Nearly a year ago, world famous racing stuff manufacturer Sparco announced that they would be expanding to the gaming arena and that their Evolve simulator would be the flagship product. With a carbon fiber racing seat and striking appearance, the Evolve certainly looks the part. But does it play the part? That’s what we find out in our in-depth review of the Sparco Evolve racing simulator.
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PRO – AESTHETICS
Have we mentioned yet how good the Evolve looks? Racing simulator aesthetics can be subjective but we are big fans of the minimalistic look of the Evolve. Every part looks purposeful and is made out of / finished in some of the best paint / powder coating in the industry.
PRO – STABILITY
On camera, the Evolve shows some movement. The wheel deck does wonder a little, the pedal deck shows a little flex towards the top and the seat also has a little deflection. But in use, the Evolve feels very solid. During standard use with a range of wheels from the Thrustmaster TS-XW to Fanatec CSL Elite to SimXperience AccuForce, I never noticed any of the movement.
Yes, if you want to make the wheel deck move, you can. But in normal driving conditions, I never detected any movement.
PRO – PARTY TRICKS
For lack of a better label, the Evolve posses a couple cool – and handy – party tricks. First, there are two casters on the front of the rig that allows you to easily move it by yourself (although it should be noted that the small casters might not work great on carpet). Every simulator should either come with casters or have it as an option.
Second, the front of the rig can pivot up, allowing you to save some space when not racing. I did find this pivot action can cause the bottom frame to not entirely rest flat on the ground but the adjustable rubber feet on the bottom take care of this issue, leveling the rig.
NEUTRAL – SEAT
I love the seat on the Evolve. The carbon fiber on the seat is really well done. It has an excellent tool surface finish and even visible details like the ply buildups at the hardware points.
I also found the seat comfortable for long periods of time. At first I struggled with the fixed seat because I’m a “gangsta lean” driver myself, and the very upright position was bothering my lower back. But then I placed the front seat bolt to the middle of three hole locations (I already had the back bolt at the bottom location) and this gave me the right amount of lean to make me happy. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the “fall in and hold you close” nature of the deep seat.
So if I like it so much, why do we have it it the NEUTRAL category? Because this is a one size seat.
The Evolve’s seat is about as tight on me as I would want any sim racing seat to be. The issue is I’m 5’6”, and according to the interwebs, that puts me at about the 5th percentile for height of male American adults. So if this seat fits a – relatively skinny – 5% male nicely, what does it do to someone in the 50th percentile? Or 80th? Or even as low as 25th?
Well, I found out. I had some friends over one night and I had them try out the Evolve. My friend Steven, who is 6’2” and in much better shape than me, said that while he could fit, it was tight on his hips and he couldn’t race like that for a long time.
You can remove the padding pieces from the rig, but once you do that you’re left with fabric wrapped carbon fiber, which isn’t very comfy.
So while I’ve grown to really like the seat in both form and function, I think there’s going to be a vast swath of folks out there that just won’t fit in it, which isn’t good.
NEUTRAL – WHEEL DECK
On the positive side, the wheel deck on the Evolve has no problem accepting any wheel out there. It even has the front third hole for Fanatec wheel bases, although it’s only accessible when you run the wheel deck in the most forward position. If you try to push it back, the bolt hits the wheel deck assembly’s frame.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of some frustrating design elements of the Evolve.
Unlike most wheel decks that just have a deck attached to the frame, the Evolve uses a three piece box approach. There’s pros and cons to this design. You get a good amount of tilt options thanks to the outside box rotating between the frame and the smaller inside box’s angle adjusting inside the big box. One thing of note though, the inside box’s angle is fairly limited because the front of it only aligns with two of the four holes at anytime. Besides further angle options, the inside box can also be raised up, giving you height adjustment which is very handy.
Another unique characteristic is that the wheel deck plate is actually designed to be removed. At first blush I thought this was a great idea. Avoiding the awkward acrobatics of securing a wheel to the wheel deck sounded great. But you still have to put it on the rig and this process is even more awkward. Due to the design, you have to squeeze your hands into the box assembly and turn the knobs that go onto the plate’s welded on threads. It’s barely doable, especially when the wheel isn’t at one of the higher positions.
CON – PEDAL PLATE
On to the pedal plate and it’s a similar – but much more frustrating – story. The knobs needed to tighten the two piece design are under the pedal plate, instead of being in an accessible spot on the side like pretty much every other simulator out there, so it forces you to awkwardly tilt the Evolve on it’s side and have it rest on you while you frantically snug the pedal plate down to the tilt adjustment carriage under it.
I mean…most people don’t change out their hardware that much but if you ever need to adjust the pedal’s position, you’re going to be diving under the rig to do so, which really sucks.
Maybe the idea was that you would hinge the front half of the Evolve up to adjust the pedals but for me and many of people out there, that just isn’t feasible with our rig setup. Just easier to go under it.
As for pedal plate compatibility, there’s also a couple issues. While it accepts most pedals, I found that the Fanatec CSL Elite’s are too wide for the plate. In fact, the Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3 just fit on the plate and I had to wedge them between the pedal plate feet.
On top of that, adjustability on the plate is limited for some pedals. The Thrustmater T3PA pedals have two hole positions that they align with, giving you some up down adjustability. The Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3 on the other hand only have one position on the plate.
You can slide the entire plate up and down thanks to the groves on the tilt carriage under it but I struggled to get them in the exact position I liked.
I also struggled getting the Fanatec ClubSport V3 pedals to the angle I wanted. I started with the tilt carriage at the middle hole position but my right foot kept sliding up the pedal. So then I went to move it to the top – highest angle – position but I couldn’t because the front of the pedal plate would hit the frame plate that runs under your feet. Ugh.
CON – INSTRUCTIONS
At first flip through the instructions looked great. Lots of images are always good. But once I started building, that impression quickly flipped.
First, some instructions aren’t correct. The instructions to install the red mesh inserts have the bolts going the wrong direction. Minor, but a silly mistake if you aren’t paying attention. Then there’s the accuracy of the drawings. The knobs in the instructions are different looking from the knobs you get, and when there are two different types of knobs in the box, this gets confusing. Also – sans one page – none of the images show washers, yet there are a bunch of washers in the box. So that becomes a guessing game. Pro tip, use washers everywhere. The written instructions aren’t much help either, and for a simulator with as many parts as the Evolve has, this is an issue.
Lastly, there’s a lot of images of knobs in the instructions, but nothing about all those extra M8 bolts in the box…which brings us to our next subject.
CON – KNOBS
F**k knobs. After losing many hours of my life messing around with them, I have zero clue why they are even in the box. Following the instructions, I used only knobs to secure the wheel and pedal assemblies. What a disaster that turned out to be.
No matter how hard I turned them, they would all loosen up while driving. I eventually contacted Sparco because I had a gap between the wheel deck box and the frame uprights that just didn’t seem right and they told me to scrap the knobs and use the included M8 bolts. So I did that and wouldn’t you know I could tighten the pieces together and they wouldn’t loosen up while driving.
As I went on I would remove one set of knobs at a time as it became obvious that none of them worked. I also discovered during this transition that while Sparco includes enough M8 bolts, they don’t include enough washers and nuts and I had to dive into my own collection to finish out the knob purge.
Unfortunately, there were casualties along the way. In my attempt to get the knobs to work, I broke off one of the three threaded studs on both the wheel deck and pedal plate. Apparently my many re-tightens was too much for them and displayed not only the flaw of using knobs, but using welded threaded studs instead of bolts. Now I’m down to two points of contact on each but they seem to be doing the job once I switched to the washer + nut.
Which brings us back to the Pro’s section of the review. Once I removed all the knobs, the Evolve felt solid and nothing loosened up. Again, I have no idea why they are in the box but if you do purchase the Evolve, just throw them away and pick up six more M8 washers and nuts.
CON – ACCESSORIES
The Evolve is currently a very stripped down simulator. It does not have an h-pattern shifter mount – a standard feature in the industry – or less standard accessories like handbrake mount, keyboard tray, monitor mount and transducer mount.
Speaking with Sparco earlier this year, they told me that accessories like these are coming, but without a timeframe at this time, it’s hard to say when and could be a deal breaker for some customers. Plus, that means more money to spend on an already not inexpensive rig…
CON – PRICE
Just because something is $1,300 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s expensive. It just means that the product has to justify the price. Unfortunately the Evolve doesn’t do this.
If the Evolve was a kickass experience, then I think it would be worth the money, even sans the accessories. It looks like a million bucks, has a carbon fiber seat that isn’t inexpensive and of course carries the Sparco name – which whether we like to admit it or not – adds some “want” deep down in our hearts.
But as we’ve seen in this review, it hasn’t been a kickass experience.
The Sparco Evolve is a tough product to recommend. If you eliminate all the knob issues we had – since you’ve watched this review and now know what to do – and even the diving under the rig part to change and adjust pedals since that should become less of an issue once you’re happy with the position, then there’s a chance you could have a good experience. But unfortunately, I think a lot of variables have to line up to have a positive experience.
Take my experience for example. I’m short and relatively skinny – less so these days – and I was able to fit in the seat comfortably. I was also able to adjust all the wheels to my liking with the wheel deck box and appreciated that I could raise the height of them. As for the pedals, I had no issue finding a comfortable location and angle for the Thrustmaster T3PA pedals. But when it came to the Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3’s, I wasn’t able to find a comfortable position with my short legs because the frame gets in the way of the pedal plate when you move it in and try to add angle.
Now take someone taller, like my friend, and I bet the pedal plate wouldn’t be an issue because it would be in front of the frame. But, he was uncomfortable in the tight seat.
So if it doesn’t work for a short person with short legs and doesn’t work for a tallish person who works out a bunch, then who does it work for? A thin average height person? And that’s average height in the US, maybe not for your country.
I appreciate the different take on the simulator from Sparco. I love the look, the carbon fiber seat, the included casters, the rigidity of it, the fact that it doesn’t take up much space. But not only are there big issues that we’ve noted, there are potentially more nuanced ones like, “Do you prefer driving open wheel cars versus GT cars?” If yes, then the very upright GT seating position might not be for you.
By the time you tally all of these – and potential – issues up, we find the Sparco Evolve simulator to be a tough sell.