Review: Fenix Simulations A320 For MSFS

Written by on August 3, 2022

Introduction

Earlier in May 2022, Fenix released their much-awaited Airbus A320 rendition to the general public. As part of our “First Impressions” series, the team at FSNews (notably myself) tried the aircraft before it was released. Despite having limited flight hours at the time, I concluded that the Fenix A320 was an aircraft worth considering if you wanted to fly a detailed yet enjoyable aircraft. Is this statement still valid today? The short answer is yes. Read on to see the reasons behind this conclusion.

A few months have now passed since the release of the “First Impressions” article. This gives us a perfect opportunity to review the aircraft, given that we’ve accumulated dozens of flight hours with it. Some parts from my “First Impressions” article may be re-edited and used, given that it upholds my current opinions on the aircraft.

This review will fairly outline the strongest and weakest features of the Fenix A320. The article is divided into several sections to give you the opportunity to read the parts you will be interested in. 

Before beginning with the review, I would like to thank Fenix Simulations for providing us with a review copy to showcase. In spite of this, please note that all opinions expressed in this article will be genuine and unbiased.

Installation Process

In terms of the installation process, Fenix has done a great job making it straightforward and easy. The only thing you need to do is download and run an automatic installer. The download link is available in the “Dashboard” section on the Fenix website. It’s a walk in the park!

Included Content

Once the installation process is completed, you will notice two new icons on your desktop: Fenix Sim A320 and Livery Manager.

The “Livery Manager” (just like the name suggests) is a livery management application for the A320. This app is quite significant, as it allows you to install a whopping 181 handmade liveries into your simulator. Simmers now have many airline options to choose from thanks to this neat touch. At Fenix, quantity does not appear to affect quality. In fact, all the liveries are available in either 4K or 8K textures. I prefer using 4K liveries as they don’t hinder performance as much as the 8K textures. 

Livery Manager

When it comes to livery making, Fenix has done a phenomenal job. Please note that the developer has not created any liveries for airlines operating IAE or Sharklet equipped A320s. Liveries for these airlines will be added once the IAE and Sharklet variants are available.

Fenix Sim A320

The “Fenix Sim A320” app allows the user to configure hardware options related to the Fenix A320. I have decided to stay with the CPU for display rendering, all on a balanced setting. If you want to use higher resolution cockpit textures, you can do so by ticking the last box setting. The app also allows you to easily update the A320 and look through any changes made through the changelog.

Additionally, you can set your Hoppie and SimBrief login details. To use the aircraft’s CPDLC and Datalink features, these are required.

Aircraft Exterior

Now, let’s put the star of the show under the magnifying glass; the aircraft itself. Immediately, it is apparent that the developers nailed the exterior of the Fenix A320. The Fenix model matches the shape and dimensions of a real A320 aircraft to a very high level of accuracy. This aircraft has such detailed texturing that you can count the number of screws and rivets, which differ in dimensions and orientation.

Starting from the front, the distinctive windshields are replicated to a very high level of accuracy, giving the aircraft its iconic menacing look.

The CFM-56 engines are very well modelled, with subtle traces of wear on the blades. Texturing also varies according to the engine section and is not monotonous.

The landing gears are spectacularly replicated, with all the springs, cables and pylons modelled. You can even read the part number sticker, which even includes a modification record grid.

Just like the rest of the aircraft, the wings are packed with detail. The texturing is different all over the wing, giving a realistic worn impression. The fence winglets also feature the same level of detail, along four static dischargers.

There are many intricate features on the Fenix A320’s exterior model that become noticeable the longer you look at it. Certainly, the Fenix A320 is among the best-modelled aircraft in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Flight-Deck Interior

Fenix has done a tremendous job when modelling the flight-deck. The thorough use of PBR texturing gives the cockpit a very realistic feel. The cockpit features wear marks and scratches on areas that are most used, such as the brightness knobs or the radio com setting knob. This clearly elevates the immersion level within the flight deck. There are also areas with clean textures. This includes the pilot seats or the panel on which the glass displays are mounted. No areas within the flight-deck have identical textures.

Moreover, most of the switches, knobs, and levers in the cockpit are animated. It is even possible to click on the circuit breakers, which are also animated. The majority of developers ignore these areas, but Fenix went the extra mile to model them. There are also subtle features, such as fire gloves or even fire extinguishers.

Just like in real life, the Fenix A320 includes different 3D models for different types of switches. For example, the nosewheel steering, landing light, strobe and nose light switches all have different shapes and dimensions.

As an option, Fenix have implemented a higher cockpit resolution setting, that you can toggle in the A320 desktop app. Provided that you have a really performance computer, this will allow you to experience the best textures in the flight deck.

Last but not least, the lighting on the flight deck is excellent. Even if it’s pitch black outside, nocturnal flyers can enjoy the colourful Fenix A320 cockpit.

Aircraft Systems

Glass Cockpit Display

Airbus has two generations of its Electronic Instrument System (EIS) on their A320s. The first generation EIS1 unit uses CRT screens whereas the second generation EIS2 unit uses LCD screens for the displays. Subsequently, both the EIS1 and EIS2 have noticeable differences in terms of fonts.

Fenix opted to implement the EIS2 displays for their A320 rendition. During launch, the Fenix A320 was criticised for having fonts from the older EIS1 variant of the aircraft. This was an issue as the Fenix used an EIS2 display, and therefore it was unrealistic to have EIS1 fonts on an EIS2 screen.

EIS1 on the left vs EIS2 on the right

However, I am happy to announce that the fonts are completely reworked and thus are now accurate. The PFD and ND units are modelled to a very high degree of accuracy. Having actually sat in the cockpit of an A320, I can say that the colours of the displays are well recreated.

The same can be said about the ECAM displays. The upper display correctly portrays engine, fuel and flaps indications. The upper displays also automatically adds “memo” messages when required, notably during take-off, landing or during an abnormal situation. The lower ECAM display is also modelled with great depth. The system pages are all dynamic and behave differently according to the flight conditions.

ECAM Memo message before take-off

On the other hand, the quality of the displays is actually determined by the settings in the Fenix A320 desktop app. Since my display quality is set to “balanced”, it isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but it is adequate for distance viewing. It is not recommended that you set the settings to “performance” mode as the displays can become quite blurry.

MCDU System

The MCDU (or the Master Control Display Unit) is the A320’s flight management system. It is split into two sub systems: the FMGC (Flight Management Guidance Computer) and the ATSU (Air Traffic Services Unit). The FMGC is used by the aircraft to primarily navigate, manipulate performance values and monitor fuel usage. The ATSU is used by the aircraft as a communication hub, where pilots can use the datalink to interchange data via satellite or also contact the ATC through CPDLC.

The A320 MCDU

The team at Fenix has done as astonishing job at accurately replicating the MCDU. All the features that I have listed above are fully functional with the A320 rendition. Since this article is a review and not an A320 tutorial, I’m only going to be showcasing the more intricate and impressive features of the FMGS.

Some features of the Fenix A320 MCDU

The ADC Delay feature

One such feature is the ADC Delay function in the ATSU, where your virtual operational centre will prompt you with a justification if you depart later than your scheduled departure time. You then have you justify the delay using a delay code and send this back to the centre via datalink system. It is a subtle, yet very immersive feature that demonstrate the extent of simulation of the Fenix A320. Other more classic features of the ATSU include flight plan INIT request and also PDC and Oceanic clearance through CPDLC.

ADC Delay Feature on the ATSU

The Wind Uplink feature

An intricate feature in the FMGC is the wind request option. You no longer need to manually enter wind information from your OFP, as it can now be done automatically through uplink (which is an automatic ground to aircraft message). All you need to do is press on the “Wind request” option.

All these features not only increase flight immersion, but they also facilitate flying and allow you to achieve faster turnarounds. Remember that an aircraft needs to be flying to be profitable!

Failures

A big selling point of the Fenix A320 is that it allows hardcore simmers to experience over 200 failure scenarios. Although I don’t particularly like to deal with failures when flying, I have decided to give it a go for the sake of the review.

Setting up a failure

In order to activate any failures, you need to navigate to the failures section through the config page of the FMGC. Then, you have an option to choose the failure type (if you are manually selecting it) or select the random failure option. The random failure option will randomly pick and set a failure. You have the option to select type of severity of the failure. Since I’m more of a chicken, I opted for an engine failure during take-off, as I’m familiar with the procedures for this scenario.

Experiencing the Failure

As soon as I was airborne, I manually activated the failure. A sudden bank towards the left was felt and the rate of climb decreased. Master cautions quickly followed by and my fast instincts took over. Just like in real life, I began by executing memory items (which are action that pilots have to know by heart). Then, I followed the actions that were written on the ECAM display. They were very accurate to the real A320s ECAM messages during such a situation.

Unfortunately, I was unable to restart the engine and thus had to follow further actions from the QRH (or the Quick Reference Handbook). Do note that Fenix do not provide QRHs, but they can be easily found online. Despite losing one engine, I was able to safely land at Biarritz Airport. I was impressed to see that the loss of systems were realistic. As expected, there was a fuel imbalance, loss of ILS CAT III dual mode, and the loss of an electric generator.

I can conclude this sub-section by stating that the Fenix A320 has impressively managed to simulate failure scenarios. This certainly isn’t a feature that most flight-simmers will exploit, but it is certainly one appreciated by more experienced simmers or even real-world pilots.

Other notable features

A nice feature that Fenix implemented on their A320 are working windshield wipers. At first glance, this may seem generic, but most aircraft in MSFS actually don’t have simulated wipers. In the Fenix however, the wipers are operative and will wipe water off your windshield. Detail has not been spared when it comes to the modelled sound, as it accurately matches with the real wiper sounds.

A notable feature that is missing in the flight-deck is the weather radar. This isn’t quite the fault of Fenix however, as Asobo is yet to provide a weather API platform for developers to work on.

When it comes to engine performance, the Fenix team exclaimed on their Discord server that the performance values aren’t as accurate as they wished. In spite of this, I personally haven’t found any particular problems regarding engine performance when flying.

Electronic Flight Bag

In my opinion, the area where the Fenix A320 excels the most over any other available aircraft is the EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) system. Fenix has opted to go with a virtual iPad to model this feature.

I found the EFB to be easy and straightforward to operate. A big part of this is thanks to the very user-friendly interface implemented by the development team. I also found it very easy to link my Navigraph account to the iPad. This allowed me to use my charts without fuss. My favourite app on the EFB is the performance calculators. As well as being a more immersive method of calculating V-speeds, it was also very easy to use. Similarly, a landing performance calculator is available.

Overall EFB Detailing

Not only is the EFB packed with very well made applications, but the overall level of detail of the iPad itself is astonishing. The dev team went as far as modelling an interactive charging model. For example, once you remove the lightning cable from the iPad, the charge level drops. The Fenix iPad even includes Touch ID, a subtle yet immersive feature. It’s these little yet intricate features that makes the difference between a good aircraft rendition and an excellent aircraft rendition.

Custom Apps

It is great to have these custom apps, since they eliminate the need to use external software like TOPCAT to calculate performance. Additionally, it eliminates the need to launch excessive desktop apps as you can have your charts and Simbrief plans in your aircraft. It will be especially useful to those who only have one monitor.

In-Flight Experience

Although I am not a real-world A320 pilot, using my previous experience on numerous A320 renditions, I can say that the Fenix is a very nice aircraft to fly. Hand-flying the aircraft is a stroll in the park, thanks to the replication of Airbus’ fly-by-wire system. After initiating a turn, the aircraft maintains its bank angle, just like in reality. Every landing is different due to the aircraft’s accurate response to external factors such as weight, wind, or elevation.

If you are sitting in the cabin, you will notice that turbulence shaking and wing-flexing are implemented. This can be notably noticed when flying over the Alps, where the Fenix is shaken by turbulence. Having flown over the Swiss Alps in an A320 in real life, I can confirm that the phenomenon is very well replicated by the team!

Cabin Interior

Fenix has definitely kept the same high standard when it comes to the cabin interior. The seats are packed with detail, with different textures for the seatbelts, arm rests and seat nets.

The galley gives the cabin extra realism, but is static.

Other notable cabin features include the squared cabin lining, overhead bins and the blue carpeting.

Although the cabin is very detailed and nicely textured, it certainly lacks animation. Window blinds cannot be drawn, overhead bins are inoperative and lavatory doors cannot be opened. This is slightly disappointing, as all these named features above are animated on other payware aircraft addons. However, this is not really a necessary feature, as it only for the sake of passenger immersion.

Aircraft Sounds

Sounds Inside the Flight-Deck

Fenix has done a tremendous job in recreating the cockpit sounds of the A320.  The startup sounds are well-recreated, from the satisfying clicks when pressing an overhead button to the chunky “clunk” when external power kicks in. The “dings and bings” of the flight warning computer clearly catch your attention. Moreover, most animated objects in the flight-deck have their own sound. There is a difference between the sound of the flap and the speedbrake lever, for example. The same is applicable with the switches.

Sounds Inside the Cabin

Sounds inside the passenger cabin are replicated to a good standard. The varying cabin noises throughout the flight clearly bring me back to my memories as a passenger on a real A320. The iconic barking noise of the PTU unit is well-recreated. The engine sound is toned down but does vary depending on where you sit in the cabin.

Exterior Sounds

Exterior sounds are some of the best you will ever encounter on a flight simulator. This includes the engine “rattle” when wind-milling, the deafening yet familiar APU exhaust and the roar of the CFM-56 engines during take-off. It is evident that Fenix went to great lengths to recreate a realistic airside environment through realistic sounds.

Verdict on Sounds

The sounds conveyed through the Fenix A320 are some of the best you will encounter in MSFS. I have attempted to recreate all these sounds through onomatopoeias, but you truly have to check it out for yourself. There are simply too many sounds to describe in a single review.

However, it’s a shame that Fenix has not implemented a system where the user can adjust the volume level. Although the current volume levels of the sounds are said to be realistic, I do find the engine start sequence volume to be quite low.

Performance and Frame Rate

Performance on the Fenix A320 is good. As for reference, my personal config consists of an RTX 3070Ti and a Ryzen 7 5800x processor.  On 1440p Ultra settings, I manage to get around 40 to 50 FPS during cruise. At a light scenery (such as at default Nice), I average around 50 to 55 FPS. However, at a heavy scenery (such as LatinVFR Barcelona), I tend to average around 30 to 35 FPS.

One of the major issues with the Fenix A320 are frame drops and stutters, especially on final over densely populated areas and large airports. Changing some settings in MSFS or in the Fenix A320 app will fix this, but some aesthetic quality will be sacrificed.

Considering how complex and detailed the Fenix A320 is, the performance figures are not surprising. Since the release candidate version, Fenix has done an excellent job improving performance with its last two updates.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can only recommend the Fenix A320. Is it a perfect aircraft? No, as a perfect addon does not exist in my view. Although there are a few minor weaknesses, notably the current lack of variants or the occasional stutters, the aircraft boasts a variety of features that easily outweigh them. 

Those who read my “First Impressions” article may notice that my conclusion remains unchanged. This is simply because the team at Fenix is continuously working hard to improve the aircraft with every update. The initial release candidate version was very enjoyable to fly. An already enjoyable experience has been elevated to a whole new level with v1.02. With the developer’s meticulous attention to detail combined with a true-to-life replication of many avionics, I truly feel like I’m flying an actual A320.

Another fantastic feature of the Fenix A320 that I haven’t really touched upon is the dev team. Besides offering excellent customer service on their discord server, the team keeps the community updated on what they are working on. It’s great to see a developer bonding so well with its customers.

If you are looking for a very realistic, interactive and fun aircraft to fly, then the Fenix A320 is the way to go.

The Fenix A320 is available to purchase for £49.99 (or 59.14€) exclusively on their webstore. The add-on is only available to PC users.

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