Fanatec CSL DD review: Direct-drive at half the price?

Can Fanatec’s cut-price direct-drive product add to your sim racing?

Fanatec CSL DD

by James Dennison |

► Direct-drive immersive experience

► Hefty build and solid construction

► Can this affordable kit deliver?

Sim racing has exploded in popularity over the last few years. Though setting up a decent rig can be done on a modest budget (far more modest than real racing, anyway), there are countless products you can blow serious cash on your virtual pastime. Buying a direct-drive wheel for circa £1,000 is a prime example.

Luckily, as technology moves on, it often becomes cheaper. That's why German sim gear specialist Fanatec has been able to launch its entry-level direct-drive wheelbase – the CSL DD – for just £350. On paper, it blows everything else out of the water, but how does it perform in reality? Read our review to find out.

Open for pre-orders, availability from April 27, 2022.

Compatible with: Xbox, PC

Fanatec CSL DD

Build and quality

Lifting the CSL DD out of its carefully constructed packaging, it certainly doesn’t feel like an ‘entry-level’ direct-drive product. Weighing in at a hefty 5.5kg, there’s a reassuring level of build quality that confirms just how much of a step up it is from gear-driven contemporaries, like the Logitech G29 or Thrustmaster T248.

Indeed, Fanatec has done well to make the cube-like design look relatively attractive, thanks to a matte black finish and slotted vent effect on the exterior. Sure, it’s not quite got the carbon fibre wow factor of a Podium wheelbase, but there’s little to indicate the CSL DD is a cheap direct-drive choice.

Steering wheel attachments (sold separately) attach to the base via an aluminium shaft that can be paired with one of Fanatec’s wheel-side quick-release hardware solutions. Whether you go for the base QR1 Lite or the more expensive and heavy-duty Clubsport QR1, your chosen racing wheel can be affixed and removed in a matter of seconds.

Before you make your choice, a word to the wise. A small but noticeable portion of the QR1 Lite user base reports ‘play’ in the connection between the shaft and the quick release unit. As such, you may want to go further and purchase the Clubsport QR1 (that, incidentally, Fanatec recommends for the CSL DD) and ensure a more solid connection between components.

Fanatec connection

Usability and performance

As soon as you’ve mounted the CSL to your rig or table (the latter using the optional table clamp accessory), it’s super straightforward to set up. Simply hit the power button, download the drivers (if it's your first time plugging in), load up your chosen game and away you go. Of course, for those that want to tweak advanced settings, there’s plenty of scope for that using Fanatec’s control panel software, plus up to five presets can be saved for different games/cars.

It’s worth noting that we’ve tested the CSL with the optional Boost Kit that ups the power from 5Nm to 8Nm. And while even the higher output may seem piddly to those used to a 25NM Simicube or even a 20Nm Fanatec Podium DD1/DD2, in reality, it’s anything but.

While more powerful setups have the edge on sheer immersion, the CSL DD does an admirable job of getting close: roughly, it seems to offer around 90% of the experience in most conditions. For example, the detail and fidelity through the wheel rim are deeply impressive, giving you far more information to work with when helming your virtual racing car.

You’d do well to ensure your rig is up to the task of taking the forces from the CSL DD. Nothing disrupts immersion like feeling the table shake in front of you as you clip the inside kerb through Eau Rouge at 190mph, fending off a fellow sim-racer in the final throws of an epic dual.

Fanatec also produces several pedal options to go with the CSL DD and we’d strongly recommend going for those with load-cell hardware, such as the Clubsport V3s or CSL Pedals LC. It’s often said that you’ll gain the most speed in sim racing by using a good set of pedals.

Fanatec CSL DD coils

Verdict

The introduction of direct-drive wheels changed the landscape of sim racing when they were introduced, heightening the experience and bringing r-games to a level where they can and have been compared to the real thing. The CSL DD is the next step from this, delivering a genuine direct-drive experience at a fraction of the cost and offering little to no discernible drawbacks.

Will it make you faster? Maybe by a few tenths of a second. But the main benefit over gear- or belt-driven FFB wheels is the increased level of immersion and enjoyment that is so key to the whole experience. In short, if you’re passionate about sim racing, the CSL DD is very much a must-have.

Fanatec CSL DD

Fanatec CSL DD

View offer

Open for pre-orders, availability from April 27, 2022. | Compatible with: Xbox, PC

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