Fanatec CSL Elite Wheel Advanced Pack
As a racing fan this reviewer sinks many, many hours into the various racing games available on the Xbox One. It is, quite likely, the only way to experience the myriad of tracks and cars games offer as my chances of driving, say, the Ferrari LaFerrari round Monza is rather slim. Over the console generations, these experiences have gotten steadily more real and technologies such as force feedback and peripherals like the excellent Elite controller from Microsoft, has enabled me to really enjoy and immerse myself in my favourite gaming genre. The next logical step in a racing fan’s quest for realism, then, is a wheel and a set of pedals. There are plenty out there, but looking at any serious racing rigs the main players in this game are Logitech, Thrustmaster and Fanatec.
We were kindly provided the CSL Elite Wheel Advanced Pack by Fanatec to review on the Xbox One. As more sim racers make their way to console such as the recently released Project Cars 2 to join its predecessor, Project Cars, DiRT Rally and Assetto Corsa, wheels are starting to become more of an essential purchase if you’re wanting to tame these unforgiving simulations of racing. Before we get to our experiences using the wheel we must first mention the excellent build quality. The Advanced Pack comes with the CSL Elite Wheel Hub, CSL Elite Pedals, the loadcell brake kit and a CSL Elite Wheel P1 for Xbox One. The CSL Elite wheel hub has quite a weight to it and comes with a table mount if required. We do, however, recommend that you have a wheel mount to mount it to using the accompanying screws. We say this as once you mount the CSL Elite Wheel it becomes rather top heavy and can topple a regular small table that some may use as a mount point. The pedals are solid metal and feel great underfoot. With the included loadcell kit added and a slight tweak to the original brake to turn it into a clutch, you end up with a full set of pedals. What was also rather useful was the ability to space the pedals to our liking as opposed to being in a fixed position.
The P1 wheel itself is covered with Alcantara and has rather nice red stitching on the inside. It feels fantastic to use and makes long racing sessions pretty comfortable. The buttons are interchangeable allowing you to swap out the Xbox-specific buttons to racing style ones if you so choose. The paddle shifters on the rear of the wheel are fixed and so will rotate with the wheel as you race. They also have a good weight and feel along with a rather satisfying click when you shift. Everything about this setup exudes quality and so it should considering the price of the advanced pack comes in at €649.95/£576.99. That’s not cheap but the value doesn’t just come through with how it looks, it also, more importantly, by how it feels to use it.
When we reviewed Assetto Corsa last year we noted that the handling model, while excellent, really punished pad players. Whilst we persisted and found it to be, in racing terms, an excellent simulation, it wasn’t exactly always enjoyable. This all changed when we played Assetto Corsa using the wheel. All of a sudden the game came alive through intricate force feedback. We could feel all the bumps down the back straight at Monza before the Ascari chicane and we realised that we were losing control due to our car bottoming out in our usual braking point. Thanks to this extra bit of feedback from the game that you could only get through a wheel, we were able to adjust our braking point and ease through Ascari with much greater speed than any of our previous attempts.
Don’t worry about the amount of force feedback as if that’s too much for you can tweak the settings through configuration options both in-game and on the wheel itself. There’s a fair amount of options in relation to wheels in the racing games we played and it’s worth getting a base setup from the many sim racing sites and fine tuning it from there. The most important one for us on the wheel was adjusting how much pressure was needed on the brake to register. The loadcell kit makes it much more realistic but for some games takes a lot of pressure to get decent braking pressure. By changing the sensitivity on the wheel you can compensate for this and avoid careening off the track at top speed. Otherwise it’s very much a personal thing and every game is different in how it translates things back through force feedback. Assetto Corsa was probably the best and allowed us to feel pretty much every bump and spin of the wheels. We didn’t need to do too much tweaking as the base settings were pretty good to begin with. Not far behind was F1 2017 with a strong showing in the force feedback stakes and making an already excellent game even more fun. Project Cars 2 wasn’t far off but we felt it perhaps lacked a little strength in the resistance it offered when steering and despite tweaks, we couldn’t get the feel we got in Assetto Corsa. Still, the added control meant we were setting faster times than we could set on the pad and we had heaps of fun whilst we did so.
The exception to this in our review tests was in Forza Motorsport 7. Whilst it added a fun dynamic like in every other game we played, the force feedback was good but not stellar. No matter how hard we drove we were still much faster on a controller than the wheel. Some of this will be down to skill on the wheel as we were never as confident under brakes on the wheel as we were on a controller. The rest is likely down to the excellent optimisation the Turn 10 team have done for controllers. As has been the case for a long time, if you want to be fast in Forza Motorsport you’re probably going to have to use a controller. However, if you want to have fun and enjoy even the manic nature of the public lobbies, then we heartily recommend using a wheel. No matter how badly we raced in Forza (or any of our test games for that matter) we finished with a grin on our faces and some very tired arms. The CSL Elite Wheel’s ability to translate what’s going on is fantastic. From the wheel going light when you’re losing traction to jarring when you hit a kerb hard, it made racing a challenge and a real fight sometimes to get a quick lap-time. As someone who has been fortunate enough to drive a single-seater on an F1 circuit, racing cars is hard work and part of the enjoyment and elation from doing so, apart from going fast, is knowing you worked hard to go that fast and get that lap-time.
The only drawbacks we found during our time with the wheel was the lack of compatibility with the LED lights on the base and the wheel itself, and the need to use a PC to upgrade the firmware. When we tested the wheel on a PC we had lights to indicate when to upshift in Forza Motorsport 7 which were entirely absent in its console counterpart. As someone who likes to drive with as little data on screen as is possible, this was fantastic and it was a shame that it’s not supported on console in any game that we tested. Hopefully this may change with updates to the games or the console itself as it seems odd to have this ability untapped. As for the firmware updates, it makes things a bit fiddly and you’d be stuck if a crucial update was needed but without a Windows PC to do it on. The Xbox One has the ability to provide firmware updates to its controllers via the console and it would be far more convenient if third-party peripherals could do this too. Other than that our first P1 wheel wouldn’t switch from PC mode to Xbox mode despite many attempts. However, it was quickly replaced and we had no further faults with the replacement unit.
Overall then, the CSL Elite Wheel Advanced Pack is a fantastic piece of kit. Whilst it comes with a premium price tag it’s one that’s justified and not just because of how good it is out of the box. It is, perhaps, a product for the dedicated racers but if you do decide to invest you’re not stuck with what you started with. There’s a whole range of add-ons and extras you can buy from Fanatec that range from different wheels (all Fanatec wheels use the same connector) to inverted pedals and even a handbrake. The ability to customise and upgrade your setup allows a great deal of personal freedom. Plus, the universality of the wheels is a particular boon as if you invest in alternate wheels you can continue to use them should you upgrade the hub from the CSL Elite to, say, the Clubsport, or Fanatec's upcoming Podium Series which will be Fanatec’s first direct-drive hub. Sure, there are cheaper wheels out there but very few can match the versatility and range of options that CSL Elite presents.