By – John Williamson
Thrustmaster has launched its latest premium-grade wheel which accurately models the iconic Ferrari 458 Italia. This luxury sports car employs a paddle shifting gear mechanism and doesn’t utilize a clutch pedal. At first glance, you might be a little alarmed by these omissions but altering Ferrari’s actual design would contravene the licensing agreement and ruin the specialized reproduction of this unit. In a similar vein to the T500RS, the base is modular and supports a number of add-ons including the Ferrari F1 wheel, T3PA pedal set with clutch and TH8A shifter. Touted as the “first force feedback wheel with an industrial-class motor on consoles”, the 458 seems like an excellent choice for PC Gamers who like to dabble with Forza Motorsport on Xbox One.
In terms of packaging, the 458 wheel is protected by a large cardboard box which details key attributes of the unit alongside high definition model shots. This creates a high-quality feel and explains via short, clear summaries about the patented technology which makes the wheel respond so smoothly. On another note, I was disappointed with the cardboard’s thickness as the sides started to buckle during the initial unboxing. The bottom section is quite flimsy and is supported by weak sellotape instead of hardened industrial tape. While this might seem a little frivolous, RMAs cost manufacturers a fortune and strengthening the cardboard slightly may reduce complications in transit.
It’s not all negative though as the base/pedals are separated from the wheel rim which comes in a lovely molded cardboard carton with sections to store cables and other miscellaneous items. Thrustmaster even covered this section with thick, brown padding paper to ensure the wheel didn’t move around and suffer any blemishes. The pedals are held firmly into place with two foam blocks which protect the metal pedals from rubbing against the base and becoming scratched.
The installation process is surprisingly straight-forward and should only take around 5-10 minutes to complete. Firstly, you need to connect the wheel rim to the base which revolves around a 6 pin connection. Ensure that the wheel’s connector is orientated in a horizontal alignment and the base should be positioned vertically. Then, carefully hold the wheel and ensures its flush with the base and tighten a cylinder shaped mount until the wheel is firmly attached. Please note: you must keep the wheel perfectly still and only turn the tightening point and not the wheel itself. To add some extra rigidity, there is a screw point which keeps the cylinder mechanism in place and eliminates the chance of it becoming loose during intense moments of gameplay. The next step requires you to attach the wheel to a desk or racing stand. For the purposes of this review, I will be using a standard desk mount since that’s what I would expect most mainstream customers to use.
Thrustmaster’s clamping system is beautifully designed and remarkably simple to set up. All you have to do is position the base, feed the clamp underneath and align a screw point with the included mount. Then rotate the metal screw bar until the base is solid and attempt a few sharp turns of the wheel to ensure it’s held in place correctly. Next, connect the pedals and power lead before moving onto the software installation.
Before initiating the software setup, it is imperative that you do not plug in the USB cable until prompted. Thrustmaster’s software suite will then install the appropriate drivers, update the firmware and perform a comprehensive calibration of the wheel. Annoyingly, the .exe package isn’t included on a retail disc or USB stick and some users may encounter difficulties when navigating to the download page. To make the experience more streamlined, Thrustmaster should place a hyperlink alongside the product description. The software itself is quite detailed and intuitive containing a number of tweaks for the wheel rotation angle, fault checking and force feedback alterations. Modifying these options only takes a matter of moments which means finding setups for each game is a short and pleasant process.
This specific base is smaller than the T500RS which makes it more practical for people with a restricted amount of space. Furthermore, the unit weighs approximately 4 kg and keeps everything stable even if you attempt an extremely aggressive driving style. Additional weight increases the base’s resilience against accidental damage or becoming loose over time. Thrustmaster have utilized a dual-belt frictionless movement and this maintains a smooth and virtually silent operation. Another important internal component is the HallEffect AccuRate Technology (H.E.A.R.T) which uses a contact-less magnetic sensor to respond accurately to your actions and doesn’t degrade over time.
This sensor adopts a 16-bit resolution (65536 values on the wheel’s steering axis) and is beautifully engineered and built to provide consistent reliability for many years to come. I cannot emphasize this enough, the 458’s base is extraordinary and a significant step above anything I’ve reviewed previously. On another note, the base is powered internally allowing for a cleaner look and improved cable management options. However, I am a little dismayed by the decision to hardwire the USB cable considering these cables are the most likely suspects to be damaged by end users.
The wheel rim is in direct contrast to the base and feels ludicrously cheap despite being a faithful 7:10 (28cm) replica. Shockingly, this wheel only weighs 725 grams and to be brutally honest, feels like an attachment to an entry level model. The rim is coated in rubber and rests on your palms fairly nicely but I would have preferred a leather finish similar to the Logitech G27. There is a lot of plastic on display here and some of the more acute sections are of a poor construction. For example, the silver plastic frame has areas where it has been over painted or the finish isn’t absolutely flush with the black plastic centre.
Moving onto the positive aspects, there are a lot of well-placed buttons on the rim and I found them to be perfectly positioned to change settings whilst driving. Thrustmaster were quite inventive in their designs and decided to use the Ferrari’s start button as a D-pad. Unfortunately, the selector switch is awkward to press and springs back when trying to toggle through in-car viewpoints. Once again. if this was made from aluminum it would have been more responsive with less chance of your fingers slipping during changes.
It’s important to note that the rotational range is 270-900 degrees which allows for a wide array of realistic driving styles depending on the formula selected. Where the wheel does excel though is through its exemplary metal sequential paddle shifters. These 10cm gears have a lifespan of more than 10 million activations and feature a tactile response. The shifts are instantaneous and feel very satisfying when alternating through the gear ratios. It’s a crying shame that similar high-quality materials weren’t used for the other attributes of this wheel.
The Force Feedback capabilities are exceptional and recreate the smallest vibrations from nuances in track grip to huge amounts of impact when you are involved in a serious accident. Thrustmaster have employed an industrial class brush-less motor which eliminates latency due to the zero cogging layout. This makes the effects remarkably strong and extremely realistic in a way which seems less artificial than most wheels on the market. I even had to scale back the force feedback from its maximum setting as it was too strong for my small hands.
Another area to discuss is the pedal set which features a plastic footing and two pedals with metal feet. The pedal’s floor section is fairly compact and can be neatly stashed away into storage. Personally, I prefer the floor to be a long horizontal block as it adds more support but I can see why Thrustmaster opted for a smaller design given the lack of a clutch pedal. The footing is constructed from plastic which reduces the net weight and makes the set more prone to moving around during long gameplay sessions. In Assetto Corsa, I completed a number of long runs and the pedals tilted by a few degrees; however, this didn’t distract me too much. Nevertheless, the plastic is quite durable and heavier than you would expect.
The brake pedal features a progressive actuation force and has a good amount of resistance to allow for accurate touches when you apply various amounts of pressure. Thrustmaster has recreated the large, oversized nature of the 458’s brake pedal which works brilliantly as the larger surface area cushioned my foot. The accelerator pedal has an excellent balance with just the right amount of resistance for varying degrees of throttle from small corrections to immediate acceleration out of slower corners. The metal finish is hard-wearing and enhances the tactile feel as you depress each pedal.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
The Thrustmaster TX Racing Wheel Ferrari 458 Italia Edition is a promising package that has been tragically let down by the sub-par rim. Thrustmaster’s smaller class-leading base is phenomenal and creates such a smooth and accurate motion through its turning circle. However, I must reiterate that the 2 pedal setup of the 458 may have significantly restricted the scope in which a larger base could be made. The wheel rim itself is an accurate reproduction but the build quality isn’t acceptable for a wheel that retails at an RRP of £350/$400.