• Danny Lee

Why The Fanatec CSL DD Will Directly Replace Both The CSL And Clubsport Wheelbases

The Fanatec CSL DD is coming out in Q3 of this year and it’s sent the sim racing community into a spin. If you’re wondering why it’s creating such a buzz, it’s because it’s using Direct Drive technology instead of Belt Drive technology, however there’s surely more to it than this one simple fact.

Now I don’t have any insider info on the CSL DD so everything that follows is just a judgement call based on the existing public information that’s already out there. I also intend to get one with the optional boosted power supply as soon as I can to replace my current CSL Elite wheelbase, if for no other reason than to stay up to date.

Direct Drive technology is featured in the very best, top of the line force feedback steering wheels such as the Fanatec DD1, DD2, Simucube, Directforce and so on. Direct drive is to sim racing what a Rolex is to a wrist, it’s coveted by all as the premium force feedback technology.

However, because Direct Drive technology has up to now only been seen in the most premium range of wheel bases, the fact it’s going to be used in a mid range product for a third of the price is causing a lot of excitement - it sounds almost too good to be true at first contact. This would be like finding out that the new Honda Civic will come packing a V8 engine but the price will stay the same - it would be absurd upon initial hearing.

However, I’ve seen enough comments and statements out there in the community that I worry that some might be overestimating what the CSL DD is going to be. There’s a lot of energy and I can hardly blame anyone - there’s plenty to celebrate but also the need to be realistic.

I believe the CSL DD will be a great replacement for the current CSL Elite and Clubsport wheelbases. What it won’t do is replace, usurp or otherwise topple the current generation of premium direct drives that already exist. What I’m judging the CSL DD is intended to do is directly replace the CSL Elite and Clubsport wheelbases with the added benefit of direct drive technology which should be a nice improvement but is a real draw even just from a marketing point of view, you have to give it to them - if the CSL DD launches well and reviews positively, everyone else in the midrange market will be pretty much forced to follow suit or forever be at a fundamental disadvantage when vying for your custom. Just as the CSL and CSW bases have become the norm for most passionate sim racers, so too will the new CSL DD if that happens.

Those who have bought direct drive wheelbases from Fanatec or Simucube and the likes have no reason for remorse whatsoever as the CSL DD isn’t intended to rival them. If you’ve always wanted a direct drive wheel and you’re rejoicing that having one just got a lot less expensive than you thought, you should be cautious not to treat the CSL DD as an equal to the direct drive you may previously have wished for. I’ll explain why I think this is wise.

The most obvious evidence we have is that the CSL DD has 5nm torque as standard which is nearly equal to the CSL Elite wheelbase. I’ve got a CSL Elite wheelbase, I love it and I think it’s plenty strong enough. With the optional power booster they’re going to be selling, the CSL DD will give you 8nm, which is the same as what the Clubsport wheelbase is capable of. This sends as strong a signal as any that the CSL and CSW lines are the real targets here, not the current lineup of direct drives already in existence which all have roughly 15-20nm of strength, easily double what the CSL DD will do. The presence of a desk clamp is also a big indicator that it won’t be breaking any wrists and that it’s much more moderate like the CSL and CSW are.

You don’t even need to take the lower strength of the CSL DD into account to come to a conclusion; for one it would make bad business sense to release a full blown direct drive wheel that was priced at 350 euros. If a CSL DD will truly rival the level of a DD1 or DD2, why would spend nearly 3 times as much to get one of those? If the CSL DD really was meant to rival or replace the DD1 and DD2 then they could sell it for nearly twice as much at 700 euros and still sell by the truckload because it would still beat all other offerings on price by some way. The fact that it is priced at 350 euros tells us that it is aimed squarely at the midrange market where the current CSL and CSW reside, so don’t place too much expectation on it just because it’s direct drive. The DD1 and DD2 are Fanatec’s flagship wheels and nobody would undercut themselves by offering a close competitor for so much cheaper.

The CSL DD will give Fanatec a massive marketing advantage for as long as they remain the only manufacturer to use direct drive in a wheel at this level. As the only other real player that I know of in the midrange wheel game, if Thrustmaster doesn’t respond in equal measure, this will pretty much mean Fanatec will hoover up all those midrange sales for some time.

I’m quite confident that the CSL and CSW lines will be discontinued when the CSL DD releases, because it means that they can now manufacture one product instead of the current two separate lines. From a manufacturing standpoint this is surely so much easier and cheaper, so there’s not only the marketing gain of having direct drive technology in your product, but there’s the reduced cost behind the scenes, and that is a big deal for any business. The bottom line matters.

I guess what I’m trying to say most of all is that whilst it looks very exciting, don’t be over-expectant of the CSL DD. It’s going to be good, yes, but everything I see sends a clear signal that it’s not meant to compete with the existing upper end. The CSL DD and DD2 are both direct drive, yes, but in the same way you can also say that these two cars both have engines.

So I’m going to call it. If you have a CSL elite or Clubsport, don’t rush out for a CSL DD expecting a massive difference, I’m betting it’s going to be more of a sidegrade than a proper upgrade but the CSL DD should improve on it by doing away with belts, pulleys, cooling fans and all those extra moving parts.

If you had your sights on a direct drive wheel in the current sense of the word, you should not be enticed off course by the presence of direct drive in the upcoming lower power CSL DD.

If you have a direct drive wheel already, sleep easy because it’s not going to undermine your Fanatec DD1's and Simucubes.

If you’re still on a low end Logitech or Thrustmaster wheel and you’ve been waiting to upgrade, you’re the ones with the most to celebrate as the CSL is the most likely step up and it just got a little more high tech.

In summary, I am hopeful that the CSL DD will be a great replacement for the current midrange wheels like what I currently use. As mentioned earlier and I’m sure most of you know, I already have a CSL Elite wheelbase and I intend to get the CSL DD with the boosted power supply so that I can stay on top of the most current hardware at the midrange level where I love to be. Hopefully the CSL DD launches well and the ripples result in a transformed midrange market where the majority of us reside.

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