Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel
Start your engines!
- Solid design and build quality, good control interface, comes bundled with Forza 2 and Project Gotham Racing 4
- Limited wireless functionality, foot pedals may cause ankle cramps
If you're a hardcore gamer with a penchant for racing titles, the Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel is one of the best peripherals on the market. It combines sturdy construction, force-feedback functionality and intuitive handling for a great racing experience. Well worth shelling out for.
Price$ 149.95 (AUD)
Steering wheel peripherals have come a long way since the days of the original PlayStation. There was a time when would-be race drivers had to make do with hideous chunks of wheel-shaped plastic that were far less practical than a regular control pad. Instead of adding extra realism, they added extra minutes to your personal lap times and made you look like a complete tool to boot. Thankfully, things have improved in leaps and bounds since then, with the latest generation of ‘racing’ peripherals finally being worthy of the name.
The Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel is probably the best offering yet, and certainly the best for this console. The product has been on the shelves for a while now, but in light of the recent 25% price-drop, we thought we’d get our butts into gear and give it a proper test drive. Featuring inbuilt force-feedback with dual ‘rumble’ motors, slip-resistant foot pedals, (semi) wireless functionality, and 270 degrees of motion, it should put a smile on any hardcore racer’s noggin. At the risk of sounding like a 1980s Scalextric commercial, it’s almost like having a racing car in your own lounge room. As an added bonus, you even get two free games thrown in too.
Unlike other racing peripherals, the Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel has been custom-built by Microsoft to ensure a perfect fit. Everything from the build quality to the colour scheme perfectly matches the Xbox console: they just look right together, like a Lamborghini Diablo and a bikini-clad model. If you’re a fan of the Xbox 360’s regular control pad, you should also be happy with how the wheel handles: it’s based on the same technology. To this end, all of the Xbox 360’s controls are replicated faithfully, including the navigation button, D-pad, start/back buttons and X/Y/B/A face buttons. The wheel feels solid in your hands, is realistically sized and responds as a real one should, with 270 degrees of motion. In fact, our only real issue with the device is its slightly misleading moniker.
Despite touting its ‘wireless’ capabilities (going so far as to shoehorn the word into an overly clunky name), the Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel needs to be plugged into a wall socket for full functionality. While it can be powered by AA/rechargeable batteries, this disables the rumble/force-feedback, which is an essential part of the gaming experience. In addition to injecting an extra level of realism, force-feedback also helps you to gauge speed and cornering in the majority of racing games. We can’t imagine anyone choosing batteries over force-feedback, which makes the ‘cable-free’ option kind of pointless.
Additionally, you also need to connect the foot pedals to the steering wheel via an RJ-11 cable. Since when has wireless been defined as ‘up to two wires’? Presumably, Microsoft got away with this because the wheel isn’t plugged into the console, but it’s still a bit of a fib to call it wireless. Still, as long as you have a spare AC socket near your Xbox, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
In terms of design, the Xbox 360 Wireless Steering Wheel sports the same cream-and-grey finish as the original X360 console. Unfortunately, no black alternative is offered, which means owners of the Xbox 360 Elite will just have to live with a clashing colour scheme. We found the build-quality to be top-notch across all components — this is a first-party product after all — with none of the flimsy plastic bits that can mar cheaper peripherals. We were particularly impressed with the quality of the table clamp, which fits snugly onto most table tops via a plastic screw arrangement complete with rubber stoppers. Once fastened, it is nearly impossible to wrench the clamp free, which is bound to come in handy during those sudden hairpin corners. The wheel is also designed to fit across your lap, though we found this a bit cumbersome in practice.
The pedals are equally well designed, and for once, the ‘slip free’ claim seems to hold true. We used them on a polished floorboard surface — usually the bane of floor-based controllers — and they remained securely in place throughout testing. Our only reservation was that we had to overextend our ankles to get full throttle while sitting at certain angles. Over extended periods of time, this could start to feel painful.
We tested the wheel out on a variety of games, including Project Gotham Racing 4, Forza Motorsport 2 (both of which are included free with the wheel) and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. As with any force-feedback peripheral, the success of the device largely depends on the game at hand, as it needs to be programmed into the software. For the most part, we think the developers did a pretty good job across each of the tested games.
Response time was lightning-fast and is easily on par with a regular wireless control pad. Much like a real steering column, the wheel will quickly realign itself to the centre after turning left or right, which is a nice tough. The force-feedback truly does make for an intuitive and immersive gaming experience, with every slick manoeuvre (or not-so-slick pileup) accompanied by an authentic shudder. All up, this is an incredibly impressive piece of kit that we have no hesitation recommending to racing fans.
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