When Fanatec revealed last year that it was bringing a direct drive wheel base to market for just $350, sim racers sort of lost it. Direct drive is the cream of the crop in terms of force feedback technology compared to cheaper but less precise gear- and belt-driven systems. But Fanatec’s existing direct drive base, the Podium DD1, cost $1,200. Here was one priced at less than a third of that, yet still promised a vaguely similar experience — minus the wrist-snapping torque. It seemed too good to be true.
I’ve been fortunate enough to play with the CSL DD for a bit now, and I’m happy to say it largely meets the hype. While I’d stop short of calling it a quantum leap for those who already have a good midrange belt-driven base, it will be absolutely revelatory to anyone who’s been turning laps with something cheaper, like a Logitech G29 or Thrustmaster TMX.
If you’re ready to take that next step to hardware that’s a little more serious, or you’ve been putting off that big upgrade for a while, there’s no reason to buy anything else. One word of advice, though: make sure you budget for the Boost Kit.
Full disclosure: The CSL DD we received for testing was provided by the fine folks at Fanatec; I used it along with a McLaren GT3 V2 rim ($200) and ClubSport V3 pedals ($360). Fanatec also lent us the Boost Kit 180 ($150), which increases torque from 5 Nm to 8 Nm. I tested the CSL DD with iRacing.
The CSL DD can be purchased separately — base alone — or as part of various bundles. Depending on your platform(s) of choice, you’ll need to be careful which you buy. The $350 base I tested works with PC and Xbox out of the box, but it doesn’t work with PlayStation. For that, you’ll need to opt for the CSL DD Pro instead.
Don’t let the name fool you, though — the Pro is mechanically no different to the “regular” CSL DD, even though it’s packaged in a slightly different shell. However, the Pro — a Gran Turismo-licensed product — can only be bought in tandem with a GT-branded rim and Fanatec’s standard CSL pedals. You can’t buy the Pro base alone, which means you have to buy the whole kit if you want a rig to support GT7 or anything else on Sony’s console.
That bundle will set you back at least $700 — more if you tack on the $150 Boost Kit 180, which pumps maximum torque from 5 Nm to 8 Nm. Fanatec is also offering an “Express Version” of the CSL DD Pro which, as far as I can tell, is identical to the $700 version. The difference is that model ships today instead of in March, when the full Pro line releases. That strikes me as awfully greedy, but hey — if folks are willing to pay, it’s their money.
The CSL DD for PC and Xbox has been shipping since last fall, though availability is currently backed up until the end of February for the $480 version that comes with the Boost Kit, or late July for the $350 one without. So yeah — these things are in high demand at the moment. It’s not terribly hard to understand why when you get behind the wheel.
Poring over the packaging of a piece of sim racing equipment might seem pretty pointless, and ordinarily it would be. In the CSL DD’s case, though, design happens to be the cherry on top.
See, without belts, gears or any other layers of abstraction between the motor and hub, Fanatec was able to give the CSL DD a very small footprint. It also feels solidly built, thanks to a combination of aluminum construction for the core and rigid plastic capping the front and back. That’s important, because this little brick can be subjected to vigorous forces.
But the genius of the CSL DD’s design has more to do with its peculiar, skeletal shell. Some wheel bases, like Fanatec’s old ClubSport v2.5, must be actively cooled with whirring fans. Most also have mounting holes drilled into their bodies for screws, and holes of course leave zero wiggle room for fitting. If you don’t have the proper plate with the same holes in exactly the same place on your rig or wheel stand, you’d best get out a ruler and a drill.
However, because the CSL DD is made from aluminum, its body functions as a passive, silent heat sink. And those deep grooves on every side but one aren’t just there for stylistic reasons — they’re functional. Fanatec includes T-nuts that fit into these slots and can be positioned at any point for hard mounting. That means you can move the mounting points to precisely where you need them to be along each rail, which certainly helps installation.
For example, I own a Wheel Stand Pro with a Logitech mounting plate because I used to have a G29. None of the rails of the CSL DD line up with that plate, so I was initially screwed — excuse the pun. That is, until I realized I could remove the angled legs from the ClubSport v2.5 I’d been using previously, mount the CSL DD onto them and those legs happened to partially align with the Logitech plate. It isn’t elegant, but it works, and that little ordeal sold me on the T-nut design. It adds a slight degree of adjustability to make one of the most frustrating aspects of the sim racing experience — situating everything to the requirements of your space and rig — a little bit easier. Still, for those who are happy enough with desk mounting, it’s worth highlighting that Fanatec does offer a table clamp for $30.
Before we get into how the CSL DD actually feels, let’s briefly clear up why its mere existence is such a big deal. If you’ve ever raced with one of Logitech’s sets, like the G29, G27 or Driving Force GT, you know what a gear-driven wheel is like to wrestle. They’re notchy and vague, with a considerable dead zone in the center. There’s a chronic dull rattle behind the shaft, a noise that never fails to erode the immersion of your favorite simulator. They’re imprecise, and they give you a rather incomplete picture of what’s going on underneath you.
Belt drive is far better. Coming from the aforementioned ClubSport base myself, I believe that if you already have one of the better belt wheels, like Thrustmaster’s T-GT or any of Fanatec’s recently-discontinued options, you’re probably not going to be blown away by the CSL DD. But you will like what you find.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ClubSport, but there was a sense of elasticity and persistent heaviness with that base — even in situations when it wasn’t necessarily appropriate — that I don’t find turning the CSL DD. Admittedly, that may have something to do with the particular way I had it set up in Fanatec’s software. In any case, the CSL DD encompasses a broad range of feedback, feeling nice and precise when you’ve got proper grip, getting light and squirrely early under braking and totally kicking your ass if you let it get away from you.
It does all this all silently and more smoothly than any other base I’ve ever used, and really gives you the confidence to dance on the limit. That feeling coming out of Druids at Oulton Park in the 992 GT3 Cup in iRacing, feeling the wheel gently drift away from you as you coax it back to center with the throttle, is absolutely sublime. Likewise, skittering and bounding along the concrete slabs at Sebring is exactly the sort of sensation the CSL DD conveys with satisfying granularity.
There’s a caveat to all this, though. You really do need that Boost Kit.
Sure, “Boost Kit” sounds like solid-fuel thrusters you bolt onto your rig, but it’s actually way more pedestrian. It’s merely Fanatec’s name for a beefier, optional power supply that allows the CSL DD to unlock its maximum 8 Nm of torque — a step up from the normal 5 Nm. It really does make a difference. Switching back and forth between the two, the standard power brick leaves the CSL DD feeling disconnected. You find yourself generally less informed of the state of the car, because when the motor chimes in with those brief but extremely valuable blips of tension, it does so with less urgency.
The result made me drive sloppily and feel less engaged overall. Without the Boost Kit’s added kick, I spun exiting corners where I typically don’t. I thought I could be greedier with the throttle, because the wheel wasn’t fighting me as forcefully as I expected it to. I dropped tires in grass and didn’t realize until it was too late to reel myself back onto the asphalt.
This is part of why I don’t think folks with good belt-driven setups, like the old ClubSport, should get FOMO over the CSL DD. That base also delivered 8 Nm of torque, just like Fanatec’s latest. With the Boost Kit, the CSL DD is a smidge better than it; without it, it doesn’t strike anywhere close. There’s no substitute for power.
As with all of Fanatec’s hardware, changing settings and updating firmware for the CSL DD is done through the Fanatec Control Panel app. When it works, it’s helpful and easy enough to use. Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be hit and miss.
I had no issues updating the CSL DD to the latest firmware — something that proved easier said than done when I reviewed the McLaren GT3 V2 rim. Rather, I found the software completely unwilling to save changes I had made in the Tuning Menu, per Fanatec’s recommended settings for iRacing. The adjustments applied for as long as the base was plugged into my PC, but the second I disconnected it or restarted my computer, they reverted to defaults.
Fortunately, the settings Fanatec suggests for iRacing only require tweaking two sliders. But if you prefer lots of custom parameters that deviate from the norm, I imagine this glitch would be extremely frustrating.
Getting your money’s worth is all relative in sim racing. If you want a plug-and-play kit to get started, I still recommend one of the Logitech wheels that can very frequently be found on sale; there’s also Thrustmaster’s new entry-level T248 that I haven’t tried yet. Particularly obnoxious players will deride these as “toys,” but the fact of the matter is that sim racing carries a high cost of entry. Better to spend $300 or $400 and grow into things than drop almost four digits on a setup only to find the hobby isn’t for you.
However, once you move beyond the bargain stuff, the CSL DD isn’t merely compelling — it’s unbeatable. Yes, the base alone costs $350, and I’d argue that to really make the whole expense worthwhile, you need that Boost Kit. There you’re looking at $480. If you need them, a rim will set you back at least another $140 and a set of CSL pedals — sans clutch — $80.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, I’d hold out for the CSL DD Pro bundle, which is the one you’d pretty much have to get if you require PlayStation compatibility. With the Boost Kit included it’s $850 — $50 more than the belt-driven Thrustmaster T-GT II, which is pretty old technology at this point. With a good direct drive build now possible for well under $1,000, it makes little sense to drop that kind of money on hardware that’s on its way out unless you can get a great deal on it.
Sim racing is more popular than it’s ever been, but that growth hasn’t chipped qway at the price of hardware much at all. Also, companies in this space have a habit of churning out the same products for years on end, with few, if any meaningful upgrades. Fanatec has bucked that trend with the CSL DD, and my hope is it’ll inspire Logitech, Thrustmaster and anyone else who cares to answer back with something similarly compelling.
Until that happens, though, the CSL DD is without an equal. The $350 price is arguably a ruse, because the standard power supply leaves this base feeling a little lifeless. But the beauty of it is you’re always free to upgrade whenever you like. And whether you integrate it into your existing setup or opt for the full Gran Turismo DD Pro kit, I can’t imagine wanting for more unless you do esports for a living or actively want to break your wrists.