Fanatec CSL Elite Review

fanatec-csl-elite-review

A few weeks ago, Fanatec sent us samples of their new Fanatec CSL Elite series, consisting of …

  • CSL Elite Wheel Base
  • CSL Steering Wheel P1 for Xbox One
  • CSL Elite Pedals
  • CSL Elite Pedals Load Cell Kit.

In for the Christmas Season, the new CSL Elite series is none too soon (actually, it was already released a few weeks ago).

As always, I’d like to start this review with a quick recap for you busy racers.

Fanatec CSL Elite Review Summary

Is Fanatec’s new series worth the money? Short answer: Absolutely

Note if you are used to Load Cells, then make sure to grab the additional Elite Pedals Load Cell Kit. Here’s how the CSL Elite compares to the competition.

In terms of pure, overall performance, Fanatec CSL Elite is, in my humble opinion as a simracer, better than:

  • Logitech G27, as well as its sucessors Logitech G920 / G29
  • Thrustmaster TX
  • Thrustmaster T500RS
  • Fanatec Club Sport with Wheel Base V1, Pedals V2 without silicone oil installed

It is worse than:

  • Fanatec Club Sport with Wheel Base V2, Pedals V3

The latter is considerably more expensive, though.

Show me Fanatec CSL Elite Prices

The CSL pedals alone, together with the Load Cell Kit are better than Club Sport Pedals V2, but only without damping oil installed. However, with oil in the damper of the CSP V2, my feelings are that they are en par.

Compared to the more expensive CSP V3, the CSL Elite pedals + load cell are a downgrade for sure.

So, if you have a Club Sport Wheel Base V1, the CSL Elite Wheel Base is a total upgrade. I was stunned at how well I could drift in the Lotus 49 in iRacing. It’s quick, fast, strong and about double the size of a ClubSport Wheel Base V1.

If you have Club Sport Pedals V2, then the CSL Elite + Load Cell Kit are not so much of an upgrade. In my opinion you do better at trying different silicone oils instead. However: A reason you might still consider trying out the CSL pedals is that the pedal’s can be shifted left and right almost freely. If you regularly cramp because of the fixed pedal positions, this may be a reason for you.

In-Depth Review of Fanatec CSL Elite Series

Part 1: CSL Elite Wheel Base

If you’re coming from Fanatec’s Club Sport Wheel Base V1, Thrustmaster T500RS or Logitech G27/G29/G920, or any of their predecessors, then the CSL Elite Wheel Base is a definite upgrade.

In terms of torque, it is located exactly between Club Sport Wheel Base V1 and V2:

  • Club Sport Wheel Base V1: 5.2 Nm
  • CSL Elite Wheel Base: > 6 Nm
  • Club Sport Wheel Base v2: 7.3 Nm

In contrast, here are some more torque numbers for the competition:

  • Logitech G27: 2.5 – 3 Nm
  • Thrustmaster T500RS: 6 Nm
  • Bodnar: 17 Nm

So as you see, the CSL Elite Wheel Base is upper class, with only Club Sport Wheel Base V2 beating it. The Bodnar SimSteering system is a bit out of competition, with a relatively luxurious price tag in excess of 3000 GBP (> 3700 USD at the time of writing), and was only included for comparison.

That’s a lot of torque. Wanna have.

So much for the torque. What about the quality of Force Feedback?

Personally, I am not so much a fan of too much technical detail, so let’s just mention that Fanatec build a brushless motor and a single belt drive into their product. These make for very quick FFB response and for ultra smooth rides.

Upon first trying this wheel base, I loaded up iRacing and the drifty Lotus 49 for a practice session at Imola. What I instantly recognized was just how smooth the feedback feels. If you come from a CSW V1, which feels more rugged, then you’ll first be skeptical. But without reason! Exiting the pit lane, I floored the gas pedal. After decelerating for the first chicane, I floored the gas again. This time, a tad too much and too early. I expected to spin the next moment.

But not so. The FFB fires up. Barely noticable, more of the sublimial kind. I take counter measurement earlier and just so enough as I have never done with my CSW V1. Wow, this was the moment I knew that the CSL Elite will replace my CSW V1.

I ran many more laps, for the joy of it, and to statistically validate my impression. Seriously, I don’t remember ever doing so many consecutive, incident free laps in the L49. Not with the Logitech G27, neither even with CSW V1.

I tried it with more of my favorite cars, including the MP4-30 (McLaren F1 car), Lotus 79 (F1 car of the infamous ground effect era in Formula 1) and the one always good for a nifty race, Formula Renault 2.0. In each and every car and lap, the CSL Elite was better than CSW V1.

Therefore, the CSL Elite Force Feedback is both, stronger, quicker and simply put, better than any other wheel base I have ever owned.

It’s also “softer”, less rugged and rough, which I miss a little bit. But this is only a minor glitch.

I really need to stress this “V1”  in CSW V1. The V2 is a different story, with even stronger motor etc., but also in another pricing league. Don’t be confused: At the moment, the current Club Sport Wheel Base is V2, and the current Club Sport Pedals are V3

Part 2: CSL Elite Pedals

To be honest, there’s not so much to say about the pedals with regards to race performance. The package comes with a brake pedal and a gas pedal. Both of which are linear and potentiometer based, as one knows from the Logitech and Thrustmaster competition.

Unlike most of the competition (including inhouse competition), Fanatec uses torsion springs instead of compression strings. Regarding your foot feeling, this does not make for any difference.

The pedal travel on this set is pretty long if you’re used to Club Sport Pedals. Actually, I had to remove the rubber grip s because of this. The longer travel required my feet to slide on the pedals a bit, and the rubber was clearly in way of that (on the Load Cell Kit, which eradicates almost all pedal travel, I still use the rubber pad).

The brake pedal comes with a little foam insert to make it feel more like a real brake. However, when comparing to Thrustmaster T500, Logitech G29 / Logitech G920 or a Logitech G27 with Nixim Mod installed, then Fanatec’s foam really comes last in the list of “brake feel hacks”. But don’t stop reading before you’ve checked the Load Cell Kit, which is a game changer.

The brake pedal has a little more resistance. Also, the brake later becomes the clutch pedal when you install the Load Cell Kit.

Part 3: CSL Elite Load Cell Kit

This is the bread and butter of the pedal set. It makes it actually compete with ClubSports in their previous version V2.

Even more so, I think that this Load Cell Kit makes the pedals even BETTER than Club Sport Pedals V2.

So why is that?

If you compare the CSL Elite brake pedal to CSPv2 brake pedal, than, apart from visual differences, there is one huge shrieking difference, and this is travel distance. A CSPv2 brake pedal simulates the travel distance from street and non-Formula 1 race cars; i.e., the travel distance is what Average Joe would deem “realistic”.

The brake pedal distance in the CSL Elite ones, however, is almost none. If you install the 95 kg (209 lbs) rubber kit, then travel is just about 1.5 – 3 cm (0.6 – 1.2 in), depending on your strength. And this is good, …, wait a moment; it’s NOT good. IT’S FREAKING AWESOME.

Of these few centimeters/inches of travel, the yellow sponge you see in the pictures takes up the most actually. The softness of this sponge basically simulates the movement of the brake shoes towards the brake discs. I am thinking about removing the sponge and testing the results. Maybe it’s even better then.

I don’t know the exact physical reasoning on a scientific travel. But my humble guess is the following:

Everyone who sports a brake based on load cells and who has experience with linear, potentiometer based pedals (like was the case with a factory Logitech G27 and most (if not all) pedals cheaper than that, knows the following. Human muscle memory is magnitudes better at memorizing Strength than memorizing Travel. How many times have you overworked your tires upon braking with a linear brake? For my part: Absolutely routinely. When driving at the edge, a lap without blocking tires was more the exception than the rule (of course I also know racers who have no problem with this).

However, when switching to load cell based, i.e. strength based, input, your braking failure rate suddenly starts to drop. For me: Blocking tires because of braking has become an absolute exception. It is no longer a problem to me. Neither in Mazda MX-5 or Lotus 49 nor MP4-30.

That’s how good strength based input is. Now, with CSL Elite, Fanatec have almost eradicated Travel altogether.  What remains is a brake pedal with almost only Strength Based Input.

Holy cow. Show me where to order the CSL Elite!!1

My guess for why this is even better than what CSPv2 comes up with is that Travel somehow irritates and confuses muscle memory. The fact that Travel has been shut down to an obligatory minimum might mean that there’s less irritation and confusion left for your humble legs, thereby generating more focus onto what counts: Strength of Input.

By the way: With regards to Club Sport Pedals V3, Fanatec are just releasing a Brake Performance Kit which replicates exactly that: Eradication of Travel. But that’s the stuff of another review.

On a side-note: This is kinda rocket science. The F16 Falcon fighting jet is said to feature a stick that has no travel either, and all it recognizes is strength of input. Awesome?

So, in just a few words, my opinion is that the CSL Elite pedals, together with the CSL Elite Load Cell Kit, beat Club Sport Pedals V2 and the Thrustmaster and Logitech Competition in terms of pure performance. Of course, the full setup, including the load cell kit, is more expensive, but what you get is quality (*).

(*) And I have a gut feeling that you also get a foretaste of what might become a standard in the next generations of high performance pedals in that pricing magnitude (i.e. the eradication of travel in favor of a purely strength based brake pedal).
Sebastian

Sebastian

Simracing for more than five years. iRacing, rFactor, but sometimes arcade racing just for fun.

Typically Top 2%-5% racer. Tries to not be slow.
Sebastian

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