The Next Level Racing Challenger cockpit caught my eye as a potentially excellent starter sim racing cockpit. I had come across the entry-level Challenger while eyeing an upgrade to the F-GT cockpit by Next Level Racing. With a “Beginner’s Guide to Sim Racing” in the works, I reached out to Next Level Racing to get my hands on the Challenger and do a thorough review.
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Full Disclosure: the great people over at Next Level Racing provided the Challenger cockpit free of charge. Big thanks to them; they are excellent to work with.
The box that the Next Level Racing Challenger cockpit came in was smaller than you would think. The smaller packaging is thanks to the cockpit coming unassembled. Though the box was more modest than anticipated, it was hefty. I believe the box was marked at 60 pounds.
Inside the box, as is often the case, there are some components and another box. Next Level Racing breaks the Challenger cockpit into two groups of parts. There is the front and then the back. I will talk more about this as we discuss assembly and use, as there are some exciting things to note on this topic.
Everything in the box was rock solid. It was easy to see why the weight was so high. Steel components and sturdy fasteners were provided. All fasteners were stored in blister packs and appropriately marked to follow the instructions.
The box also came with the instruction booklet, tools needed to assemble, and some sweet swag-like stickers and a lanyard. At first glance, the instruction booklet looked to be very clear and straightforward.
I am going to lead with the fact that Next Level Racing has the best customer service I have ever encountered. Absolute rock stars the whole way. Everyone I was in contact with during the assembly process was knowledgeable beyond belief and kind. Unfortunately, I know this because the assembly was an absolute kick in the pants.
As I mentioned previously, the cockpit comes effectively with two sections to connect. The front part was pretty straight forward. Sure, I had to contort a little and fiddle with a small allen key, but overall, it was not so bad.
When the back section came into play, I almost gave up on this review. To the credit of Next Level Racing, it is pretty clear that it takes two people to build the cockpit. I mean heck, it takes two people to assemble just about anything this size.
I completed the entire assembly using a few choice words, and with help from the great folks at Next Level Racing, about two hours after starting.
The Next Level Racing Challenger Cockpit does a great job of packaging a lot of robust features in a package meant for beginners. With a standard MSRP of $349, you do get an excellent package for the money. Next Level Racing even occasionally runs great promotions; I also saw one for the Challenger plus a year of iRacing for $249 at one point.
In short, what you get is a sturdy and serviceable cockpit. Everything is adjustable, so it should easily support folks as large as me (over six feet tall) down to smaller drivers. The seat has three-way adjustability for recline, and the ability to slide closer or further to the steering wheel column.
The column that mounts the steering wheel can be adjusted up and down quite a bit, again making it easy to fit drivers of different builds. Unfortunately, the steering wheel mounting point is a T-bar. The T-bar means that you will always be driving with a steel bar between your legs. For me, I learned to work around this; others may not be able to.
The baseplate where you mount your pedals is excellent. Very little flex in the platform, which is often a complaint of entry-level cockpit floorboards. Additionally, there are also several angles and positions you can mount your pedals on this particular floorboard.
Next Level Racing does offer an integrated monitor stand and a stand-alone monitor stand. I would likely add on the integrated stand if I were sticking with this cockpit. For our review, I just set my monitor up on a table.
Start Your Engines
If I am honest with you, nothing is more fun to me than sim racing with an actual cockpit. I could not wait for an excuse to spend hours testing out the Next Level Challenger cockpit. Once the holiday business ended, that’s just what I did.
Whether I was practicing, hot lapping, competing in iRacing, or learning how to RallyCross, I had a blast in the Challenger.
The seat was comfortable even though it might look like a cheap alternative to a real racing seat. Additionally, I was able to get everything set to fit my frame quickly. I found the pedal positioning to be perfect based on just eyeballing it. As a side note, a big shout out to Next Level Racing for including cable-management clips to keep everything looking clean.
I have already mentioned the T-bar style mounting option for the wheel. I will reiterate that it is a touch uncomfortable but that I was able to work around it. If I were keeping this cockpit, I would likely swap my clutch and brake on my pedal set.
Something that I also realized with the Challenger is that you can sort of convert the front half into a makeshift wheel stand. If you look at the Wheel Stand Lite by Next Level Racing, you will get a good idea of what the front end converts to when detached from the back end. When my basement got too cold to play in the full cockpit, I found myself swapping out some bolts and bringing the front end to the bedroom to play.
Be warned that Next Level Racing does not explicitly condone the above trick, I just thought it was nifty. Because the front end is meant to gain rigidity from its connection to the back half of the cockpit, using the front end as a wheel stand shows some instability.
The Next Level Racing Challenger cockpit is a solid first cockpit for any sim racer. If you want something that functions well and offers some flexibility for not too much cash, it is a worthwhile investment. Next Level Racing has some of the most knowledgeable customer support I have ever dealt with, and I have never had a more pleasant experience partnering with a company.
Though I recommend the product overall, there are some shortcomings. The T-bar mount for your steering wheel is less than optimal. It can be uncomfortable, but it is definitely where they saved some money. Similarly, you will not get a real racing seat with this cockpit, but again, it is meant to be entry-level.
The overall process of building this thing did leave me in a pile of sweat on the floor, but I feel like one more set of hands could have remedied that. Don’t expect it to come together with no effort.
If you are new to sim racing and want to have your own dedicated cockpit, the Next Level Racing Challenger is a plenty fine option for the money.
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The Next Level Racing Challenger Cockpit is perfect for beginners, but otherwise just Good.