Okay okay. This next paragraph you can absolutely skip if you are a hardcore sim racer who has not only tested a direct drive steering wheel but may also own one. But the concepts need to be clarified, from the start, for uninitiated. So, yeah. Here we go.
95% of all the racing wheels you have seen or tried are based on belt or chain drive. This means that a small electric motor runs a pulley and a strap, a system which enables a more impactful experience than what the often microscopic motor might actually be able to offer. That's how wheels from Mad Catz, Thrustmaster, Logitech and just about everything in between - have always worked. Then we have 'direct drive' (DD), where the steering column is connected directly to the main motor shaft, which partly means that the motor itself must be more powerful than a belt-driven steering wheel, but it also means that as a player you can enjoy a much more precise steering wheel with way stronger force that ultimately better simulates what it's like to drive a real car. And although German sim-racing giant Fanatec has been a world leader in belt-driven wheel-bases for a long time, they have never made a direct drive wheel before. Until now, that is.
The DD2 is Fanatec's top model while the DD1 is based on exactly the same base, chassis and technology but with a slightly weaker engine. We received a review copy of DD2 a little over six weeks ago and have since used it almost daily. In the same vein we have borrowed an Accuforce Pro V2 and a Simucube 2 Pro in order to make a fair and to some extent objective comparison. We have basically played only Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione and Dirt Rally 2.0 and we have done this in our newly built simulator rig together with Fanatec's inverted Clubsport Elite pedals.
The first thing that struck us when we first unpacked these three competing direct drive wheels is how superior Fanatec is with its packaging design and our initial impression is one of pure quality. The Germans behind the very popular Clubsport wheels really are the sim-racing world's equivalent to Apple, as their own ecosystem makes the jungle that serious sim racing represents, much, much simpler and easier to navigate. The DD2 is black, incredibly heavy, well-built and stylishly designed in powder-coated steel, aluminium and carbon fibre. When compared with the Accuforce and the Simucube, they both look less stylish.
In terms of installation, the DD2 is also by far the easiest to handle. Thanks to the fact that all Fanatec's other gadgets (our pedals, gear lever and handbrake) can be plugged directly into the steering wheel and then handled in unison by the superb Fanalab software, many of the concerns that can sometimes scare off sim-racing beginners, are no longer an issue here. The steering wheelbase is screwed in from below or from the sides (depending on the chassis / cockpit) and in our Next Level Racing rig we easily attached four M6 bolts to the underside and were then able to start connecting cables and upgrading the software in the base itself. Ten minutes later we were up and running, which was definitely not the case with the two competitors, which took much longer to assemble and set up.
For starters, the Podium DD2 is really powerful and running it at 100% is borderline idiotic, as it's impossible to handle. We have rather used it at about 20-30% and even then it offers very strong resistance that easily simulates any modern racing car. It is usually said that a modern race car in the GT3-league, for example, gives about six newton-meters in total torque in the steering wheel (and on to your paws), while the DD2 has the capacity for about 25 nm, which feels like wrestling with a full-sized alligator. Another aspect that really impresses from the start is the sensitivity of the steering wheel, which feels super smooth. With 'force inertia' correctly tuned, in something like Dirt Rally 2.0 it's easy to feel the slightest bit of unevenness in the gravel; a wonderfully realistic feeling that makes us the best driver we can be. In comparison with the Accuforce steering wheel, in particular, Fanatec has put a lot of effort and time into developing and manufacturing its own purpose-built engine for DD1 / DD2 and not a standard industrial run-of-the-mill motor. It is hardly possible to detect as much as a single gear - ever - when using the DD2 and we can't say that about the other two wheelbases tested here. Sure, in some small instances, the Simucube steering wheel has been even smoother, but there is a constant sensitivity to Fanatec's flagship that we really love.
One of the unique and highly welcomed features of the DD2 (and the DD1) is Fanatec's own quick-release solution, which enables simple and above all quick installation of any gear hub / wheel without cables or hassle. In addition, their Podium HUB has the same fasteners and holes as every aftermarket steering wheel in the world, which makes it possible to attach any Sparco / Momo steering wheel, which of course we had to test. On the front edge of the DD2 wheelbase, there is a 2.7-inch OLED display where you can easily tune things like force feedback, sensitivity and ABS without having to fiddle around in the supplied (superb) Fanalab software and even if we only used Fanalab when during testing, it is, of course, a very welcome feature, especially for those who are thinking of using their steering wheel for PlayStation 4 rather than PC.
Fanalab as a program is brilliant. Super-easy to use and logical, even though it is completely crammed with features and settings. This, together with the build quality of the DD2, makes Fanatec's first direct drive venture a great success. We hold it higher than both Accuforce Pro V2 and Simucube 2 Pro and although the price tag of $1,500 is high, this steering wheel is worth every single penny.