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Fanatec CSR Elite Wheel – Review

VirtualR’s full review of the new Fanatec CSR Elite wheel.

Back in 2008, Fanatec entered the high end steering wheel market, introducing the Porsche 911 Turbo wheel.

Since then, the company has introduced various Porsche-branded wheels and the Forza Motorsport CSR wheel, all based on the same base set of mechanics.

Now, a new generation of Fanatec products is here as the CSR Elite wheel uses a newly-designed base. Can the new wheel further improve Fanatec’s reputation for excellent engineering? Read the review to find out!

When Fanatec first entered the market for high quality steering wheels, few people had heard of the company before. This quickly changed as Fanatec’s line of Porsche wheel almost instantly captured a quickly-growing share of the market, not just because of the shiny Porsche badge that has always captured the imagination of automobile enthusiasts.

Along with the high-profile license, Fanatec also introduced several innovative features to mass market steering wheels as the Porsche wheels were the first to feature a built-in display & tuning features, usage of high-quality materials such as Alcantara and cross compatibility to both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.

These innovations have created quite a lot of movement on the steering wheel market. While Logitech was rather slow to respond with the mildly-updated G27, Thrustmaster has taken up the challenge from Fanatec with their T500 RS.

With the gauntlet being laid down, it’s time for Fanatec to respond and the company does so by taking the proven features mentioned above to an all-new technical base that is the result of two years of engineering. Needless to say, the effort has been more than worth it…

[head3]Features[/head3]

The CSR Elite centers around a brand new base that has been engineered by Fanatec for almost two years. The base uses Fanatec’s DirectSensor technology that has the sensor mounted directly on the steering axis. The new placement rules out issues & interference that regular wheels with motor-mounted sensors can face.

The wheel is powered by 120W dual Force Feedback motors that are supported by two additional motors in the wheel rim. The wheel uses a newly-designed belt drive mechanism made completely of metal. The belt drive is made of high quality materials such as durable ball bearings and belts made in Germany.

All the fancy new technology is wrapped in a case completely made of metal that is equipped with large silent fans that provide cooling.

The new technology is paired up with proven Fanatec features such as the built-in quick tuning display and the unrivaled cross-compatibility that enables the CSR Elite to work on the PC as well as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

The wheel rim is prove to the console connection, sporting both a Forza Motorsport 4 logo and console-labelled buttons. Alongside the ten buttons, the wheel also offers a D-pad for navigation in menus and settings.

The CSR Elite comes with durable aluminum-made shifting levers in the back, the wheel also supports additional shifters that are sold separately.

[head3]Build Quality[/head3]

While the built quality of past Fanatec wheels was never anything to complain about thanks to expensive materials like Alcantara, the CSR Elite is in a whole new ballpark when it comes to the used materials.

As shown off by Doug Meyer of SimRacingReview, the pleasurable experience starts with the unboxing of the wheel. Even though it sounds somewhat silly, the CSR Elite surely is the most impressively-packaged wheel I´ve ever encountered.

The fancy packaging gets buyers excited and the CSR does not disappoint as first contact with the wheel is an impressive affair. Fanatec promised a fully-metal made new base and they’ve very much kept their promise as the only plastic parts on the new base seem to be the clear top window that allows players to watch the neatly-engineered internals at work as well as the buttons and the plastic back cover.

The base is completely made of metal, featuring a metal front plate cooling openings on both sides. Even though the base is a lot more compact than the T500 RS’, it weighs roughly the same, speaking volumes about the materials used.

Even though the wheel rim design & button layout is closely based on the CSR wheel, Fanatec has upped their game in these parts as well. Not only does the CSR Elite rim have a carbon-fibre face plate instead of the metal one used on the CSR, it also comes with a fully rubberized rim to go with the Alcantara handgrips.

The rubber rim does not just look and feel better than the plastic used on the CSR rim, it also irons out one of the man issues of the CSR wheel rim. Thanks to the rubber coating, the seam on top of the two-part rim is much less noticeable than on the CSR, fixing one of my pet peeves with the new rim design.

As on the CSR, the buttons are nothing to complain about and the new all-aluminum pedal shifting levers are super solid and nothing like the wobbly affair on Fanatec’s first wheels.

All in all, the CSR Elite sets a new standard in terms of buidt quality as the wheel uses the least amount of plastic I`ve ever encountered on a steering wheel, going for professional and durable materials across the board instead.

[head3]Installation[/head3]

If this isn’t the first VirtualR review of a Fanatec product you`re reading, you know that one of my main issues with their wheels has always been the table clamp.

The CSR Elite fixes the issue with a simple solution – There is no table clamp to begin with! Since the wheel is aimed at more professional users, the wheel has been designed with hard mounting to a wheel stand or racing rig in mind.

Those who want to fix the CSR Elite to a table can be accommodated as well as Fanatec offers the optional Club Sport Table Clamp the wheel can be mounted to.

Selling for 49 Euros/Dollars, the Table Clamp is also fully made of metal and hosts both the wheel and additional shifters. The clamp is adjustable and can be mounted to tables that are up to 7 centimeters thick.

Whether it’s mounted to a rig or the Table Clamp, the days of sliding Fanatec wheels are definitely over, fixing one of the main issues with their wheels in the past.

While the CSR Elite works wireless in Xbox 360 mode, Playstation 3 and PC users have to rely on a hardwired connection. Connectivity doesn’t end with the USB cable though as the CSR Elite also comes with ports to connect a Fanatec pedal set (not included) as well as a headset for console usage.

Fanatec’s documentation is improving with every wheel they release, the CSR Elite comes with a manual that really leaves nothing to be desired. The manual covers all topics of installation, tuning as well as setting different modes that send the wheel to PC or console compatibility.

While console players can go racing right away, PC users have to bother with installing drivers as usual. This isn’t a real bother anymore as Fanatec has very much streamlined their drivers, making the installation of the new wheel a pain-free affair.

[head3]Driving & Force Feedback[/head3]

Now comes the tricky part. While the improvements in terms of build quality and design are rather easy to explain in text, the sensation of using the CSR Elite and how much it has improved upon the Porsche wheels is hard to pack into words.

The CSR Elite is pretty much everything an ideal wheel should be. It’s smooth, strong, precise, fast & silent, setting new benchmarks across the bar.

The dual Force Feedback motors provide a stunningly detailed & strong Force Feedback. Helped by the two additional motors in the rim, the FFB transports every sensation of driving straight to the driver. From locking up tires to shifting, bumps in the road and even the most subtle slide, the CSR Elite’s FFB transmits all of these aspects in a strong and precise fashion.

The CSR Elite’s main competitor is undoubtedly Thrustmaster’s T500 RS and even though the wheels have slightly different strong suits, it’s pretty clear who’s winning this contents.

Speaking in racing terms, the T500 RS’ FFB is a bit like a 800hp stock car. It’s extremely strong and feels almost brutal when completely dialed up. The CSR Elite on the other hand is more like a nimble little prototype, the FFB doesn’t feel as strong and raw but a bit more sophisticated, subtle and precise instead.

That being said, it’s not like the FFB is weak by any means. Sim racers who love to get their biceps workout done while driving will be pleased with the CSR Elite as well. On top of that, the FFB delvers a feeling of being connected to the car that I haven’t experienced with any other wheel before.

The CSR Elite is also very responsive, turning quick and smooth and allowing for quick corrections. The belt drive is also extremely silent, instead of the metallic grinding sound other wheels make while turning, the CSR Elite only comes with a barely noticeable high-pitched rubbing sound.

The only quirk of the belt drive I had to get used to is a squealing sound the belt makes when making quick steering movements against the forces (for example when counter-steering to prevent a spin). The sound is completely normal but a bit scary when you first encounter it.

Needless to say that the durable feel in terms of materials also comes into play when driving. I´ve been using the wheel for several weeks and it simply feels incredibly solid across the board. There’s little to none mechanical play or deadzone involved and the cooling concept of the wheel seems to be very efficient as well as I can hardly recall to have heard the fans in effect at all.

For those who don’t like the stock settings the wheel comes with can use Fanatec’s quick tuning settings that are being set using the built-in display. The tuning features include settings such as deadzone, dampers, force feedback & sensitivity that can all be set independently from the software – A feature that comes extremely handy with console games that usually offer little tweakable controller settings.

Speaking of consoles, the CSR Elite is undoubtedly the most professional piece of kit that console racers ever had access to. The downside of this is that the wheel very much shows the limits of Force Feedback effects on consoles as the CSR Elite can’t fully shine until it’s used with a powerful PC simulation.

[head3]Conclusion[/head3]

Without wanting to sound like I`m the person who writes Fanatec’s PR material, it’s safe to say that the CSR Elite is the new benchmark for upper-market steering wheels.

Wildly expensive enthusiast kit like FREX or ECCI aside, the CSR Elite is the best wheel money will buy you right now. All the stereotypes you have ever heard about German engineering come true with this one as the wheel looks and feels pretty much perfect in every single aspect.

From the packaging to the used materials to the technical innovation packed in the base, the CSR Elite is an enjoyable and impressive product through and through.

Of course, all this technology and quality comes with a price attached to it, as the CSR Elite  is the most expensive steering wheel in the mass market sector. The return is worth it though as the CSR Elite is pretty much a no-compromise affair that leaves nothing to be desired.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect about the CSR Elite is that it isn’t even planned to be Fanatec’s flagship product for long. The same base will soon be paired up with several replaceable high-tech wheel rims as Fanatec isn’t quite done with extending their technology advantage just yet.

The CSR Elite sells for 539 Euros/Dollars excluding a pedal set, buyers will have to be patient though as right now Fanatec does not have any wheels in stock, the next shipment is expected in mid March.

The wheel is exclusively available on the Fanatec website.

Pros:
[listpros]

  • Professional-grade wheel made of very durable materials
  • New base packed with new technology
  • Highly detailed and strong Force Feedback, smooth & silent driving experience
  • Quick tuning options allow tweaking independent from game software
  • Unrivaled cross compatibility to all three major platforms
[/listpros] Cons:
[listcons]
  • Plenty of features result in high retail price
[/listcons]

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