Fanatec ClubSport Lite Elite: The New "Mid-Range"
Dropping Price Points for Wider Appeal
Fanatec needs little introduction for anyone that has seriously considered racing wheel and the corresponding components. It is a German based company that produces high quality and authentic feeling gear for PC and console racers. Their ClubSport products are their top end models which also commands a top level price. Solid construction, high quality materials, and sharp looking designs have defined the company since its inception.
Fanatec always features a classy design. The first portion of the 4-flap saying is on the top. Otherwise, a bit confusing if you didn't know that...
Last year I was given the chance to test out some of the latest, and highest end, Fanatec gear. The ClubSport V2 base and pedals were fantastic performers. The build quality, fit and finish, and functionality were all superior to anything that I had used before. The unfortunate part of the setup was the corresponding price. These parts were not inexpensive. Thankfully, most people who are familiar with Fanatec know that they cater to a more discerning crowd where price constraints are not the driving factor for this gear. Even though these parts are expensive, they are still far less than the direct-drive counterparts that typically cost two to three times more.
Like any company, Fanatec is looking to expand and attract new users. Their biggest hurdle with the ClubSport series is obviously price. To attract new customers Fanatec introduced a new, more cost effective design that provides much the same experience as the higher end ClubSport series, but at a more reasonable price tag. The CSL Elite series (ClubSport Lite) is aimed to address this area with more reasonably priced units that promise the same build quality and attention to detail as the higher end products in the ClubSport realm. Costs were cut throughout, but Fanatec hopes that the overall product will provide much the same gaming experience as their higher end products.
The packing is always well designed and copious when it comes to materials.
New Base, Wheel, and Pedals
If there is one feature of the ClubSport V2.5 wheel base that stands out is the build materials. It is a massive piece of machined aluminum that has a significant amount of heft to it. The bill of materials for each ClubSport unit has to be pretty impressive, not to mention the amount of machining that each piece goes through. The quickest way to decrease the cost of something is to take a good look at the BOM and how it is constructed. Machining is relatively expensive. Plastic injection molding is a lot less expensive. Fanatec decided to go this route with much of the housing made of this material rather than the aluminum monster that is the ClubSport V2 and V2.5.
This is not the entire story as the CSL Elite is more than just a plastic shell to decrease costs. Good design and smart decisions have allowed Fanatec to decrease the cost on this part significantly from the ClubSport series, yet still retain most of the feel and experience. The motor provides almost 6Nm of force, down from the approximately 8Nm featured on the ClubSport V2. This is still higher than most of the midrange products from Thrustmaster. In fact it is right around where the new TS-PC unit from TM is selling. It features a dual pulley system to accurately transmit those forces to the wheel and the user.
The unit is a lot smaller than I expected, especially after seeing how big the ClubSport V2 was.
This is one of the first bases from Fanatec that features its own integrated desk mount mechanism. This is a fairly compact clamp that should fit a wide variety of tables and will securely fasten the base. This is another aspect of cost cutting as a user wanting to put the latest ClubSport V2.5 will have to purchase a separate mount. The CSL base also looks like it has beefed up the screw holes for direct mounting onto wheel stands and cockpits. In pre-production units this was rumored to be a weak spot, but Fanatec looks to have redesigned them so as to be much more sturdy.
The unit features all of the inputs for the vast ecosystem of Fanatec racing accessories. It features the same locking ring for quick wheel swaps as the ClubSport models so that any wheel that Fanatec sells will work with this base. It is also compatible with the Xbox One Universal Hub which brings Xbox One compatibility to the platform. It has plugs for pedals, two sets of shifters, and the e-brake. It is all connected by a USB 2.0 plug which really is all that is needed for a controller of this type.
Some people love the look, others will not. Personally I like the styling of the PS4 version of this kit myself.
Fanatec does not typically sell their products in bundles like Thrustmaster does with their products. Though Thrustmaster has moved to a more modular approach, it pales in comparison to the ecosystem that Fanatec has developed. Users can mix and match dozens of products to make hundreds of unique combinations that will span across a wide range of price points. The most basic combination would be the CSL Elite Wheelbase, CSL Elite Wheel, and the CSL Elite Pedals (brake and accelerator). This setup costs a cool $469.85, which is less than the MSRP of the new Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer (which does not include pedals). For testing I was provided the Brake Loadcell Kit which is an extra $120. This brings the price closer to where the TS-PC combined with the T3PA-Pro would be ($589 tested vs. $649 MSRP from Thrustmaster).