German sim-racing giant Fanatec is now rolling out its next direct drive steering wheel base in three different versions, and we're thoroughly impressed.
Four long years have passed since we here at Gamereactor first fired up our Fanatec DD2, which has since been a mainstay on our racing rig where despite countless review sessions with steering wheel bases from competitors such as Simucube, Accuforce, Simagiq, Logitech, Thrustmaster and Moza Racing, has continued to be an obvious part of our set-up. This is because the DD2 was in several ways the perfect direct drive wheel base for us. Minimalistic and simple form factor with flexible mounting options, stylish and silent with the useful OLED mini-display, superb force feedback and brutally good durability. We've used our DD2 for over 2,200 hours without a hint of problems or possible overheating, which is certainly not the case for many of the competing models we've tested here at the office. We love the Fanatec DD2. In my humble opinion, it has been the market leader until now.
The world of sim-racing generally has a tendency to get stuck on specific points, particular shortcomings or features (or lack of features) that quickly turn into some sort of weird wildfire. For a while it was the flex in Fanatec's old belt drive quick release (QR1) that became something of a mantra in the sim-racing world. This is despite the fact that the few of us who have driven a real GT3 racing car around a track know very well that the steering wheel and its quick release flexes, because that's often how racing stuff is built.
Some things fit together "well enough" while others are optimised for durability and performance but perhaps not always for "best feel", and this has also spilled over into a debate about how smooth the FFB effect in the DD1/DD2 is compared to other direct drive wheel bases from other manufacturers . For many years now there has been talk about how "smooth" for example the Simucube Pro is compared to the DD2 and even though we drove with both of these wheel bases here on site and even though we like Finnish Simucube's stuff, that flex-free, screw-tight, super-smooth, soft feeling of force feedback has very little to do with real racing. In a racing car, where stuff usually gets built by the strategy "metal-to-metal" (to make stuff last), nothing is particularly "smooth", at all. On the contrary. It is stiff, hard, bumpy, gritty and not infrequently loud and while many racers strive for maximum "smoothness" in their sim-racing steering wheel base, I have always appreciated a little "grit", a little "grain" and a bit of mechanicalness, all to give the feeling of a real racing car.
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The positive thing here, regardless of where you stand in these ongoing debates, is that Fanatec with DD+ and DD Extreme has eliminated everything called flex and manufactured a steering wheel base that can be pretty much exactly as smooth as you possibly want. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, I'm rambling. Sorry. Let me rewind the tape and tell you what this is really about. Clubsport DD and Clubsport DD+ are Fanatec's new direct drive wheel bases that, in their product segment, place themselves above the CSL DD and CSL Pro but below the Podium DD2 in terms of both price and torque output. The DD+ that we have tested here offers 15 Nm of torque, which is 10 more than the CSL DD and 10 less than the DD2. The difference here is that Fanatec has reworked and designed the first completely new force feedback protocol in five years and it shows. They have also designed a completely new electric motor that squeezes out 15 Nm of torque with a constant delivery, despite passive cooling. Unlike wheel bases from, among others like Simagic, Moza and Thrustmaster, this wheel base does not lose performance or "output" after three hours of driving time, and that, together with how smooth the new engine is, makes this feel like the next big step for Fanatec.
There's no doubt that this wheel base is more responsive and offers more detail about what's going on under the car's tires than the vast majority of direct drive models I've had the pleasure of reviewing the past four years. Fanatec's new force feedback protocol is demonstrably superb and those little jagged "jerks" in DD1/DD2 don't exist here. 15 Nm here also feels like at least 20 Nm with other wheel bases, which should reasonably mean that Fanatec was not exaggerating when they talked about this with "constant torque" according to their own analyses and measurements. It feels faster than anything Fanatec has released, too. The response is brutally fast and the FFB feels natural and genuine in a way that I don't really experience with, for example, the Thrustmaster T818, Moza R16 or Simagic Alpha. That being said, none of those wheelbases are particularly bad, just nowhere near as good with as much strength and detail as the DD+. In fact, they're not even close.
Fanatec's QR2 is, of course, included here and as I wrote before, it is what I consider to be the best quick coupling on the market today, not least because it is curiously based on the Krontec WRC quick release, which is hyper-popular in real racing. Zero flex, clever design and super easy solution for removing and replacing steering wheels. I also want to give a shout out to the overall design of the DD+, which with its heatsink-like metal housing can be mounted in more ways than almost any steering wheel base in this price range that I've tested. In the channels on the side, you simply push the same type of anchors that are used in the assembly of a traditional aluminium profile rig and, depending on where you want your DD+, you can push it forward or backward about 10-12 centimetres. This means that I haven't had to bother about the lack of a spacer to get the steering wheel a little closer to my body, as all I have to do is loosen the screws that I mounted in Fanatec's Podium Mount and then move the steering wheel base about seven centimetres closer to the body. It's a brilliant design.
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The form factor is super smooth too. The DD+ is small, dead quiet and it feels very well built. If you buy the DD Extreme package, you get the same steering wheel base as if you buy DD+ as well as an official Gran Turismo steering wheel designed by Polyphony Digital and housing a whole stack of buttons to be able to control the PS5 game with your thumbs. There is an LCD screen on the steering wheel as well as 14 buttons on the front and dual magnetic shift paddles. The wheel itself is feels too plastic-like and more like a toy, which means that I instead recommend you to choose the DD+ and the Fanatec Clubsport BMW M3 GT2 Wheel, which costs 299 Euros.
There's a small part of me that feels differently than any other sim-racer I've ever talked to regarding direct drive based force feedback. I like a little mechanical feel, a graininess and choppiness. I like when it's not too smooth like today's steering wheel bases all are. That said, the Fanatec Clubsport DD+ can do both. It's more "smooth" than pretty much anything on the market, if you will, but can be raw and powerful in a way that no 15 Nm base has yet been, in my experience. With the Clubsport DD, DD+ and DD Extreme package, Fanatec has taken the next big step forward for force feedback, and for 999 Euros I would without a doubt call the DD+ a direct drive bargain.