Ten months ago we reviewed the Fanatec CSL Steering Wheel P1 for Xbox One. Say that five times fast… Fast forward to today and we finally have the wheel base it was meant to go on, the Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base. With all the tunability of its ClubSport Wheel Base V2 (CSW V2) big brother, and force feedback strength said to be between the CSW V1 and V2, but at half the price of the V2, the CSL Elite Wheel Base has a lot to live up to. So lets see if it does.
While we do now finally have the CSL Elite Wheel Base in our hands, according to the Fanatec website – the only place you can purchase Fanatec products – we’re still a few weeks out for availability (November 4th in US, 18th in EU), with only pre-orders available right now if you are feeling dangerous….or very confident in Fanatec.
Don’t worry we’ll let you know soon enough!
But before we get to the review stuff, lets go over the wheel base features.
- Compatible with the PC and Xbox One only, and there is no way to make it compatible with the PlayStation 4 in the future in case you were wondering.
- Features a brushless servo motor which delivers >6Nm of torque and a single belt drive unit to deliver said torque.
- Up to 1080 degrees of rotation.
- Is made primarily out of plastic with an integrated rev light bar.
- Comes with a table clamp but can be “hard mounted” with three mounting holes for M6 diameter bolts.
- A metallic quick release system that’s compatible with not only the P1 rim but all other Fanatec steering wheels.
- Has mounting holes for the ClubSport Static Shifter Paddles. These holes also tend to be utilized by third party makers of button boxes too FYI.
- Upgradable firmware via PC, so even if you’re getting this for the Xbox One, it’s a good idea to have a PC available.
- 500 Hz USB update rate.
- I/O panel features USB, Power, Pedals, Handbrake, and Shifter 1 and 2 connections, meaning you can run one Fanatec shifter in sequential mode and another in H-pattern at the same time, making you a balla!!!!!!
Lets now talk about our impressions of the CSL Elite Wheel Base and we’ll start with aesthetics. We don’t think the CSL is a necessarily a bad looking wheel base, it’s just a busy looking one that could be much better looking. There’s literally three different designs going on here. You have the textured, digitized, front that actually shimmers a bit, which is kind of cool looking. Then you have these glossy sides that look like they were inspired by the Xbox One console. Lastly you have the top, with pretty cheap looking gray and black plastic.
While we’re not expecting it to be a looker or have aluminum construction at the $299.95 price point (319.95€ in EU), we do expect a uniform design theme and quality plastic on all sides, and this isn’t the case.
While the design is all over the place, the packaging is on-point, with it coming in at a fairly compact 35 cm x 35 cm x 28 cm. The I/O panel on the back is also easily accessible, not requiring the finger acrobatics that the CSW V2 base requires with its tucked away panel.
This is usually the point where I say, “next I mounted the wheel to my rig and begin testing it out,” because usually mounting wheels is no big deal. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with the CSL Elite.
If you watched our First Look of the CSL Elite Wheel Base and Pedals LC, you know that I busted out the metallic fitting in the wheel base while tightening it to my Next Level cockpit. Well, there’s a reason why that happened.
First off, the metallic fittings weren’t glued in place on that first wheel I had, something Fanatec told me beforehand and to be careful of, so I can’t really blame them on that. But there was a reason why I was trying to tighten the wheel down more. The wheel kept bouncing on me.
While there are three threaded mounting holes on the wheel base, I wanted to only use the two back mounts, because those holes are pre-drilled on the Next Level and I’ve only ever used those holes for the CSW V2 and its worked just fine.
But after a bit of testing, it became clear why the third hole is there, to hold down the front of the base.
The issue is, I can’t use that front mount hole even if I wanted to, because there’s a crossbar in the way on the Next Level. Drilling a hole isn’t an option because the bolt would go through the radius of the bar. So in other words, not possible.
And even if I could, having to drill a hole, kind of sucks.
After the difficulties of mounting it to the Next Level, I took the wheel to other wheel decks we have to see if they had the front hole option. The Trak Racer has a hole but there’s no way to access it and it doesn’t even align. Drilling a new hole isn’t possible either because it’s on the front edge radius of the wheel deck.
The GT Omega ART wheel deck could work, once a new hole is drilled. And the Obutto Ozone needs all holes drilled, since it doesn’t come pre-drilled, but I’m not 100% sure if you can drill the front hole due to the cross members.
This leaves us with three scenarios. First, you just use the back holes and deal with the wheel bouncing up and down. I drove our entire iRacing Fan Race at Road America with the wheel like this, and while it’s annoying to have the wheel moving around, and I certainly didn’t like it, it can be done.
The second option is you drill a hole in your rig, which is the option I would take if that was an option for me. Yes it’s annoying to have an extra step, but it’s not that much work if you have a drill and the right sized bits.
Or lastly, you could shove some folded up Post-It-Notes under the front and that helps to reduce the bounce.
I did purposely leave out the included wheel clamp as an option because wheel clamps really only work on desktops with uniform thicknesses, and not rigs with framework underneath the wheel deck. If you race on a desk, then the clamp works fine, but I assume most of you in the market for a wheel in the price and performance range are putting it on a sim racing chassis.
As for tightening the bolts themselves, the threaded inserts on the latest wheel I have feel glued in place. With that said, I did notice when I was dismounting the wheel that the right bolt again didn’t come out very easily. Luckily this time, instead of getting stuck, it came out. This was despite me making 100% sure it was threaded properly and not tightening it that hard.
With that said, my confidence is still a bit shaken in these inserts. If you do pick this wheel base up, I think you need to be very careful not only threading the bolts but not tightening them too hard. Besides, tightening harder doesn’t get rid of the bouncing so there’s really no point.
Let’s move on from that con and talk about something a little more positive, the wheel’s adjustability.
The tuning menu has all the on-the-fly adjustability of the ClubSport V2, with options such as degrees of rotation, force feedback, vibration, deadzone, linearity, force modifiers, and even adjustments for Fanatec pedals such as ABS and brake force with the new use of the rev lights for brake adjustments that we talked in our CSL Elite Pedals LC review. The tuning menu is available on both the CSL P1 rim and naturally the higher-end Xbox One hub + rim combo that can also be used with the CSL Wheel Base.
Lets now turn our attention to driving performance. While I could have just driven it and tried to convey what I felt the best I could to you, I wanted to go one step further, and give some of you out there a point of reference. So instead of just driving with the CSL Elite Wheel Base, I also brought out the CSW V2 to see how it compares to its big, more expensive, brother and the Thrustmaster TX, the closest wheel to the CSL in terms of price.
Besides, if I didn’t compare them here, you guys would just ask for it in the comments section, so this saves you from asking and me from having to do another video…
The head-to-head testing confirmed our First Look impressions, that the CSL – ClubSport Light – is a slightly edged down version of the CSW V2. Like Bud Light to Budweiser – except without the pounding headaches – the CSL gives you that CSW feeling, but just a little toned down and at half the price.
The force feedback isn’t quite as strong as the CSW V2, probably about 75%, which is still strong enough, especially considering the price point. As for smoothness of the belt driven force feedback, I really couldn’t feel a difference between the two, with the wheel feeling very nice and smooth around most corners.
I’ll explain the “most corners” comment in a moment.
In comparison to the Thrustmaster TX, the Fanatec CSL force feedback is a little stronger and is delivered a little smoother. With that said, I did like the TX’s on-center feel more. Both Fanatec’s belt drives tended to jerk the wheel more when close to on-center then the Thrustmaster which was consistent feeling across all the degrees of rotation.
This is why I said the Fanatec’s felt smooth around most corners. Every time I entered the high-speed, quick steering input, like the Chase at Bathurst, the Fanatec wheels fought my steering inputs, while the Thrustmaster would let me place the wheel where I wanted it. I did try to dial this feeling out of the Fanatec’s by trying deadzone and adjusting linearity, but adding deadzone and linearity just made on-center feel sloppy.
I am a little disappointed in the vibration, or lack of vibration, exhibited by the CSL. It just doesn’t rumble as much as I’d like to see when going off road or over curbs. With that said, the TX doesn’t rumble much more, so guess it’s just par for the course at this price point.
The interesting take away from this little head-to-head is that I enjoyed the performance of all the wheels. They’re all smooth enough and strong enough to enjoy sim racing with, there’s just little differences here and there. The CSW V2’s force feedback is a little stronger than the CSL Elite’s which is a little stronger than the TX’s. You can feel the belt drive of the TX a little more than the Fanatec’s but the TX’s drive feels more compliant on-center. There’s really not that much separating these wheels.
Lets wrap up this Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base review with our final thoughts. While I really like the CSL Elite Pedals LC, I don’t have the same kind of reaction to the CSL Elite Wheel Base. I think it’s best to sum it up as a good wheel base that has flaws.
- Compact design
- On-the-fly tunability
- Strong force feedback
- Smooth force feedback
- Reasonably priced
- Busy looking design
- Some lower quality plastics
- Worrisome hard mounting threads
- On-center driving feel
- Wheel bounces if you can’t use the front bolt
This leaves me torn on the wheel base. Part of me thinks this is a really solid wheel base from a performance standpoint. Another part of me questions if this is a solid wheel base from a quality standpoint.
In comparison, I’ve been rocking the Thrustmaster TX and T300 twins for a long while now and have been very happy with both performance and quality. I haven’t used our Fanatec ClubSport Wheel Base V2 as much, but when I have, it’s been flawless as well.
So, should you buy the CSL Elite to race on the PC or Xbox One, or should you pass it and maybe go with the TX or CSW? Let’s look at it from the price/performance standpoint.
You can have the CSL Elite Wheel Base for $300 and CSL P1 rim for $140, for a total of $440 here in the US. You can have the Thrustmaster TX Wheel Base for $260 and the 599XX Evo 30 Alcantara rim for $180, for a total of, yes, $440. I would also strongly consider the Thrustmaster Ferrari F1 rim also, knocking the total price down to $410, but either way, the CSL and TX are directly competing on price.
Which would I take? I consider the performance a wash. There’s times I like the CSL more and times I like the TX more. For me it comes down to the rims and the wheel bobbing up and down on the CSL.
I prefer the TX’s rims over the P1 CSL rim. I don’t think the P1 is a bad rim, and it has some nice features, but it does have a plasticky feel and is wrapped in hard rubber, making it not nearly as nice to hold as the great feeling Thrustmaster 599XX rim or the very functional and nicely shaped F1 rim.
With that said, remove the P1 and toss in the ClubSport Steering Wheel Formula Black for a combined price of $480, and I could possibly change my mind…if the wheel wasn’t bobbing up and down on me.
I’m not buying a new rig just to use that front bolt insert. Every other wheel we’ve tested, including the CSW V2, mount just fine with two bolts and the hole patterns on my rig. So for these reasons, I give the nod to the TX.
Lets look at another hypothetical.
What if you are able to use all three mounting points and you’re thinking about picking up the CSL Elite Wheel Base with the Xbox One Universal Hub instead of the CSW V2 Wheel Base? Is that a good move?
I’m not sure.
The issue is, the hub + wheel costs $400, skyrocketing the price to $700. If you’re going to invest $700 in a wheel package, then is another $300 to upgrade the the CSW V2 that much of a stretch?
There certainly isn’t $300 worth of performance difference between the two. But with the CSW V2’s all aluminum construction, and no confidence issues mounting the wheel base, maybe that is worth the price for piece of mind?
This leaves the CSL Wheel Base in a precarious position. Again, it’s not a bad wheel base, it drives nicely. But the wheel market is competitive and there isn’t much room for cons.
If Fanatec figured out a way to eliminate the mounting issues and come out with more desirable, sub $200 wheels, then we think the CSL Elite Wheel Base would make a lot more sense to purchase.