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Fanatec CSL Elite - official F1 Racing Wheel review: "A beautiful piece of mechanical engineering"

Our Verdict

A bare-bones setup considering the price, but with all the supreme quality and detail you’d expect from Fanatec’s pro-spec equipment.

Pros

  • Brilliant force feedback
  • Superb pedals
  • Feels like driving a real car

Cons

  • Small, cramped paddle shifters by default
  • Only two pedals
  • Very expensive

Fanatec’s racing wheels are undoubtedly the cream of the crop, catering for the very most hardcore racing enthusiasts with pro-class mechanisms and ultra-realistic, strong force feedback - but at a price. The high build quality and elegant designs mean they come in at a real premium. So if you want the best, but don’t mind sacrificing some advanced features, this CSL Elite F1 bundle is about as entry-level as you can get. How does it stack up against the best PS4 steering wheels and the best Xbox One steering wheels? Here's a breakdown of all you need to know.

Fanatec CSL Elite F1 wheel performance

This is an F1-style wheel which means a smaller, rectangular design rather than an actual ‘wheel’. It has two rows of three buttons at the top and they’re within easy reach with your thumb. At first, if you tuck your thumbs around where the most logical, comfortable position is, the paddle shift hits them whenever you pull it back (assuming you drive on manual), which is annoying. However, you soon learn to tuck your thumbs down, and by the second day it likely won’t be an issue. Also, the paddle itself has attachment screws, so you can install some bigger paddles if you really hate these. 

Once you’ve adapted to its shape, the wheel feels wonderful. It feels deluxe, too, thanks to a lovely little analogue thumbstick (great for menu navigation in GT Sport), separate d-pad on the right-hand side, a smart digital speedometer, and a bright LED array that tells you when it’s time to change gear. The diminutive size of the wheel means you’ll rarely have to take your hands off the wheel, if ever, especially in F1 2018 which suits it perfectly. Perhaps the best praise is to say that you soon forget you’re using the wheel at all - all your focus goes on the game, it’s that comfortable. And that’s rare for a wheel peripheral. One final feature of note is that Fanatec’s ‘quick-release’ system is pre-installed on the back of this F1 wheel, presumably so you can pull off the wheel and throw it at the TV in disgust after crashing out on the last lap. 

Fanatec CSL Elite F1 pedal performance

This is a two-pedal version of Fanatec’s superb CSL Elite pedal set. While it is actually the lower-spec of their two pedal lines, it arguably feels nicer to use due to a more ‘suspended’ sensation on the pedal movement. Not only is the brake pedal resistance pleasantly weighted, the accelerator has a really comfortable action as you feed in the power, and you’re even able to keep your heel rested on the aluminium foot board if you so wish. Better still, the pedal positions are adjustable left and right, allowing for a non-symmetrical layout. However, with just the two pedals you’ll need to either set your options to auto-clutch, or assign the clutch to a button on the wheel - and since there’s no dedicated clutch paddle on this wheel, that’s going to be a compromise at best. Mind you, F1 2018 detects this issue and lets you use the right paddle shifter as a clutch while you’re on the grid, which works just fine. And the two-pedal board means arcade lovers can enjoy state-of-the-art pedals without paying for a third pedal they’ll never actually use. And it’s worth noting that going back to Thrustmaster’s pedals after using these is like getting in a Barbie Jeep after driving a Porsche 911. There’s just no contest - these pedals are amazing.

Fanatec CSL Elite F1 wheelbase quality

The wheelbase is the familiar CSL Elite model and feels just as good to drive as the top-end Clubsport model. You get exquisite force feedback that tells you when you’re understeering, leaning on another car or rattling over a rumble strip masquerading as a kerb. And while it’s fluid and smooth in motion, don’t think this is cut-back Force Feedback. Far from it. Hit a wall and you might suddenly cry out in surprise and pain as the wheel wrenches itself out of your hand. Yes, physical injury is possible, so you need to let go - just like the F1 drivers. It just feels right, leaving you to enjoy the sensation of driving. This wheelbase connects you to the game, and it does it brilliantly. Speaking of connections, it’s pleasing to note that the bundle also comes with a clamp, so you can attach it to a desk or table, or make your racing seat setup a bit easier to take apart compared to undoing bolts and the like. And the icing on the cake? While this bundle is only licensed by Sony (so PC compatibility is not endorsed by them), if you attach a separate Xbox One wheel rim to this servo and pedals, you can use the rest of this bundle on Microsoft’s console too. So if you have both consoles and usually buy a wheel for both, suddenly the price here doesn’t seem quite so astronomical. The wheelbase has its own LED panel too, so even if you change the rim, you’ll always have rev counter lights.

Overall - should you buy it?

Yes. If you can afford it, the upgrade in quality over the mid-tier competition from Logitech and Thrustmaster is tangible, and everything you need for a supreme racing sim experience is included in one big box. It’s undoubtedly more rugged and utilitarian than the likes of the McLaren-licensed GT3 wheel for Xbox One, but it’s still a beautiful piece of mechanical engineering. It’s exquisitely weighted, comfortable to hold and features little morsels of technology that wouldn’t feel out of place on a spacecraft control panel, or indeed a real F1 car.  

Ultra-serious sim racers may be left wanting more (like a clutch pedal, gear shift, bigger paddles and handbrake, for example, not to mention a seat/frame to put it on), but what you do get feels purposeful, with zero gimmicks. The quick-release works perfectly, you really miss the LEDs when you go back to a wheel that doesn’t have any, and the smooth rotation makes the primary act of steering your car a joy in itself. The popular, mid-tier racing wheels feel like toys in comparison - this feels like the real thing.

The Verdict

4

4 out of 5

Fanatec CSL Elite F1 set

A bare-bones setup considering the price, but with all the supreme quality and detail you’d expect from Fanatec’s pro-spec equipment.

More Info

Available platformsPS4, Xbox One, PC
GenreRacing