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Fanatec CSL Elite Racing Wheel Review

When you’re uncertain as to whether you should upgrade to a direct drive wheel, or remain in the realm of force-feedback, a compromise appears on the horizon: wheelbases. These products are stronger than the average force-feedback wheel, but cheaper than direct drive options, making them the perfect stepping stone or upgrade. The Fanatec CSL Elite is a well-known product on this list, and this in-depth review will examine whether it’s worth purchasing it or not. 

What to Consider Before Buying a Wheelbase

The first thing that should be noted here is the price. Much like direct-drive wheels, purchasing a wheelbase is expensive and we recommend these products only to the most devoted fans out there. If you’re a beginner, or even just someone who only occasionally races, then this isn’t for you. 

Certain aspects differentiate great wheelbases from poor ones. The first is realism. How well does the wheelbase translate the inputs of the game into a realistic feeling for the user when driving with it. The second, just barely, most important aspect is accuracy. This translates to how reliable the wheel is in telling the game exactly what you’re doing. Finally, customization. It’s important that you can customize and adjust your wheelbase. This is because each wheel will behave slightly differently with it, and it’s key that you can optimize your experience. 

The Fanatec CSL Elite Racing Wheel

The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheelbase presents itself as an inexpensive but high-quality entry into the world of wheelbases. Its packaged with the base, the clamps, various cords and the power supply unit (notably it’s missing an actual wheel, 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. Obviously, this isn’t a beginner’s wheel per se. All wheelbases 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 wheelbases such as the Clubsport V2.5 (find an in-depth comparison 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 simple force-feedback wheels. 

The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheelbase is a great entry point into this subsection of wheels but falls short if you’re looking for the definitive wheelbase experience. 

Features & Benefits

When considering whether to purchase a product or not, certain features (or occasionally drawbacks) will come up as more important than others. The following five are features we’ve selected for the Fanatec CSL Elite Wheelbase to help you decide whether this product is tantalising enough for you to consider purchasing it. 

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 servo motor, electronics and power supply of its higher-end siblings. This means that the single belt drive used to deliver strong and incredibly detailed force-feedback is worth a lot more than what the wheelbase’s status as an “entry” wheelbase would have you suggest. The design is such that the force-feedback you feel is smooth and frictionless. When coupled with Fanatec’s Directsensor technology the effects are double those which you would normally expect. 

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 wheelbase’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. 

Cost

This is perhaps the most crucial factor and the one that most goes in favour of the CSL Elite wheelbase. 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 force-feedback wheels. This means that you’ll be able to purchase a product that is very clearly an upgrade from what you likely already own, for the same price as having to replace a force-feedback wheel. 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 wheelbases made from metal (usually aluminium), and in comparison feels quite cheap. On the other, the entire reason why this wheelbase 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 are entirely made of metal and will grant you enough adjustability options to leave you tinkering to find your ideal set-up after each lap. Each pedal has a “free layout” meaning that its position on the heel rest can be adjusted separately at whichever distance you wish. They’re well built, incredibly accurate, quite comfortable and ergonomic, and easy to install in a 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 wheelbase 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 wheelbases, 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 wheelbase 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.

Accuforce Pro V2

It should come to no surprise to anyone that the Accuforce V2 snuck its way inside this review as well. It balances torque and torque resolution perfectly, resulting in an unparalleled realistic feel. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the auto-optimization feature which causes the wheelbase to change its settings to best mirror your driving style, your driving line, what track you’re on, what car you’re using, how all these interact. It’s more expensive, but you’d expect as much from the top pick out there. It’s expensive, but you can consider this your last ever wheel purchase, as it reaches the pinnacle of what any racing sim pilot could ever ask for. 

Conclusion

The Fanatec CSL Elite doesn’t present itself as “the best” wheelbase, 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 wheelbase 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 wheelbase 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 January 23, 2021