One of the interesting things that we get to witness in the sim racing community is buying habits….or should I say buying justification? No matter where you turn, you’ll see people vehemently justifying why product X or Y is the best thing ever, which is why they bought it, of course.
At times it can be a bit much, but considering the amount of cash we’re normally talking about in sim racing, it’s understandable.
Which brings us to this, our Head-to-Head(-to-Head) match-up of the Fanatec CSL Elite, ClubSport Wheel Base V2 and Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer. With price points of $680 for the ClubSport Wheel Base V2, $500 for the Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer and $480 for the Fanatec CSL Elite – after you add the ClubSport Steering Wheel Formula Black to the Fanatec bases – you have three wheels catering to the same group of people who are willing to spend a bit more for their hobby.
So lets see how they stack up.
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A lot of love went into figuring out how these wheels stack up. For my testing I stuck to two titles with force feedback I trust, iRacing and Assetto Corsa on the PC – this Head-to-Head is PC only focused – and stuck to the latest and greatest cars that utilize the latest tire models. I also drove track combos that I had recently raced and am very familiar with to remove myself as a variable as much as possible. Then on top of that, I ran fuel stints to get a good feel of how the wheel holds up over a long run.
Got it? Good? Let’s go.
We’re going to get right to the point with one of these wheel bases and that’s the Fanatec ClubSport V2.
It is the nicest wheel in this Head-to-Head.
From quality of the materials, design, performance, it is better than the other two wheels. While the performance increase over the other two wheels doesn’t necessarily equate to the price increase, it does have the strongest force feedback, is the smoothest and has an overall “buttoned-up” feel that the other two do not.
While our usual company line is, “better equipment won’t make you quicker but can make you more consistent,” which is based off of not only our experiences but a fair number of “alien” sim racers kicking ass with some real basic equipment, this wasn’t the case for me with the ClubSport Wheel Base V2.
Exhibit A, Daytona Road Course in the Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype in iRacing. Over the past few weeks I had turned over 400 laps in this combo while preparing for and racing in the iRacing Daytona 24 Hours. My fast lap in the race was a 1:39.463, which was about the best I was doing all week.
I ran a 1:38.414 in the ClubSport Wheel Base V2.
Now, clearly the race had helped me, because I was consistently running 1:39 flat with the TS-PC Racer and the CSL Elite, with a lap or two dipping into the 38’s. But I was able to string multiple laps in a row in the 38’s with the ClubSport Wheel Base V2, which was pretty impressive.
I saw the same thing driving the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring in iRacing. Again, after turning a good number of laps with that car and track combo and running mostly low 2:06’s with some 2:05’s sprinkled in, I fired up the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 and ran a 2:04.892.
So while the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 doesn’t necessarily feel THAT much better than the other two wheels, and I still believe that a really good driver is a really good driver regardless of their equipment, we have some objective information here that shows that it did make me faster.
Now with that said, before you think the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 is the best thing since sliced bread, I do want to mention some things that I don’t care for with the wheel. I mentioned this before in the Fanatec CSL Elite review and I felt it again while testing for this Head-to-Head, and it’s the on-center feel of the wheel. When you’re going down the straights or are just turning the wheels to enter the corner, it feels like the wheel is constantly trying to recenter itself and it’s annoying.
You do eventually get used to it, so I don’t want to make it more of an issue than it is, but it’s an undesirable trait. Like for the CSL Elite review, I tried again to tune it out, trying different settings for shock, force, spring and damper, but anytime I did I just killed the feel of the wheel.
Since I found it to be really prominent at Sebring, a bumpy track, I took the 911 to Circuit of the Americas to see what it was like on a smooth track. The vibration down the straights did reduce but the on-center fight was still present.
I wanted to make sure I noted these cons so I could get ahead of the next logical question, “is the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 better than a direct drive wheel?” As someone who has driven all three of the direct drive wheels, the SimXperience AccuForce a ton, and sampled one of the many OSW’s and a Bodnar V2, what I am talking about here is why it isn’t.
These excess vibrations and on-center centering is what direct drive doesn’t do. They are smooth until you hit a bump and then they transfer that bump to you. There’s nothing in them constantly spinning, trying to recreate road bumps.
It’s this accuracy of relaying the road back to your hands that sets the direct drive wheels apart from the rest of the wheels. So no, the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 isn’t better than the direct-drive wheels, but it’s the next best thing and tempting when paired with the Fanatec Formula Black wheel instead of the Xbox One Universal Hub + rim that pushes the price up into direct drive territory.
Now that we have the winner of the Head-to-Head selected, apologies if you were looking for a big reveal at the end, lets now talk about the runner-up race between the Fanatec CSL Elite and Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer.
These wheels are unbelievably even.
Force feedback is virtually the same. There were times when the TS-PC would feel a little stronger and times when the CSL Elite felt a little stronger depending on the car and title but averaging it all out, they’re pretty much on even footing.
I also didn’t feel any force feedback fade during a long driving sessions with both wheels, which is good.
Smoothness is where you see two different approaches adding up to the same result. Through the rotation of the wheel, the TS-PC was more consistent. It’s a pretty smooth turn but throughout the rotation you can feel – for lack of a better words – “bumps”, reminding you that there’s a belt drive in there.
The CSL Elite on the other hand is inconsistent. At some points in the turn it feels very smooth, smoother than the TS-PC, but there are other times when it feels like the belt releases and catches abruptly that don’t feel as good. It also has the same on-center oscillations as the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 does but they’re intensified in a package that doesn’t feel of the same quality as the ClubSport Wheel Base V2. The annoyances I had with the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 are amplified with the CSL Elite.
Like force feedback, once you even out the pros and cons of the smoothness of both wheels, you’re left with pretty much a tie. Both wheels utilize nice belt drives, but do so in different routes, resulting in different pros and cons.
So if the force feedback and smoothness are equal, where do we turn to next to differentiate? The steering wheels.
The TS-PC comes with a new “formula style” steering wheel, which I think is a smart move since probably 75% of sim racers drive open wheel or GT cars that use this style rim. The CSL Elite either comes without a steering wheel or can be bundled with the ClubSport Steering Wheel Formula Black as part of the CSL Elite Racing Wheel Formula for PC, so we went that route.
How do they stack up against each other? Pretty tightly, although the Fanatec Formula Black does more things right.
The Formula Black looks more the part than the Thrustmaster TS-PC steering wheel. It uses nicer feeling materials on the hand grips, has more buttons, and it’s paddle shifters have a little more of a positive click than the Thrustmaster’s. It also has rev lights and a screen to display what gear you’re in – if the game supports the feature – which is nice but becoming less and less important as people move to VR or just have their line of sight setup to look at the on-screen car info like I do.
But with that said, it’s still a tight race between the Fanatec Formula Black and the TS-PC steering wheel. How? Ergonòmics.
The Fanatec ClubSport Formula Black steering wheel at 26 cm diameter and smaller-sized hand grips really make my hands cramp. I ran a triple stint with the wheel in the iRacing Daytona 24 hour race and I spent the next 24 hours massaging my hands. Now, I’m not going to entirely blame the rim as I can have a death grip at times, thus why I wear gloves, but a larger diameter and larger grips sure would be nice.
This is where the TS-PC steering wheel steps in. although it’s behind the Fanatec Formula Black in a number of categories, the 28 cm diameter and large, meaty, hand grips are really nice to have. The larger wheel diameter and grips are less fatiguing, which is important when you need to be at your best.
So again, two different approaches, different pros and cons, even results.
So, how in the world do we differentiate these two? Let’s see…
- CSL uses a true quick release system versus the semi-quick unscrew and unthread system of the TS-PC.
- The TS-PC base uses higher quality plastics and has a metal bottom plate to hard mount to versus the bonded metal fittings on the CSL Elite.
- The CSL Elite has smaller packaging.
- The TS-PC design is coherent and looks better.
- The CSL Elite is Xbox One compatible, but considering that requires either the not nearly as nice CSL Steering Wheel P1 or the really expensive Xbox One Universal Hub that doesn’t really help it’s case. Plus, now that Forza is on Windows 10, there’s nothing on the Xbox that isn’t on the PC.
- They both have modular cable design, which is much appreciated when you’re swapping out wheels as much as I was.
- The CSL Elite base has rev lights….that you never see because the wheel is in the way….and has rev lights itself….and as explained earlier, there’s a good chance you don’t use those either.
- Only other wheel that’s at a reasonable price to put on the CSL Elite is the ClubSport Steering Wheel BMW GT2 for $250, while the only other reasonable wheel to put on the TS-PC is the Alcantara 599 Evo 30 for $180.
- The CSL Elite power supply looks like, and is as heavy as a brick, while the TS-PC’s looks like a turbocharger and also weighs as much as a brick.
- In all my testing, I ran the same lap times with both.
Ok fine, it’s a tie.
Even though all three wheels have some cons, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. All three are strong performers that will get the job done.
I will say that I was surprised by the ClubSport Wheel Base V2. Even though we knew it was a good wheel, it didn’t subjectively strike us as way ahead of the other two, and made us wonder if the price premium was worth it? But after being able to run fast lap after fast lap, the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 proved it’s worth.
Being the most recent wheel reviewed, the Thrustmaster TS-PC didn’t really show us anything new in the Head-to-Head, just continued to be a solid performer. No, the enthusiast wheel from Thrustmaster didn’t perform to the ClubSport Wheel Base V2’s level, but it does live up to its $500 price point, with strong and smooth force feedback and a meaty formula style rim to hold on to.
The CSL Elite had some redemption to do coming into this Head-to-Head. While there was clearly a good wheel there when we reviewed it, the pre-production wheel we had exhibited silly issues, such as sloppy threaded inserts and the propensity to bounce up and down when only mounted with two bolts. Plus, the CSL Steering Wheel P1 wasn’t the most impressive thing to hold.
At the end of the CSL Elite review I said, “if they removed the bounce and paired it with a better, sub $200 steering wheel (ie: ClubSport Formula Black), that they would have a much more attractive package.”
Low and behold, someone must had been watching because the production wheel I have now doesn’t bounce excessively when only using two bolts and the wheel is a much more attractive option with the Formula Black rim.
In closing, if you can swing for the price of the Fanatec ClubSport Wheel Base V2 plus the Formula Black steering wheel, then you have a really nice package. Just be wary of placing more options on it, like the Xbox One Universal Hub, because you’ll quickly be in direct drive category.
If the ClubSport Wheel Base V2 is out of your price range and it’s between the Thrustmaster TS-PC and Fanatec CSL Elite, then…..good luck?
The only thing I would say that if you already have other Fanatec steering wheels, then sticking with the CSL Elite is probably best. Same goes for Thrustmaster. If you’re already in the Thrustmaster ecosystem and have rims you like, then going with the TS-PC is probably the best bet.
If you’re new to both…flip a coin?