Thrustmaster Ferrari Vibration GT Cockpit 458 Italia Edition for Xbox 360 Review
Driving down Highway 7 on the northern outskirts of Toronto’s suburbia, or down Yonge Street on our way for a day of shopping and fun around the downtown’s Dundas Square and Eaton Centre, I’ll occasionally catch the glimpse of a Ferrari 458 Italia enjoying a summer’s day cruise. The sounds emanating from the 4.5 litre V8 engine under the bonnet often makes me consider breaking all manner of road rules just to maneuver behind one and listen to that beautiful song as it rumbles through the streets of the busy metropolis. If I had a soundtrack of car engine sounds, it would assuredly be the first track in the list and stuck on repeat all day long.
The beauty of the 458 Italia extends to the curvaceous body, and an interior to die for. I would most certainly own one if I could afford the $270,000 sticker (that’s the base price), however, I’m not that lucky. So when I heard about the Thrustmaster Ferrari Vibration GT Cockpit 458 Italia Edition racing wheel for the Xbox 360 with a design based on the Italia’s stylish steering wheel, I was chomping at the bit to take one for a test drive in, of course, Forza Motorsport 4!
The first thing you’ll notice is how compact the Thrustmaster is when you unbox it. That’s because with the 458 Italia Racing wheel, they’ve integrated the steering wheel into the pedal stand to allow it to be collapsed and stowed easily. Similar units have the steering wheel and pedals as two pieces and require an additional stand to use. With this model, the steering wheel is shipped separated from the base, but it takes about 45 seconds to assemble by plugging in the canon plugs, mounting the steering wheel, and attaching it firmly with six screws. From there, you can begin adjusting the base and the steering wheel by tilting it to your preferred angle and extending the telescopic steering wheel column to your liking. The column is capable of extending outward for people over six feet tall, or collapsing down so even a young child of six or seven could use it, allowing for a wide variety of players to use this setup comfortably.
The next thing you’ll notice is the beautifully crafted racing wheel. The assembly is dressed in the Scuderia Black and trimmed in silver, the wheel itself measuring at 28cm (roughly 11-inches) with the Ferrari Red engine start button in the lower left corner that acts as your directional pad. Just above and to the left is your Xbox guide and back buttons. In the lower right corner are the Sport Mode selector switch and the Start button. On the left and right silver trim areas you’ll find your A, B, X, and Y buttons, and on the other side will be your left and right trigger buttons. Two aluminum sequential (flappy paddle) shift pedals are mounted on the back of the wheel and act as your right and left bumpers.
When you’ve become familiar with the controls and adjusted the steering wheel to your preferred seating position, you can then plug the setup into the Xbox 360′s USB port. The cable on this model is over eight feet long, allowing you to comfortably sit on your living room couch at a decent distance from your television. Once you’ve tossed in your favorite racing game, it’s time to fire up the Xbox and take to the track!
The steering wheel’s size is 7/10 scale of the real Ferrari 458 Wheel and fits comfortably in your hands at the ten and two with the flappy paddle shifters in range of your index fingers without having to make an effort to hit them. While the steering wheel doesn’t contain force feedback like Thrustmaster’s premium lines, the setup does support rumble, giving you a realistic vibration in the wheel as you traverse rougher patches of road, such as when you hit the three rumble strips on the outside of the flatout straightaway between the Bentley and Bacharach corners on the Top Gear test track in Forza Motorsport 4. You’ll find these vibrations serve a very important function in timing your gear shifts and braking to decelerate into turns and the like. While there is no force feedback in the wheel, there is some resistance to give the 458 Italia setup some real on-the-road feel that’s not too cumbersome or too loose, adding to the sense of realism.
On the base you’ll find the brake and accelerator pedals which are nicely tensioned to give some resistance when used, allowing you to apply just the right amount of pressure on the pedals as needed for finer braking and feathering on the accelerator which gives you the best performance in a turn. These pedals, like the sequential pedals on the steering wheel, are crafted out of aluminum to give them a nice touch of quality and durability.
So how does it perform in-game? Rather interestingly. Taking to the track in my tested and tuned 1989 Toyota MR2, I was able to enjoy a best lap time of 1:46 using my Xbox controller. I’ve spent many an hour on my track setup for the car, trying to squeeze every inch of maneuverability out of it and was rather proud of my time – until I plugged in Thrustmaster’s setup, that is. I found my car was operating quite loose, wandering all over the track, spinning out and careening into tire walls. After some tinkering, I found that I had to readjust my car’s configuration to accommodate for the fact that I was no longer using a controller’s clumsy analog sticks. After going back to the drawing board and spending quite a bit of time retuning my MR2′s setup to accommodate for the wheel, I took it back to the track for some hot laps. After getting used to using the wheel, I managed to nail down a time of 1:38 on the Top Gear test track: an eight-second improvement!
What it comes down to is the accuracy of the controls; while an analog stick might give you some semblance of a measured response needed to be able to negotiate turns without going sideways, a controller simply can’t match the precision needs of a racing simulator. With that said, the Thrustmaster Ferrari Vibration GT Cockpit 458 Italia Edition racing wheel performs remarkably well in terms of accurately monitoring your movements and transmitting that input to the game. I decided to take the Ferrari 458 Italia out on the Nürburgring for a leisurely 55mph drive around the course to test out these metering functions in both the steering wheel and pedals, and much like any real world vehicle I was able to sustain my speed with only slight movements in the pedals to compensate for turns and hills. Of course, after taking that 10 minute drive around the track, it was time to go flat out and see exactly how it handled at higher speeds. Like a champ, I was able to negotiate the turns effectively using a combination of shifting, braking, and throttling without ever hardly going off of the track at all (this was done with Forza Motorsport 4′s settings in manual mode, ABS on, and normal steering enabled with no assist, for those who are curious).
Of course, I still bounce a Bugatti Veyron off the walls of a circle track like a game of supercar pinball, so it doesn’t perform miracles, but the Thrustmaster Ferrari Vibration GT Cockpit 458 Italia Edition most certainly does lend itself to making improvements to a driver’s skills. Budget-minded gamers might feel a bit of sticker shock with the $299 price point, however, Thrustmaster’s new racing wheel setup for the Xbox 360 most certainly has premium feel for a less-than-premium dollar amount. Add in the fact that you won’t have to pick up an additional racing wheel stand (a good one goes for about $150), and you’re getting quite a bargain. Try as I might, I simply can’t find anything wrong with this set up. And for that, the Thrustmaster Ferrari Vibration GT Cockpit 458 Italia Edition receives a perfect 5.0/5.0.
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