Fanatec Racing Setup - A Perfect Racing Experience Unlike Any Otherby Adam Dileva
I’m no stranger to console racers, and it’s widely known that if you want the best and most authentic experience, you need to matching hardware, such as a steering wheel and pedals. Now, I’ve used my share of console wheels before from numerous companies, and while some are better than others, none really ever stood out as absolutely required or impressive enough to the point where it felt like playing with a controller was a step back. That was until I got some hands on time with Fanatec. This review is going to be solely focused on its experience and compatibility with Xbox One and Series X|S. Yes, it will work with PC the same way, but this review is for console gamers in mind.
If you’re primarily a console gamer like myself, you may have heard of Fanatec before, but most likely only know of the standard wheels we’ve come to expect from Logitech, Thrustmaster and a handful of others. The wheels from those companies will do the job, but now that I’ve tried a true steering wheel setup, there’s absolutely no other competition for Fanatec when it comes to quality, authenticity and realism, though for a steep price. Most console steering wheels are quite basic, as they are generally a single base with a wheel and some pedals. If you’re lucky you might have a shifter or maybe a clutch as well, but then the price starts to go up substantially. These wheels generally have a clamp of sorts to mount to a table or desk or sit on your lap, as they are usually made out of some sort of plastic, so they don’t want weight to be an issue.
Fanatec's strategy went gone a completely different route and has done the complete opposite, crafting parts completely out of metal that can be mounted and offer a premium quality that is completely unmatched by any other wheel I’ve ever gotten to try before. Fanatec goes with a modular approach, allowing you to build your race kit piece by piece, and I’ve been lucky enough to give some of their best units a go that are compatible for Xbox One and Series X|S.
Fanatec is well known in the PC Sim-Racer world as having some of the best, yet priciest equipment available, and while they are meant for the hardcore with multiple monitors and bucket seat setups, the units I’ve been putting through the paces the last few weeks are completely compatible with the Xbox ecosystem, though after some initial setup and jumping through hoops. I’ll go into each individual part extensively, but my hardware combination was the Fanatec ClubSport Wheel Base v2.5, CSL Elite Steering Wheel WRC and CSL Elite Pedals. There are many more options based on the type of wheel you like, the base, pedals and more, and I didn’t even get a chance to try a setup with a clutch and shifter, so there’s lots of options if price isn’t an issue.
ClubSport Wheel Base v2.5 – MSRP: $549.95
Platform: PC, Xbox One and X|S Ready
Connection ports: Data, Pedals, Shifter 1, Shifter 2
Tuning Menu through steering wheel: Yes
Table Clamp: Optional
Rev Lights on Wheel Base: No
Quick Release: Yes
Position Sensor: Dual Magnetic Hall Sensors
Mode Button: No
Hardmount:3-hole pattern, 4-hole pattern with angle adapter
Force Feedback drive system: Two multi-v-ribbed belts
Force Feedback drive material: CNC machined Aluminum pulleys with ball bearings
Cooling system: Double fan
Adjustable spring: Yes
Adjustable shock: Yes
Adjustable sensitivity: Yes
Adjustable FF strength: Yes
Adjustable drift mode: Yes
Adjustable brake force: Yes
Adjustable ABS vibration: Yes
Degrees of rotation: 90°-900°
Torque: Up to 8Nm
USB update rate: 1000Hz
ClubSport Wheel Base V2.5
Power supply (~3+1.5 m/9.8+4.9 ft.)
USB cable (~2 m/6 ft.)
2x RJ12 (male) - PS/2 (female) adapter cable (~50cm/1.6 ft.)
20° mounting adapter incl. screws (premounted)
So let’s start with the ClubSport Wheel Base v2.5; the heart of the Fanatec experience. This is the core base that will drive and power the wheel and pedals that attach to it. The ClubSport line of bases are essentially their mid-tier offering, but will be more than enough for any sim enthousiast that isn’t making an insane driving rig setup. For someone like myself, a console centric gamer, this is more than enough power to offer force feedback in a way I’ve never felt before in any other console wheel. For reference, the Podium series that is above the ClubSport line also jumps in double the price and requires a serious commitment to being a sim enthusiast.
The very first thing you’re going to notice is how HEAVY this base is. Seriously, the base alone without even a wheel attached is a little over 15 pounds. This is for numerous reasons though. As mentioned above, Fanatec doesn’t make cheap products made out of plastic like other brands, so as this is mostly made out of metal it has heft to it. This helps it with the incredible force feedback it provides, which I’ll get into later. Second, you’ve probably noticed the price point listed above. That’s right, the base alone, without wheel or pedals is basically the price of a new next-gen console. Again, these wheel setups are for the extreme enthusiasts.
The base is where you’ll plug the wheel you purchase into. Keep in mind, if you’re going to be using it for console like I was, you have to make sure the wheel you choose has Xbox support, as some are only meant for PC and will not work if it’s not listed as compatible with Xbox One or Series X|S. Where the wheel attaches is called the Quick Release System. This allows you to easily and quickly change wheels should you desire and have a collection, even during gameplay if you needed or wanted to for some reason. The motor and connection also allows for a full 900 degree rotation, though you can change these values if desired all the way down to 90 degrees or anywhere in between.
You’ll notice there’s a window at the top of the base, allowing you to get a glimpse of the ultra strong brushless servo motor and system inside, complete with Fanatec branding. It’s an awesome little touch that gives it that premium look, as does the front of the brushed aluminum metal faceplate with its rivets and sole red ‘Start’ button and anodized finish. The backside is where you’ll see the exhaust fan, and believe me, when the wheel is getting a workout it will kick in and be quite noticable. All of the connection ports are just underneath and are clearly labeled and simple to understand. You can actually see the belt drive, and the way it’s designed as a means for no drag or belt slippage; basically as close to an actual drive wheel as you can get.
One issue I have with the ClubSport Wheel Base V2.5 though is its 6ft USB cable. Now, as a console gamer, I play games on a large TV sitting on the couch about 10ft away, generally speaking. Yes, everyone’s setup is different, but with my 65” TV, my couch is further back. The base needs to be plugged in, once for power, and another for the USB into the Xbox. 6ft simply isn’t long enough of a cable from where my Xbox Series X is to my couch, or anywhere near it actually. This meant I had to basically have it setup a foot or two from the TV screen itself, which meant I was that close to my 65” TV due to the shortness of the included cable. PC sim enthusiasts generally won’t have this problem, as they are usually quite close to much smaller monitors given a PC setup is usually close by, as would their racing or cockpit brackets. Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind.
CSL Elite Steering Wheel WRC – MSRP: $199.99
Platform: PC, PS4 Ready, Xbox One and Series X|S Ready
CSL Elite Steering Wheel WRC
Removable Simplified Quick Release Adapter (preinstalled)
Racing Style button caps
Next up is the wheel. There are plenty of different styles based on your racing preferences, be it Formula, NASCAR, GT, WRC and more. I was fortunate enough to play with the CSL Elite Steering Wheel WRC, which of course is one of the Xbox supported wheels. The wheel itself simply plugs into the base and then with a twist of the locking mechanism you’re good to go as it's locked in and there is no chance of it coming loose anytime soon.
Yes, $200 for just the wheel that needs to be plugged into a compatible base, but hear me out. I’ve never felt a steering wheel like this. The moment you put it in your hands you’ll feel the quality right away. The spokes are brushed aluminum, the material on the wheel itself is genuine Alcantara grip, which feels absolutely amazing. Most console wheels are made from plastic, and this is far from it. The stitching is a bright orange that accentuates the wheel, and the quality of the stitching alone is quite impressive as well. The same polarizing orange is also the color of the detachable metal shifter paddles as well that have a fantastic ‘click’ feeling when utilized and can even be swapped out for different models if desired.
Once plugged into the base the small white LED above the Xbox button will light up, indicating it’s communicating with the console. This wheel specifically is a perfect fit for rally racing and is actually licensed by WRC and will apparently be used in official virtual WRC competitions. It is also an authentic size of wheel with a 300mm diameter and incredibly light (1092 grams). There’s also what’s called a RevStripe at the top center of the wheel that can be used to show specific telemetry information in games, but also how you can adjust settings on the fly and utilize its menus without needing to connect to a PC.
Just like the base, the wheel uses the same Quick Release System, which is how you simply swap wheels in and out when desired. This means no tools or special clamps required when you need add or remove a wheel from the base for one reason or another. By default, the buttons that come installed are Xbox centric buttons that mimic the controller, so your ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘X’, ‘Y’, Bumpers and Triggers are all accounted for. Fanatec has included a second set of racing style caps that can easily be swapped out if you don’t want the Xbox buttons on the wheel. There’s also a single D-Pad that can be used to navigate menus, though the nub on this feels weird. The only issue I had with this setup is that there’s no Right Stick on the wheel, so for certain games I needed to use a separate controller to perform certain functions like switching camera views or toggles, but more on that shortly.
As mentioned above, I can’t say enough good things about the CSL Elite Steering Wheel WRC for Xbox. I’ve never used a wheel that felt so realistic and premium, as I’m used to plastic wheels that feel like a toy or peripheral, not an actual steering wheel that could easily pass for being from a real race vehicle. Just like the base, the quality of the wheel is on a whole other level from anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I absolutely adore the slick orange stitching.
CSL Elite Pedals – MSRP: $99.95
Platform: PC Ready, PS4 Ready, XBox One and Series X|S Ready
Adjustable pedal angle: No
Color kit: No
Max bits of resolution: 12 (4096) on all axes
USB Connectivity: With optional adapter
Adjustable brake stiffness and travel: No
Pedal pads: Aluminium, Rubber
Vertically adjustable: No
Horizontally adjustable: Yes
Throttle vibration: No
ABS brake vibration: No
Clutch pedal: No
Adjustable brake sensitivity: No
Load cell brake: Optional
Main material: Diecast Aluminium
Throttle pedal unit
Brake pedal unit with PU foam damper
1x Wheel Base connection cable RJ12/RJ12 (~3m)
2x rubber pedal cover (detachable)
1x Wrench 13 mm (cropped)
1x Allen Key 6 mm
1x Quick Guide
Just like the base, the first thing you’re going to notice is how hefty these pedals are, and that’s due to the diecast aluminum material it’s crafted out of. This isn’t just to be more expensive either, as the added weight will also help stabilize the pedals, improve resistance when in use and of course durability. Even though these are technically mid-range pedals, it’s the same materials and technology as the high end versions. Again, because I was so used to cheap plastic and light pedals from other console wheels, the jump in quality to Fanatec versions is staggering.
While this pedal set only comes with two pedals for gas and brake, you can get an optional third for a clutch should you desire. The most interesting design when it comes to the pedals though is that they are individually adjustable in terms of their horizontal position. This means you could have the pedals beside one another without much gap in-between, or have the pedals quite far apart, it’s all your preference. This allows for a perfect pedal setup catered to exactly how you want given your foot size and racing style. Of course, doing so is simple enough and only takes a few moments and can be adjusted whenever you wish.
Another slick feature which I actually didn’t realize until I was researching them, was that the rubber pads that are on the pedals can actually detach, making for a slick surface instead of a textured one if that’s your preference. The heel rest is quite large, which adds to the weight of the pedals overall and there’s even a foam dampener on the brake pedal to add more realism, giving the sense of pressure like it would in a real vehicle.
Now you’ve got your wheel and pedals plugged into your base, so you’re good to go right? Nope. Now you need to do the driver updates, download the FanaLab software onto your PC and update the firmware before anything will work. Doing so wasn’t hard to figure out with some googling and following the website, and I’m sure sim-racing fans that have elite setups will be used to this kind of thing, but for console players that are simply used to plug and play, this is going to be a bit of an extra step. That being said, once it’s complete, you’ve updated the drivers and firmware, everything works perfectly and you won’t have to worry about it again, that is unless you want to use the PC software to fine tune nearly every aspect about your new rig setup.
So now it comes to the games, and I tested all that I could, including some oddities just to see how the setup would perform. I’m used to controller racing, and while I’ve used wheels in the past, nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience as a console player using a high end Fanatec racing setup like this. While most games can change the setup and customization, for the sake of testing, I left basically all the settings per game to default to see how each game would perform with the wheel and maybe what was lacking or needed to be changed for controls, vibration and more.
Assetto Corsa Competizone:
Of course with a wheel like this, I’m going to race with the cockpit view. This was actually quite a drastic change for me, as I usually use the furthest back camera to see more cars around me as I race. What Assetto Corsa Competizone does that no other game I tested did, even Forza, was not only have a cockpit view, but there’s an actual helmet camera viewpoint as well. So instead of just seeing the dash and your hands gripping the wheel in game, you actually see as a view as if you were wearing a racing helmet. Not just simply through a visor either, as it seemed there was some minor head leaning and movement as you bank those hard turns. It’s a subtle addition, but wow did it ever add another layer of realism simply beyond the wheel in my hands. The Force Feedback was quite good, nothing too intense, and going over that famous lip on Laguna Seca felt like a whole new racing experience using this setup. As a default, the paddles are set to moving the camera left and right, so that had to be altered, but aside from that, what a great sim game to start off the batch of tests.
I know, I know, but I wanted to see how a wheel setup like this would perform on a completely different type of vehicular game, namely driving a bus around town. At first I couldn’t figure out why the wheel wouldn’t work, but I eventually found that you also have to have a controller signed in to do all of the menu stuff when not driving. Paddles are defaulted to your Left and Right turn signals, which in a game like Bus Simulator actually made a lot of sense. Sadly some of the busses didn’t default to cockpit view, which meant having to pick up the controller, fumble with it to get the angle just right, then go back to the wheel. Also, hitting a speed bump at 70 kmh made the wheel wrench quite hard, which took me by surprise, especially in a game like this. Watch for those pot holes or you’re going to feel it!
I recently just reviewed DIRT 5 and was excited to see how some rally racing would go. Again, the wheel wouldn’t work so I knew from my previous game test to turn on and use a controller, yet the wheel still wouldn’t work. Go into the menus and I was unable to find any setting to change to wheel for controls. A quick google search later and I came to realize that DIRT 5 has absolutely no wheel support. I was sort of dumbfounded by this. Of course, this has nothing to do with Fanatec, but what a disappointment for anyone hoping to get some behind the wheel time with DIRT 5; You can’t.
Forza Motorsport 7:
You can’t test a racing wheel without going to the gold standard for simulators on the Xbox, the Forza series. First thing I noticed was the force feedback felt just right; not too harsh but enough to make you grip the wheel with intent. Racing with a controller doesn’t make you think about the subtleties of racing, like slamming the gas from the start line will make the wheel shake back and forth a bit as your wheels are trying to grip the pavement. The only issue I had, which again isn’t Fanatec’s fault, is that turning the wheel all the way doesn’t reflect exactly in game, so I had to play around with some adjusting. Also, hitting the rumble strips felt so realistic, as I’ve accidently driven over your typical roadway ones and know that all too familiar feeling as your wheels bounces slightly on each bump.
Forza Horizon 4:
And on the other end of the Forza spectrum is of course Forza Horizon 4. Again, rumble and force feedback worked great, and everything worked natively from the get-go without me having to adjust anything or using a controller at all. My main takeaway though was how much of an odd experience it was to be driving a LEGO car in cockpit view when your hands don't actually touch the wheel or reflect the wheel movements exactly 1:1 in game.
NASCAR Heat 5:
Turn left! Funny enough, reviewing NASCAR Heat 5 was how I found out about Fanatec products, because again, I’m primarily a console gamer, so I wasn’t up to par on high end peripherals like these. Nearly every loading screen had a Fanatec ad, which prompted me to look them up, and here we are today. Now I know the joke about NASCAR, how you simply have to turn left the whole time, and with a controller it’s not so much of a big deal. Wow, with a wheel like this, it’s quite difficult to hold the wheel, especially once it goes crazy when you start to rub against the other cars in the banked turns. While graphically the game won’t impress as much as a Forza, I have to admit, strictly wheel-wise, NASCAR Heat 5 blew me away more than any other game that I had previously tested it with. I didn’t expect a wheel to give that much of an experience difference, but it did, vastly.
This is a game where I wasn’t sure how having a wheel would change the gameplay. Overpass isn’t a racer, but instead a game where you need to go very slow and deliberate as you climb steep hills and go over large rocks. You can’t simply hold the gas down and go or you’ll crash, so it needs a lot more subtlety with the pedals. Overpass was a really unique experience with this Fanatec setup, and when you hit a rock wrong or anything that would damage your vehicle, the wheel REALLY jerks sharply as you fight against it. A completely different experience, but one that Fanatec elevates.
This was another one I was excited to test out with the setup, as there’s not really any other game like Trackmania, racing at blistering speeds and doing crazy stuns and loops. Sadly, just like DIRT 5, there is no wheel support at all. Sigh.
Truck Racing Championship:
Trucks need love too right? There’s a surprising amount of wheel settings built into the game itself, so you can completely customize nearly every setting to match your racing style and wheel configurations. With native wheel support, it was simple to jump into a race right away, though the wheel itself in Truck Racing Championship felt very stiff, which I can only assume is by design given that you’re racing Semi Trucks. My only complaint from a game standpoint is that the in-game wheel doesn’t match the actual wheel movements 1:1 at all, so the immersion isn’t quite there, though with enough time tweaking settings, I’m sure I could have had it do better.
This is another one I was excited to try with the wheel setup, as I love me some Rally racers. This was a bit of a mixed bag for me, again, not to any fault of Fanatec, but there seemed to be no force feedback at all and just like Truck Racing Championship, the in-game wheel doesn’t rotate exactly as the real world counterpart. What I did really like though was that the paddles shifted gears instantly, and I actually started using these to take corners instead of utilizing the brakes or easing off the gas instead. The wheel definitely added a layer to the realism, I just wish there was some great force feedback support within the game to add another layer of realism.
This is much like Overpass where it’s not a racer, but instead a slow and methodical vehicular game. Again, the in-game wheel doesn’t completely match the real one but there were lots of options within the menus for numerous wheel settings. I did have one issue though where I flipped my truck and the wheel just started having a seizure and wouldn’t stop rumbling. This thing was going crazy and I didn’t realize the wheel itself had that much torque to it. I had to quit to the Xbox dashboard to get it to stop, but the Force Feedback definitely impressed, just make sure you don't flip your trucks.
Need For Speed Heat:
Like WRC 8, there was no real rumble or feedback. That being said, the steering was quite smooth, though since the game doesn’t have a cockpit view, it was a bit of an odd experience being in a third person viewpoint. I did notice that there was a Maximum Wheel Rotation setting, allowing for some customization base on how you want to control your wheel which was a nice touch.
Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. This is a demolition derby/racer where car destruction and carnage is the norm. I expected some good Force Feedback and rumble, but got way more than I bargained for. Paddles shift gears natively which is a bonus, but the real star of the show was how powerful the Force Feedback in this Fanatec base was. I had to grip the wheel quite hard, almost white knuckling as I went through jumps, loops and insane crashes. Wreckest is THE game if you want to test out the limits of the Fanatec base Feedback and I’m not even slightly joking when I say that. After a couple of races my arms were sore and armpits were sweating from having to fight against the wheel. The base was working so hard that this was the only time I actually heard the fans kick in to dissipate the heat it was generating inside. This sold me on the power that the ClubSport Wheel Base v2.5 possess and impressed me beyond my expectations.
Farming Simulator 19:
Of course I saved the best for last. Fam Sim is a completely different beast, so I figured I’d see how it performs with a wheel and pedals. Like others, there’s no real rumble, and while the in-game wheel matches real life rotation, there are no arms or hands in the cockpit, so it’s a little bit of an odd experience immersion wise. The thing with Farm Sim vehicles is that you need to constantly hold the bumpers and then toggle buttons to do certain actions with the attachments, which is where issues started to arise. Paddles are defaulted to your bumpers, which is great and easy to do, but many components require the Right Stick to maneuver, and if you’ve read above, you know that only the Left Stick is on the wheel itself. This meant I had to swap and use the controller for certain actions whenever I needed. I’m sure I could go in and remap things to work otherwise, but alas, there was a lot of back and forth between controller and wheel. The wheel and pedals worked great for doing basic tasks and driving the equipment, but it was quite awkward to do anything else that required any attachments; again, this is a game design concern, not necessarily a Fanatec issue.
I thought that most racing wheels for console were basically created equal. Sure, some have some nifty features and a few extra things to try to rise above the competition, but now that I’ve experienced what actual racing is like with a Fanatec wheel setup, there’s absolutely no competition when it comes to their quality, design, feel and experience. Even describing their components as "premium" feels as if I’m underselling them. It’s been a long while since I’ve been this blown away and impressed with some hardware I’ve gotten to cover in quite some time.
I now understand why Fanatec is the go-to name when it comes to racing sim brands and components. It’s abundantly clear that they know not only what they are doing when it comes to designing their products, but actually care and take pride about putting quality into their work as well. Fanatec racing products are meant for the racing enthusiasts that plan on tweaking every single setting in their setup to make an ultra-realistic racing experience unlike any other.
For someone like myself that would only plan on using this setup above for console only racing, it’s a somewhat costly entry point to justify the price tag. Are many people going to spend almost double what a new Xbox Series X costs for a steering wheel setup, not even including a mounting bracket, seat and extras? Probably not, but these aren’t the people that Fanatec targets. My only complaints as a console player is that the USB cable isn’t long enough to sit back far enough from a large TV living room setup, the initial setup isn’t as user friendly as it could and should be, and of course, the price is a big ask, but justified once you experience the difference compared to regular console steering wheel setups.
I had no idea what to expect from a Fanatec racing setup, and if I’m being completely honest, I was completely shocked and even scoffed at the idea of spending that much on a racing rig. Now that I’ve had my hands on it for a few weeks, I completely undetstand it now and have been converted wholly. I didn’t expect to actually have to fight the wheel that resulted in a sore arms from a few races, but it goes to show the power of the motor and the heightened level of realism quality components can make for your game immersion thanks to Fanatec.
**All of the Fanatec components above were provided to us for review purposes**
Photos courtesy Percy Bhardwaj
Overall: 10/ 10