For almost a decade, steering wheels with so-called "Direct drive"-technology have been a very exclusive part of the sim-racing world. The cheapest alternatives have cost around £1300 and then adding pedals or the steering wheel itself, have meant that you as a player, had to cough up over £2000 to be able to drive various racing games with a wheel that really feels like a real car. No more, though. This is the end of all that. Fanatec here-by re-writes the rulebook and releases the world's first budget steering wheel with Direct drive technology. CSL DD is here, and I have been living with it the past month. CSL DD stands for "Clubsport Light Direct Drive" and is a further development of Fanatec's immensely popular DD1 wheel base, which costs about three times as much as the CSL DD. It is based on the same technology but with welcome improvements such as a steering axis made of carbon fiber.
What distinguishes a steering wheel of this type from a belt, gear or chain-driven variant such as Logitech's G-series, Thrustmaster TGT, T300RS or Fanatec's old Clubsport series is that the steering axis is a direct extension of the electric servo-motor itself, which makes it more powerful and thus simulates a real racing car in a much more realistic way. The force feedback given also becomes faster, more distinct and way more detailed. Comparing a belt-driven steering wheel with a direct drive variant is a bit like comparing mono sound with a complete professional-built Dolby Atmos cinema, or a VHS-powered CRT TV with 4K UHD Blu-ray on a 77-inch LG OLED CX.
The difference is big.
Part of the concern I felt before receiving the CSL DD is whether the rather limited resistance force of 5 Nm would be enough for my taste, given that I drive a Fanatec DD2 with over 25 Nm of torque in my racing simulator rig. I also have my DD2 set very high because I'm a sucker for that hard, real feel in especially Automobilista 2 and Rfactor 2. CSL DD delivers only 5 Nm of torque out of the box and for those who want more, Fanatec sells a "Boost Kit" for £149 which means that the wheel base gets more power and thus can squeeze out 8 Nm of torque. I presumed, before the CSL DD arriving at the Gamereactor office, that both five and eight newton meters would be too weak for me. But I was wrong.
Or, both wrong and a bit right, I guess. 5 Nm is a bit, a bit weak for my taste, although those of my friends who have had the opportunity to test the CSL DD all believe that it is in many ways enough for the games we usually spend time in. I want more, though. I'm a real force feedback-junkie. And 8 Nm thanks to the Boost package, which (as I said) is sold separately is just the right amount. With the steering wheel turned up relatively high with this kit, it is very difficult to feel the difference between CSL DD and DD1, which is bizarre, in more ways than one. The latter costs three times more than the CSL DD, and that of course says a lot about what a fantastic wheel base the CSL DD really is.
What impresses me most with CSL DD, apart from the minimal size and more than enough power in the force feedback that is produced, is how sensitive and detailed it is. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that it offers a little more sensitivity and a little more detail than even my £1500 Fanatec DD2 wheel base. It's easy to know exactly where the grip is and where the slip-angle in the rear tires on my GT1 McLaren F1 GTR LT is in Automobilista 2. The amount of feedback from the tires and the chassis when I play Rfactor 2 is so well communicated and so detailed that I feel more confident in the car on the limit of grip than I ever did with any belt, chain or gear driven steering wheel from any other manufacturer. In fact, the comparison does not even feel fair. This is so much better than anything that Logitech, Thrustmaster and Mad Catz builds that it almost gets a bit creepy.
In addition, the small but oh so important detail called Fanalab, the built-in interface in Fanatec's ecosystem that controls your set-ups for different games, and that allows you to connect everything from pedals to handbrake and external gearbox directly into the wheel base is still as phenomenal as always. Fanatec is the sim racing world's equivalent of Apple and turns what can often be time consuming and cumbersome into something super simple and un-complicated. The fact that every single major game in the sim-racing genre also includes fully developed software support for Fanatec's wheel bases, unlike Direct drive competitors such as Accuforce, Simucube or Leobodnar, only makes them even more attractive for those who want to drive and not spend way to much time in menus trying to trim in "correct" settings.
There is no doubt that this is the sim-racing racing world's absolute best steering wheel, in terms of price and performance. For £349 you get a wheel base that easily outperforms competitors such as the Logitech G932 and Thrustmaster TGT-II and for £149 extra you have a Boost Kit that makes it as fantastic as the three times more expensive Fanatec DD1. With this, the Germans have made it possible for everyone to buy and drive with Direct drive and it will of course change the world of sim-racing for the better. Hats off. You should get one.