Fanatec CSL Elite for PlayStation 4 Review

HardwareProduct Reviews 27 July 20, 2017 by

Earlier this year, Fanatec unveiled its latest product, the CSL Elite. No, not the one we reviewed last year — a new model, featuring official support for the most popular console this generation, the PlayStation 4.

This new base promises that most rare of things to sim racers: full compatibility. Not only does it work with the PS4 and PC, but with the right rim attached to the base, the CSL Elite will also pair up with an Xbox One. Is this truly one wheel base to rule them all?

Fanatec sent us the CSL Elite PS4 wheel and rim alongside the CSL Elite pedal set (including the Load Cell brake kit). We also have the ClubSport Shifter SQ 1.5 and ClubSport Handbrake 1.5 — stay tuned for separate reviews of those. The rig used for the review is from GranStand. That too will also have a review coming next week.

Quality & Finish –

It starts with the unboxing. Fanatec always includes a fun little graphic on each flap of the main box, and the CSL Elite’s starting lights (and heart rate monitor) don’t disappoint. Firmly secured by foam, the base looks and feels like a serious item.

That being said, the CSL Elite’s casing is plastic. While that may be disappointing to some folks, it’s a worthwhile compromise for a mid-range wheel if it means the important bits — the ones encased inside — are good. And they are, with the Elite borrowing some internals from its big brother, the Clubsport Wheel Base 2.5.

I for one liked the original Elite’s tiled face panel. I can understand if it wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, though, and the more traditional brushed-metal look works well here. Outside of that change, the base is practically identical to the previous edition.

The big change is the rim itself. The XB1-compatible P1 rim was fairly utilitarian. The new item, complete with PS button right in the middle, feels great — and light. The 11.8″ rim weighs just over two pounds, making it easier to turn. The weight loss doesn’t come at the expense of strength either, with a largely metal construction. The perforated leather and suede feel fantastic: this doesn’t feel like a toy.

There were two issues during the Elite’s review period. The first centered on the power outlet on the back of the base. It, as well as the USB connection beside it, exhibited a fair amount of wiggle. This, paired with the loose cords attached, actually had us losing power mid-race on two or three occasions. The cords have now been secured, and it hasn’t been an issue since, but a motion rig could bring this problem back to the fore. For comparison, the RJ12 connectors on the other side of the rear panel are rock-solid.

The second issue only manifested while playing Assetto Corsa. The wheel knocked quite often, even when we’d turn down the FFB significantly. We reached out to Fanatec about this — it wasn’t the case with the XB1 version — and were assured a future firmware update will fix the problem.

Compatibility –

This is undoubtedly the CSL Elite’s strong suit. While many dedicated sim racers are likely to be playing on a PC, console compatibility is important too. The new Elite works with the PC and PS4, plus Xbox compatibility is only $90 away with the P1 rim. Naturally, Fanatec offers a wide range of higher quality XB1-capable rims if you’d prefer.

While the CSL Elite isn’t as plug-and-play easy as its competition, it’s by no means tricky to set up. Fanatec provides all the tools necessary, and clear, easy-to-follow instructions. The base uses the usual Fanatec drill pattern, meaning it comfortably attaches to most rigs. It also comes with a table clamp. We hooked up the Load Cell pedal kit in no time — including the swapping of the original brake pedal to become the clutch. If you can assemble a Lego set, you can do this.

Right out the box, the CSL Elite PS4 works great with Assetto Corsa. Thanks to the full PS4 mode, you don’t need a DS4 sitting on standby to access system options. Fanatec also lists DiRT 4 as a fully compatible title on the PS4, but we weren’t able to test it.

Other, older games can work via the wheel base’s “Compatibility Mode”. This means a few PS4 operating system misses, but the actual act of driving is unaffected. We took in Project CARS and DiRT Rally, and both worked great with the Elite. Rally didn’t make use of the wheel/base shift lights, but otherwise performed flawlessly.

Plugged into a PC to grab the latest firmware, we took the opportunity to put the new base through its paces in iRacing too. It took all of a minute or two to have the Elite set up to all but identical settings to the PS4 games.

There was one game we couldn’t try the CSL Elite on: Gran Turismo Sport. No, not because the beta ended — Polyphony hadn’t added support for it. Fanatec confirmed with us that it is talking with the Japanese developer about including its SDK. Hopefully, this means the the game will fully support the wheel upon release this October.

Of course, the CSL Elite PS4 lives in the mix-and-match Fanatec ecosystem. For an additional 20€, the base comes with the two-pedal CSL Elite pedal kit, but any of Fanatec’s pedal sets will plug right in. Ditto the company’s shifter and handbrake.

Features –

Like the pricey supercars we all drive in sims, the CSL Elite comes with a long list of standard features.

The brushless servo motor and single belt drive combine for a strong, consistent driving experience. There’s none of the grabby feeling you get with other wheels in instances of oversteer, making it feel natural to catch cars as the rear goes light. It’s also impressive how smooth the force feedback is — and how strong. If anything, it’s almost too strong in some games: we turned down the FFB setting in Assetto Corsa, actually.

One of the big selling points for the CSL Elite is that you can do that in real-time. Well, we don’t recommend it — you should probably pause first — but not having to back out to the game’s menu is a huge advantage. The in-wheel tuning display is your best friend: it offers the option to save five different profiles, all with custom settings for the following:

  • Sensitivity: wheel rotation, in ten-degree increments from 90º to 1080º.
  • Force Feedback: from off to 100% power.
  • Shock: in-wheel vibration motor power, from off to 100%.
  • ABS: in-wheel and in-pedal (if applicable) braking feedback.
  • Linearity: the higher the value, the less sensitivity at wheel center.
  • Drift Mode: a form of power steering to make countersteering easier.
  • Force, Spring, and Damper: Change the three aspects of FFB individually.
  • Brake Force: Alter the amount the pedal needs to be depressed for full braking power. The wheelbase rev lights will represent this while you’re in the tuning menu.

This was great for games that offer low-powered road cars alongside race cars. We were able to easily create a user profile with full rotation for the former, and then lock the wheel down to 270º or so for the race cars. In iRacing, it meant tailored experiences for the MX-5 Cup car around Lime Rock, the 12C GT3 at Laguna Seca, and the Pro Mazda at Mosport.

For those looking to stick with the built-in paddles, Fanatec has employed its Snapdome technology for a satisfying click with each pull. The paddles require a reasonable amount of force to activate, but if you’re like me, that’s actually a benefit. I tend to rest my fingers on the paddles on straights, and the Elite makes sure I don’t accidentally shift up (or down).

Throughout its time with us, the CSL Elite never overheated or showed signs of over-exertion. That includes multi-hour sessions with the PS4 and PC. The fan is audible when it kicks in, but is by no means obtrusive, especially if you’re used to the PS4 itself.

In an unexpected move, Fanatec has shipped the CSL Elite with a selection of custom buttons for the wheel face. These buttons let you give the wheel your own look, with graphics for headlights, turbos, horns, and more. It’s a thoughtful touch, but we never swapped any of them out for fear of damaging the existing buttons. Those suckers aren’t easy to pop out!

Value –

While North American pricing for the PS4 Elite hasn’t been announced yet, the package currently rings up at 500€. If you’re in need of pedals, Fanatec offers the two-pedal CSL Elite set for an extra 20€ as a bundle. They’re quite good, with all-metal construction and plenty of resolution. But we’d be remiss to not suggest the LC Brake kit, which massively improves the feel under braking.

If you’re looking at a setup to cover all three platforms, there aren’t a lot of options on the market. A Thrustmaster T300 GT Edition rings up at 400€, and you’d need an additional 230€ for the TX Servo base for XB1 support. Plus, you’d still have to swap bases when you changed consoles.

On features — especially for GT Sport players — Thrustmaster’s upcoming T-GT should make for an interesting comparison, but it carries a significant price tag, and no XB1 support. The experimental feedback system Thrustmaster has created in partnership with Polyphony is very intriguing, but we weren’t able to get enough seat time at E3 2017 to come to any conclusion.

And Logitech? You’d need a G29 and G920, and neither one really measures up to the CSL Elite in terms of features or power.

There’s no getting around it: at almost twice the cost of a PS4 itself, the Elite isn’t cheap. But you certainly get what you pay for.

The Verdict

There’s a lot to like about the CSL Elite. It looks good, and feels great in the hands thanks to the PS4 rim. We witnessed two minor issues with it during the review period, and one of them is set to be solved in a future firmware update.

The CSL Elite PS4 performs extremely well, with powerful, accurate force feedback. It’s customizable thanks to the Fanatec ecosystem, and offers a lot of features out of the box — in-wheel tuning being perhaps the best part.

Well, besides the cross-platform compatibility. If you’re in the market for a setup to cover all three bases, this is our first recommendation. Swapping out a rim is far more palatable than an entire base, and the CSL Elite PS4 almost comes off as a bargain under this light.

Fanatec’s latest model has set the bar very high for its part of the sim racing market. If you’ve got the means, we highly recommend checking it out.

The CSL Elite PS4 is currently available for sale in Europe and Australia. Prospective buyers have the option of either the base/rim (Europe: 499.95€ / Australia: $749.90) or a bundle including the CSL Elite pedal kit (Europe: 519.95€ / Australia: $799.90).

North American buyers still have to wait, but we’ll relay the news on availability as soon as we hear about it. Fanatec has also let us know that the base and rim will eventually be sold separately.

Fanatec CSL Elite for PS4
It isn't cheap, but the CSL Elite PS4 base does what no other single competitor does at its price point.

Learn more about how our rating system works.

Quality & Finish
New rim is a big improvement over XB1 P1. Base is unremarkable but sturdy, and internals are stout. Dinged for loose connections and a strange knock.

Compatibility
Three system compatibility. Enough said.

Features
Eminently customizable, the CSL Elite really is a “base” for you to tailor to your own tastes.

Value
In its (admittedly high-ish) price range, not much can compete with the CSL Elite PS4’s breadth of abilities.

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