Racing on a Budget With The Thrustmaster Ferrari Challenge Racing Wheel for PC/PS3 (Review)
Not every racing-game enthusiast can afford the potential $250-$300 that is required to get into the lower-end premium racing wheels. Especially in this economy, even $100-$150 is pretty tough to shell out for some of the lower-end models. However, quality is still important when you’re looking at some of the low-cost wheels that are out there, and for those of you with a wallet that’s not as full as you may desire, Thrustmaster has an option that might be worth considering: the Ferrari Challenge Wheel for the PlayStation 3 and PC, with a price point of $40.
The silver and black wheel itself measures about eight-inches across and is emblazoned with the trademark Ferrari logo at its center. To the left you’ll find your directional pad, and to the right are the four ‘cross-buttons’ that act as your Triangle, Circle, Square, and X buttons. On the top left and right sides of the center of the wheel are your L2, L3, R2, and R3 with the flappy paddle shifters acting as your L1 and L2 respectively. Below these, you’ll find the Select, Start, and Home buttons. There is also a PC/PS3 select button behind the wheel assembly that must be switched to the desired system in order to function correctly. The wheel assembly is capable of being clamped to a desk or small table surface to ensure that it doesn’t move around while you’re driving.
Tensioners inside the wheel allow for some resistance when turning and recentering once you let go, and despite its small size, the system does well to imitate the feel of turning a wheel in a real car. The sensitivity of the wheel can be adjusted from the default Normal mode to a High-Sensitivity mode by simultaneously pressing the center of the D-pad and pulling both paddle shifters. The red LED on the front face of the wheel will then begin to blink slowly to indicate that you are in the alternate mode. The steering wheel is not capable of remembering if you set the sensitivity to high or not, so you’ll have to reset it every time you turn on the console.
Connected via an RJ-45 cable is your accelerator and brake pedals in a small plastic base. The base is not weighted; however, it is equipped with pads on the bottom to reduce slippage on most surfaces. The pedals are also tensioned to bring them back to position when you let off, and the metered response feels very accurate with minimal lag. The base is rather small in size, with the pedals themselves only measuring about five-inches across with just a bit over a one-inch gap, which can feel crowded for those who use both of their feet when racing if you’re an adult.
Once we set up the Ferrari Challenge Wheel in our living room, we hit the open road with our “old faithful”, Gran Turismo 5, and EA’s latest Need for Speed: Most Wanted – both for the PlayStation 3. The wheel does require getting used to with its small form factor, which initially translated into a lot of over-steering. Although, I did find that the normal sensitivity was a bit sloppy and sluggish, which exacerbated issues in instances on tracks that required some finesse through multiple turns. Switching over to the High-Sensitivity setting got rid of many of these issues, as it presented a faster response to my movements. Once the High-Sensitivity mode was enabled, I only needed a few turns down the test track to get used to the metering on the smaller scale wheel and I was driving like a pro. The wheel is responsive and accurately translates where you want to go with the command in-game, and coming out of the turns, the wheel’s tensioners do an excellent job of bringing it back to center when you let it slip. The accelerator and brake pedals also required some getting used to as the distance between them was narrower than what I was accustomed to.
For a $40 wheel, the fit, finish, and playability of the Ferrari Challenge Wheel is exceptional but it isn’t like its big brother, the T500RS. It is entirely made of plastic with the exception of the clamps that hold it in place on your desktop or coffee table, but it does the job it was designed to do remarkably well. If you have a younger gamer that is wanting a racing wheel, this is most certainly a cost-effective unit to get them started with, and is capable of taking a decent beating (there were a few times where I hit the stops in the wheel rather hard and it showed no sign of wear or breakage). For an adult with a tight budget, it might also be a viable option. However, for larger adults with big hands and feet, the unit will be difficult to hold comfortably. Additionally, gamers who enjoy having force feedback or rumble functionality will find this unit lacking in these departments and will just have to save a few more pennies for one of the bigger, higher quality units.
Overall, the Ferrari Challenge Racing Wheel from Thrustmaster is an excellent entry-level unit and shouldn’t be taken for granted at its bargain price. If you have a gamer that’s tired of using a controller for all of their racing, it’s most certainly a unit that you should consider putting under the tree.
The Thrustmaster Ferrari Challenge Racing Wheel receives a 4.0/5.0.
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