup is slightly sturdier than GT due to the number of connections that are required. I found that when using a load cell pedal set the GT position would flex more than Formula, causing a little bit of uncertainty during heavy braking.
Something that was recently announced and included with kits shipping now are extra braces for both the pedal platform and the wheel base struts. With stronger Direct Drive wheels hitting 26 nm and load cell pedals approaching 90 kg of force, these extra stanchions should provide a lot more support.
The pedal support only looks to work with the Formula setup. The wheel base pedestal supports are solid, but they do impede the user a bit when settling into the cockpit. Still, these are very useful additions that should add to the stability and stiffness of the cockpit when using these higher end sim components.
The seat itself is fairly simple in construction, but well thought out. It is several slabs of cushion covered with PU leather. The way the bolts are handled at the hinge, it can be easily adjusted to three different settings. One plastic handled bolt can easily be unmounted and repositioned depending on what racing style or comfort setting is desired by the consumer.
The setup also comes with a lumbar support pillow that can be strapped around the seat to improve the comfort of the individual as needed.
Overall the unit is very well thought out and well built. I had no issues in construction and there were no missing pieces. It even included the required bolts to mount different wheel bases. The wheel base and pedal platforms all were drilled to fit multiple manufacturers.
I was able to install units from Fanatec, Thrustmaster, and Logitech without issue or having to drill more holes. The platforms were all drilled so as to maintain maximum strength and stiffness, as well as provide as many options for 3rd party gear as possible.
I can say I was very happy with the overall design and functionality of the cockpit. It is a slightly heavier unit due to the use of steel tubing vs. extruded aluminum, but through clever design and manufacturing they gave an impressive amount of functionality and configurability to what has to be considered an entry level full cockpit.
The ease of use of the cockpit as well as how quickly it could convert into Formula and GT sitting positions is another positive. Yes, some of the conversions on aluminum profile units are much simpler due to those more extensive designs, but the end user will end up paying for that ease of configuration. The seat can be adjusted back and forth quite simply with the included hardware, just as one would do in a car. Pull the lever under the seat and adjust as needed.
Once in position I found that the seat did not move even under fairly strong inputs from the wheel. When getting up and sitting down I noticed the right side of the seat does slide forward a bit, but quickly settles back in place. I perhaps would have preferred a more locked down position, but it was not a showstopper.
The PU leather was comfortable to race on for extended periods of time, but it will not breathe as much as other materials such as microfiber or fabric options. This comes with the cost of the overall unit, as using PU leather will provide a lot of wear vs. cloth, but it will not breathe as nicely as a far more expensive microfiber unit. I am of course using this in winter time where the house temperature is in the low 70s to upper 60s. Summer when temperatures start to soar a bit may be a different experience.
Using 4 to 8 nm gear/pulley FFB bases did not stress out the platform in the least. I was able to use them without issue. The pedal flexing when using a higher force load cell brake was a bit concerning, but the extra struts provided with the latest packages should clear up a lot of that (as long as the Formula pedal position is used).
I recently upgraded to a 10 nm Thrustmaster unit and cranked up the power to the highest level. I hit an issue where I had a tremendous amount of shaking from the wheel and it was rhythmically going back and forth at full power. There was quite a bit of flexing from the two supports, and this is certainly a time where the extra struts are needed to improve strength and stiffness. Turning the power down a bit and fixing the issue that was causing that behavior made for a much more pleasant experience.
The F-GT can also be further customized by a variety of parts available from the NLR as well as third party companies. It has the “buttkicker” attachment which provides haptic feedback directly to the chair portion. The base unit comes with a shifter/e-brake standoff that is drilled to accept multiple manufacturers’ parts. I used the generic metal e-brake that is available at Amazon as well as Ali-Baba/Ali-Express. The holes did not line up for that particular part and I ended up having to use the included clamp from the e-brake and a small piece of wood to get it to mount. This was far from perfect, but it ended up being a pretty solid solution.
Other accessories from NLR include keyboard/mouse stands, flight stick stands, integrated monitor support, and castors and mats to improve the user’s experience and the stands flexibility as a gaming/sim platform.
Overall I was very pleased with the unit. The construction, design, and fit and finish are all outstanding. I think there is a lot of value at $499, which is $50 less than what it was introduced at. It isn’t perfect, but NLR did a very good job in balancing out comfort, stability, flexibility, and cost. I do not think either position is uncomfortable, but I prefer the GT setup more (primarily because I would rather not have my feet way up in the air). This works perfectly with the stand I reviewed previously in either configuration as the height of that can handle either way the pedals are positioned.
Next Level Racing has a wide variety of products at many different price points, but as an entry level full cockpit (I’m not counting the tubular steel foldable chairs as a full cockpit) it is as full featured and solid as one could ask for. If a user is getting more serious about sim racing, this is an excellent starting point for those who do not yet wish to invest thousands into their rig.
Now I just need to find a place other than my living room to set everything up. My wife is quickly running out of patience…