- Great performance
- Competitive price range
- Cheapest direct-drive wheel
- Very quiet
- Quality build
- Really needs the boost kit
- Not quite enough power in base form
What is the Fanatec CSL DD?
When it comes to sim racing, direct-drive wheelbases are widely regarded as the pinnacle of sim racing wheels.
Essentially, a direct-drive racing wheel attaches the motor which powers the steering wheel, directly to the wheel itself. This removes the need for gears or belts which are often found in many sim racing wheelbases. And in turn, these belts and gears always water down the force feedback strength and clarity.
By removing the need for any form of belt or gear system, you can transfer the full force feedback power and detail through and into the user’s hands. This results in force feedback which is generally much stronger, and much more detailed.
However, there is normally a catch with direct-drive, and that normally comes in the form of the price. Due to the bigger motor and more power, any direct-drive wheelbase almost always sit at the most premium end of the racing wheel market.
This is where the Fanatec CSL DD is so pioneering. It is a direct-drive wheelbase, which costs less than $350/€350, which is unheard of!
So, is this really the new standard of direct-drive wheelbases, and should you snap up a CSL DD?
The Design of the Fanatec CSL DD
It’s much smaller, and lighter than previous direct-drive wheelbase, and this took me by surprise. It almost appears as if it is a larger DD1 or DD2 chopped in half.
Along the outer sides, you will find a grooved pattern. These grooves are designed to work with the aluminium material to act as a natural heat sink. And while I’m talking about the aluminium edges, I’ll just touch on the materials and overall build quality.
All four outer edges, left, right, top and bottom are aluminium, with the front and rear of the wheelbase being finished in plastic. It is a slight shame that the front hasn’t been finished in aluminium as well, but I can understand this from a cost perspective when you think about the low cost of the unit.
The plastic on the front and rear itself doesn’t feel too cheap. Although the front power button, which is also finished in plastic, does feel a little cheap to the touch.
Then, protruding out of the front plastic is the quick-release shaft, which is also finished in aluminium.
Overall, the design of the wheelbase is nice. It looks aggressive with the side and top fins, yet cute due to its small form factor.
Unboxing the Fanatec CSL DD
One thing I always love about Fanatec packaging is the quotes that they include on the box. I won’t spoil the Fanatec CSL DD quote for you, but it comes in a few parts as you open the box, and is a nice nod to sim racing in general.
When you first open the box, other than being surprised by the size of the wheelbase like I was, you’ll find a few other parts. These consist of the power supply as expected, a USB cable for connectivity, and the mounting nuts so you can attach your wheelbase firmly to your sim rig.
And this last part is highly recommended. Yes, you can purchase a table clamp for the Fanatec CSL DD. But when it comes to direct-drive wheelbases, it’s much better to hard mount them to your rig. Hard mounting prevents any risk of it loosening over time, and can eliminate any rattling that table clamps can produce.
Fanatec CSL DD Performance
Here is the part of the review which most of you are probably looking forward to the most!
Does the 5Nm of direct-drive torque provide enough power? And is the 8Nm of torque that you get when you purchase the optional Boost Kit worth going for?
That’s right, the CSL DD comes in two form factors. The base unit itself produces up to 5Nm of torque. then you can purchase an optional Boost Pack which increases the power output to 8Nm.
Let me talk about the base CSL DD first, before I touch on the Boost Kit.
If you are coming from a belt-driven or gear-driven racing wheel like the Logitech G923, or a Thrustmaster wheel, you are in for a huge surprise. The clarity of detail that you get from any direct-drive racing wheel is present here. And with Fanatec’s improved motor, the CSL DD might actually be smoother and cleaner than the bigger DD1 and DD2.
You really feel this in full force when your car starts to lose traction, and when driving over rougher surfaces.
When it comes to noise, this wheelbase busts out another surprise. During operation, it is almost completely silent. The aluminium surround is built to act as a natural heat sink, which means Fanatec have been able to remove any internal fan.
This worked pretty well in practice too, with little real noticeable heat being generated while racing. There was a little warmth emitting from the device after a good few hours of sim racing. But to put it into context, there is no more heat than say a mobile phone while gaming, and it certainly doesn’t get as hot as a laptop does during use.
Jumping back to the strength of this wheelbase, the 5Nm of torque in the base model does a good job of providing just enough torque so you can feel what is going on. Although if you’ve driven with a more powerful direct-drive wheelbase don’t expect to get the same sort of experience you would with those more premium models.
You are definitely not in for a wrist breaking experience with the CSL DD, and there are times where you do wish there was a little more power on tap.
As mentioned above, if you are upgrading from an entry-level racing wheel, the CSL DD will be a huge step up in both quality and power. But if you are looking for an alternative over the more premium DD1 and DD2, you may need to look at the optional Boost Kit.
Is the 180 Boost Kit Worth Buying?
The Boost Kit 180 is an add-on to the CSL DD, which increases the power output to a cool 8Nm of torque. This jump from 5Nm to 8Nm certainly is noticeable. And the power you will feel from the wheel suddenly starts to feel a lot more like the direct-drive wheels of the past.
In fact, combined with the smoother direct-drive motor in this new wheelbase, the force feedback you receive from the CSL DD isn’t far off beating the quality produced in the other Fanatec direct-drive wheels.
The Fanatec CSL DD Price and is it a good buy?
Fanatec has gone with an extremely competitive price on the CSL DD, and really are looking to disrupt the direct-drive market. Priced lower than any other direct-drive wheelbase before it, the CSL DD comes in at a relatively low $350/€350.
This is the cost for the base unit, with the Boost Kit bundle coming in at $479.95/€479.95.
This pricing structure was a huge shock at launch. And when compared to the typical $1,000 + entry point of other direct-drive wheelbases, Under $400 for an entry price is pretty incredible.
Fanatec CSL DD Compatibility
The CSL DD is widely compatible within the Fanatec ecosystem. Every current offering that Fanatec produce is cross-compatible with the CSL DD. This includes steering wheel rims, pedals etc.
The quick-release in the CSL DD is completely exchangeable, meaning that when the highly anticipated QR2 launches, you will be able to change that quick-release in.
However, when you look at console compatibility, that is where the CSL DD comes a little unstuck. Currently, at the time of writing, the CSL DD is only compatible with PC and Xbox consoles. There is no PlayStation compatibility.
Fanatec is said to be working on a PlayStation exclusive variant of the CSL DD, but for now it is only Xbox and PC compatible.
Should you buy the Fanatec CSL DD?
If you are looking to upgrade your sim racing setup, then the CSL DD is extremely hard to ignore. It offers outstanding performance for its price range, and when paired with the Boost Kit offers performance that isn’t a million miles away from the heavy-hitting DD1 and DD2.
One of the main considerations when looking at potentially buying should be compatibility. If you are on Xbox or PC, then the CSL DD is one of the best wheelbase options within this price bracket.
The Fanatec CSL DD truly is a real innovator.