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Fanatec CSL Elite: Best Budget Wheel Base (Review)

The Fanatec CSL Elite wheel base is a fantastic middle ground between regular sim racing wheels and direct drive wheels. It provides stronger, more accurate force feedback than your average wheel, at just a fraction of the price of a direct drive system. In this article, we’ll review the CSL Elite in-depth, including what features and benefits it offers, and who it’s right for.

Fanatec CSL Elite V1.1 Fanatec CSL Elite V1.1
This affordable wheel base from Fanatec is a great step up from beginner steering wheels, thanks to its powerful force feedback and great adjustability

What to Consider Before Buying a Wheel Base

The main thing to note when buying a sim racing wheel base is the price. Typically, wheel bases are more expensive than complete steering wheels, since you also need to buy a wheel rim. However, they’re nowhere near as expensive as direct drive wheels, and will definitely get you a more luxurious racing experience.

The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base

The Fanatec CSL Elite wheel base presents itself as an inexpensive but high-quality entry into the world of wheel bases. Its packaged with the base, the clamps, various cords and the power supply unit (notably it’s missing an actual wheel rim, which you will have to purchase separately if you don’t have a compatible one). The semi-minimalistic and elegant design of the CSL Elite is accompanied by a number of great features which make this a solid “beginners” choice.

Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base Close Up
Image Credit: https://www.instagram.com/goosesimracing/

Obviously, this isn’t a beginner’s wheel per se. All wheel bases require some know-how to operate or at least to get the most out of, which is why we recommend them more for experienced or at least relatively knowledgeable racing sim pilots. That being said, the CSL is marketed as an entry point, and it does quite an admirable job. 

When compared to other wheel bases such as the ClubSport V2.5 (see our in-depth comparison of the two here), the CSL Elite doesn’t stand up to scruff. Simply put, these two wheels are targeted at different people. The ClubSport 2.5 is aimed at those who wish to get as close to the direct drive experience as possible without the burdensome cost, while the CSL Elite aims to provide you with a great experience you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get with beginner wheels

Features & Benefits

Here are what we consider the five most important features and benefits of the CSL Elite wheel base:

Force Feedback

Fanatec’s engineering department takes great care of their consumers even when it comes to their less expensive wheels. The CSL Elite makes use of the same powerful servo motor as its more luxurious brother, the ClubSport V2.5. Feedback is delivered from the motor to the wheel by means of a single belt system. Of course, this is far smoother and quieter than the gear-based systems used in cheaper racing wheels; however, it’s a little less premium than the two multirib belts used in the ClubSport (which ensure lesser slippage). Overall, though, the CSL Elite is sure to give you an immersive driving experience.

High Adjustability

The CSL Elite knows that a lot of its users enjoy making small changes here and there to personalise how their drive will feel. This wheel base’s tuning menu allows you to fine-tune the behaviour of a myriad of functions to your liking. These range from the degrees of rotation (which reach a fantastic 1080°), to the strength of the force feedback, the sensitivity, friction and dampening force of the wheel, the sensitivity of the pedals (if you have them) as well as being able to save up to five different wheel set-ups. All in all, there’s plenty to tinker with, and the various save files allow you to test out what truly works best for you. For more information, see our Fanatec wheel setup guide.

Cost

This is perhaps the most crucial factor and the one that most goes in favour of the CSL Elite wheel base. This product is cheap. Not in terms of build quality (more on that later) but in terms of price. It might not reach the heights of other products out there, but its price tag is the same as or less than some basic wheels. In pure terms of value for money, this can’t be described as anything but an incredible option. 

Build Quality

The CSL Elite is mostly built out of ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). This is a thermoplastic polymer that’s built to be resistant and to be able to handle quite a bit of punishment. It’s hard to either praise or criticise this aspect of the CSL however. On one hand, it doesn’t feel as nice as wheel bases made from metal (usually aluminium), and in comparison feels quite cheap. On the other, the entire reason why this wheel base is accessible is precisely because of this factor. ABS is resistant enough to be able to put up with quite a bit, and it lowers manufacturing costs so significantly that it allows this wheel to be sold for such an affordable amount. 

Peripherals

Fanatec is known for making a wide variety of peripherals, lots of which we’ve covered. We want to concentrate on two in this section. The CSL Elite pedals aren’t included in the bundle but are a good investment (and easy to justify considering the affordable nature of the wheel). They’re well built, incredibly accurate, quite comfortable and ergonomic, and easy to install in a racing cockpit (if you already have that). All in all, one of the best products out there on a bang for buck scale. 

The second peripheral we want to talk about is the wheel. Or rather, a lack thereof. It’s not the end of the world when the price of the wheel base is so affordable, but you should keep in mind that this will have to be an extra purchase you make. Few things are as annoying as getting your wheelbase, getting excited to drive, and then remembering you have no wheel to do it with. 

Alternatives

The Fanatec CSL Elite is a great product but by no means the only one you should consider purchasing. Below we’ve listed some of its alternatives, both complete wheel setups and wheel bases, we encourage you to look at before you make a final deliberation on what you’d like to purchase. 

Fanatec ClubSport V2.5

Though this product is more expensive than the CSL Elite, it offers so much more. For a fraction of the price, you can reach close to direct-drive performance, making the V2.5 an excellent option. If you’re looking for your first wheel base purchase then consider the V2.5. It performs laudably both when viewed in a vacuum, and when compared to the CSL Elite. For a more in-depth review of the 2.5 click here, while if you want to know our thoughts when comparing the 2.5 to the CSL Elite we have an article for you here

Sim-Plicity SW30

This is the least expensive direct drive wheel we feel comfortable recommending, but despite this, it will still be quite a bit steeper than the CSL Elite. One of its biggest praises is the sheer level of adjustability it offers. A simple window on your computer will have you adjusting everything from its rotation and torque to advanced telemetry options and the creation of profiles. If you simply can’t wait to purchase a good direct drive wheel that will make you feel not only like a pilot, but an engineer, then consider the Sim-Plicity SW30.

Other Alternatives

We’ve reviewed dozens of alternatives to the CSL Elite. If you want to know more about how they shape up against this fantastic Fanatec offering, check out the full comparisons:

Conclusion

The Fanatec CSL Elite doesn’t present itself as “the best” wheel base, nor does it claim that it’s the market leader in any area. What the Fanatec CSL Elite does do is give users looking for an accessible wheel base their dream. It’s powerful, it’s accurate, it’s adjustable, it’s realistic and it’s mercifully cheap. Whether you’re looking to upgrade because you simply want more from your racing sim experience, or your old wheel has broken and you’re wondering whether this will make a suitable replacement, the CSL Elite welcomes you with open arms. We strongly recommend this wheel base with a decent set of pedals for a great intermediate set-up which will be worth hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun. All in all, if you think the CLS Elite could suit you, why don’t you give it a look.  

Last Updated on April 19, 2021