If you’re interested in building a Fanatec sim rig, you have to start with a wheel base. Fanatec uses all of their wheel bases as the brains of their racing setup and is necessary for anyone wanting to purchase a Formula wheel or pedal set. One such wheel base is the Fanatec CSL Elite.
The CSL Elite Wheel Base is Fanatec’s budget-level wheelbase and provides an excellent place for new Fanatec drivers to start. It gives an incredibly smooth experience, with force feedback that will provide you with an exhilarating and aggressive drive.
In this article, I’ll go into the different parts of Fanatec’s lineup, so you know where the CSL Elite fits into it. Then, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about driving with this wheel, and why if it’s good enough for professional drivers, it’s good enough for you!
About The Fanatec Line
Fanatec has three main product lines for its products: Podium, ClubSport, and CSL. The Podium line is their top-tier product line, used by professional racecar drivers and top-level sim racers. ClubSport is their middle-of-the-road offering, which has a great mixture of premium features with budget options to yield a cost-effective sim racing solution.
Finally, there’s the CSL line, which is short for ClubSport Light. While understood to be Fanatec’s “budget option,” this line comes in ahead of the competition.
Fanatec only offers force feedback steering wheels and wheel bases, which shows how they rank against the competition. Most sim racers know that there’s a verifiable difference between driving with or without force feedback. It’s an essential piece of the drive. Drivers who start without this feature will quickly upgrade to a rig that includes it.
The big difference between all of these offerings as far as wheel bases are concerned is whether or not they’re powered by a direct-drive mechanism. Only Fanatec’s Podium line offers direct-drive force feedback. The power of that little motor is hard to withstand for long races and can make the steering wheel unmanageable for the uninitiated.
The ClubSport and CSL Elite steering wheels both use belt-driven force feedback, which is much tamer than direct drive. The ClubSport base is more expensive than the CSL base and has a few more refinements, including an all-metal finish. However, it doesn’t significantly outperform the CSL Elite to make the CSL obsolete.
This wheel base is a bit more expensive than some of its competitors, especially considering that the price doesn’t include anything except the motor and the base when you buy it.
Worth The Extra Money
This limitation can double the cost of a wheel assembly compared to Thrustmaster or Logitech. But it’s important to consider what you’re paying for when you invest in a Fanatec wheel base. You’re getting tested performance that professional racecar drivers trust, but let’s take a closer look to find out exactly what you get with the CSL Elite.
Out of the box
Once you open the box, the first thing you’ll notice is this is a heavy piece of equipment. As the owner of a complete Fanatec setup, this doesn’t entirely surprise me, but I still tend to equate heft with quality. The base weighs over 12 pounds, which, when paired with a 2-pound wheel, means you need a sturdy sim racing setup to accommodate it.
This weight helped improve upon my initial opinion of what is ultimately a relatively simple and seemingly unimpressive wheel base. The entire unit is cloaked in a rather stiff plastic that feels inexpensive. I’m sure this plastic is used, in part, to save on weight. The ClubSport wheel base, for comparison, has an aluminum outer shell and is a full 3 pounds heavier.
Buttons In Easy Reach
There are a few buttons on the front of the base, including a power button that’s easy for the driver to access. There’s also a mode button that allows you to switch between PC and console modes easily. You’ll only see the quick-release connection point on the unit’s front and a set of rev lights outside of these buttons.
This minimalistic approach makes this a good-looking wheel base. The bright white Fanatec logo on the side makes it look aggressive while also providing some obviously much-needed product placement!
Excellent Force Feedback
Inside the wheel is left to the imagination, but Fanatec provides great information to give you an idea of the brains behind the operation. A single belt drives the unit and helps provide excellent torque with no lag or friction, providing a brilliant driving experience.
Fanatec outfits its drive shaft with a DirectSensor™ that helps the unit predict how steering force is translated from the motor to the wheel. This technology helps ensure torque is applied to the wheel smoothly and fluidly.
Finally, the connection hub in the back of the platform organizes cables and wires so that they’re well managed and out of the way, so that they don’t impact your driving. Nothing is worse than getting the power-cable under your foot and pulling it out when trying to get hard on the brakes. This scenario isn’t a problem with the CSL Elite Wheel Base.
Using the Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel base
One thing I’ve noticed when using the CSL Elite Wheel Base is that it takes a bit of time to get used to the force feedback. It’s enough to make you feel it after a long session, especially if you’re not used to it. It’s also strong enough to rip the wheel out of your hands if you’re not expecting it. If you go off the road in a race, you’ll need to either hold tight or let go.
After using several of Fanatec’s competitors’ wheels, I’ve found that I not only appreciate that power behind my driving experience, but I also crave it. That strength allows me to have a seemingly limitless amount of customization with my force feedback racing experience. I can set the feedback to be as barbaric or as gentle as I like.
After nine months of owning this wheel, I’ve found that driving with a slightly muted force helps you feel more of the track. However, it really will come down to personal preference and you will need to spend some time tinkering around with the settings until you get them just right for your own playstyle.
One thing the CSL Elite Wheel Base does better than any other force feedback wheel or base out there is the smoothness with which it turns and changes directions. The force feedback feels fluid, and never jarring or jerky, which I’ve felt in many competitors’ wheels. This benefit in part comes from the DirectSensor™ technology, which helps translate power from the belt to the driving column.
Because the force feedback transitions from one direction to another so smoothly, it didn’t take too long to get used to this steering wheel. The feedback is incredibly intuitive and almost similar to driving in your own car and feeling slight resistance on the road.
Fanatec produces two different wheel bases depending on what device you want to use it with. My CSL Elite Wheel Base is optimized for Xbox and PC gaming. The company does have another base designed for PlayStation.
Rev Light Issues
While you can get full functionality using the PlayStation wheel base with a PlayStation system, there are some limits when using the Xbox wheel base on an Xbox system. One example of this is the rev lights on the top of the unit. These work on PC games, but generally not on Xbox games. However, the PlayStation base does have full functionality when combined with a PlayStation system.
Xbox and its game developers are primarily at fault for this lack of compatibility. Fanatec makes its Software Development Kit (SDK) available for game designers. Developers at Xbox have seemingly not taken advantage of this compatibility package to extend full Fanatec support to their library of console games.
The Fanatec Ecosystem
One of the significant drawbacks of any Fanatec product is its limited compatibility outside of the Fanatec ecosystem. Like most other Fanatec products, the CSL Elite Wheel Base will not work with steering wheels, pedals, or shifters from other racing peripheral makers.
This limit is, in part, due to the high-quality features that Fanatec puts in each product that it builds. There has to be some level of exclusivity to ensure each peripheral provides the kind of performance that is intended.
A Wheel Rim Of Your Choice
However, within the Fanatec ecosystem, this wheel base is incredibly compatible. You can use any wheel rim provided by Fanatec in the setup (and there are even some adapters for backward compatibility to older wheel styles.) Further, there are many features in the CSL Elite that accommodate the characteristics of different wheels.
While my Fanatec ClubSport Formula Wheel has rev lights, the rev lights on the wheel base are designed to accommodate wheels that do not have lights. You can customize whether or not these lights are on with the software that comes with the wheel base. I leave them on because my wheel mostly hides them but find them helpful in deep turns when the view of my wheel-mounted rev lights is obscured.
It Needs Bolted Down
A final note on the construction of this wheel base is how compatible it is with different setups. This wheel base does come with a table clamp, but I wouldn’t recommend using it on your coffee table. The clamp is strong enough to hold the wheel in place, however, you do need a sturdy table. If you’re using a lightweight wheel stand or rig, this wheel does have enough torque to move it around.
Initially, I used the drill hole stencil to screw this stand to my coffee table. However, when I ultimately upgraded to a full cockpit, I was happy to find that several companies support the CSL Elite Wheel Base. I settled on the Next Level Racing F-GT racing rig; however, there were plenty of options to pick from, including Obutto, Playseat, and GranStand.
Who Should Buy The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base?
Value For Money
When I built my sim rig, I wanted products from the best manufacturers, so I knew my system would last for many years to come. Despite using what some might call Fanatec’s “budget” line, I feel like I got the best product for the price and wouldn’t change a thing.
However, I do know that I built a rig that might be inaccessible to some. The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base is easily twice the cost of many great entry-level wheels out there. What adds further insult to injury is that you have to buy a similarly priced wheel to get use out of it. This price point can put the CSL Elite out of the price range of many beginner sim racers just looking to start.
An Intermediate Option
While the Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base is a good choice for beginners with the budget and rig to suit it, I would call it an intermediate wheel base down to its high price and strong force feedback. For something to be genuinely a beginner wheel, I feel it should be at an accessible price point and should be compatible enough with other systems that it can accommodate a more DIY build.
If you’re a beginner racer and want to go into the deep end of sim peripherals, you can’t go wrong with the CSL Elite Wheel Base. It’s not just an easy wheel to use, as it will spoil you compared to other manufacturers, providing a realistic, smooth drive that you’ll love for years.
I believe that, unless you’re interested in buying a Podium wheel base, the CSL Elite Wheel Base is all you need. The ClubSport base is much more expensive and offers few real advantages over the so-called ‘Light’ version. This is a perfect wheel base for someone looking to break into the Fanatec lineup and bring their sim racing to the next level.
Trusted By The Pros
In February of 2020, F1 driver George Russell took a picture of himself sim racing with a Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base. While he later upgraded to a Podium series setup, I have to say; if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!
The Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Base is a great choice for those that are looking to get into the Fanatec ecosystem of products. It offers great force feedback and an overall realistic feel, but it is a bit more expensive than some other entry-level products on the market from Fanatec’s competitors.
However, it is much cheaper than the next step up with the ClubSport wheel base, and it still offers an excellent amount of functionality and realism. If you are an absolute beginner on a budget, this might not be the right choice for you. But if you are looking for a brilliant sim racing experience at a decent price considering the features, then this is a brilliant choice.