(originally published Dec 6, 2016; updated Jul 24, 2017; updated Aug 24, 2017)
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 have released a PS4 version of their wheel, too. Together with a Xbox One compatible steering wheel or Fanatec’s Universal Hub for Xbox One, you can also use that for Xbox One racing, thereby having the currently most compatible wheel base on market. Read our reviews here:
Fanatec CSL Elite Review Summary
Is Fanatec’s new series worth the money? Short answer: Absolutely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (*).
Typically Top 2%-5% racer. Tries to not be slow.
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Fanatec CSL Elite
- Overall Impression - 8/108/10
- Value for Money - 9/109/10
- Precision - 9/109/10
- Robustness - 9/109/10
- Material (Metal vs Plastic) - 8/108/10
If I had to choose between the competition, including older Club Sports, and Fanatec CSL Elite, I’d choose the latter. Especially with the load cell kit, this is a highly competitive setup, enabling you to compete for podiums in race.