Fanatec Clubsport Xbox first impressions – should you upgrade your Logitech G29?
Tim's upgraded his home gaming rig. All in the name of research, obvs.
Like many of you, I love a bit of gaming. There are few better ways of whiling away a rainy weekend than by firing up Project Cars 2, flomping into the Playseat and chipping away at my laptimes around the Red Bull Ring.
Also, like many of you, I don't have the time or money to get heavily into serious simming – I run an Xbox One X, not a PC, so I can't access any of the super-geeky sims such as iRacing. But I'm okay with that – in between nappy changes (not mine) and work, I don't have as much spare time as 22-year-old Tim did. So I'm more than happy with the level of realism offered by the likes of Project Cars 2, Assetto Corsa, and Forza Motorsport 7. If that statement makes your eyes twitch like a sub-144hz monitor, this article probably isn't for you.
I guess you could classify me as something like a 'keen casual' gamer. And this interested-but-not-that-invested status has been reflected in my gaming setup.
My first Fanatec fumble
For the past five years I've used a Logitech G920 wheel and pedals, which is a £200 entry-level setup which uses gears to transmit the force feedback motor's, erm, force, to the rim. If you're a PlayStationist you'll know it as the Logitech G29 – and it's a perfectly good setup that's seen good service for thousands of hours of lapping. But I've always had an itch to upgrade it to something a bit more high-end.
The Fanatec's packaging feels incredibly satisfying to open. The baby's alphabet keyboard proves useful for communicating with other racers in Forza public lobbies
Step in Fanatec – for years I've ogled their wheel and pedal setups from afar, hewn as they are from chunky bits of metal and suede-like Alcantara, festooned with shift-lights, customisable settings and pedals that use load cells to accurately measure your braking force. The catch is that the cost of a Fanatec setup is quite a step up from the Logitech – you're looking at about £600 for an 'entry-level' Fanatec CSL Elite kit.
Back in 2018, a Fanatec CSL Elite kit arrived in the DriveTribe office. I think we had a commercial deal with a gaming franchise, and we didn't have a decent wheel for the office PS4. I was immediately impressed by how smooth the belt-driven Fanatec wheel felt – with my Logitech I was always aware that I had some graunchy gears meshing somewhere not far away from my hands. I was also seriously impressed with the Fanatec's build quality, but somewhat disappointed we'd committed to using a PlayStation, and not my favoured console – so I couldn't steal the Fanatec and enjoy it at home, away from the prying eyes of colleagues wondering why I wasn't working.
Here's the Fanatec kit I'm testing
Fast forward to last Wednesday, and the lovely people at Fanatec in Germany sent me a review sample of my own – and this time it was for my Xbox. This kit is called the Xbox One Competition Pack.
• ClubSport wheel base v2.5 (this is the model up from the entry-level CSL Elite)
• CSL Elite steering wheel P1 (festooned in Alcantara)
• CSL Elite pedals
• Load cell kit for the CSL Elite pedals
All in, this kit would set you back €940. Which is a lot of money.
Is it worth the money?
From the moment I hefted all 20kg of kit into my living room, I was impressed. The packaging is all lovely high-quality stuff, and some of the boxes have cute 'no… more… toys' logos revealing in turn as you open each cardboard flap. By the time you actually get your mitts on the wheelbase, pedals and rim you feel as if this is kit is well worth the asking price. You get a serious feel-good factor unsheathing the wheel rim from its protective drawstring bag.
At this moment I felt about as happy as when I first cuddled my newborn daughter. Don't tell my girlfriend. Or daughter.
It took a few hours to bolt the load cell pedal onto the pedal base and to attach the whole bundle to my Playseat Challenge. The instructions are all super simple, and the kit comes with the necessary wrenches and allen keys. The pedal base in particular feels hugely sturdy – it's several chunks of cast metal bolted together.
On to the games. Here are some first impressions from a couple of my regular Xbox titles, scribbled hastily on my phone.
I can now use more real-life driving techniques to help my lap times
If you've done any circuit-based driver training in real life, you'll probably have learned that sometimes to make a car turn tighter, you have to undo the amount of steering you have dialled in. This is because your front tyres' contact patches can only grip so much when they're turned, and by undoing some steering lock, you let them grip and actually turn the car rather than understeer.
Within about 100 virtual metres, I could feel this exact sensation through the rim in Project Cars 2. I'd never felt it with my Logitech setup, but now I can sense exactly where the maximum angle of grip is for the front tyres. Sounds like a weird thing to notice, but now I can judge exactly how much front end grip I have. Which has made me lots faster in front-wheel-drive stuff.
Smoothness makes for easier rallying
Next up on my list was Dirt Rally 2.0. This was probably my least played driving game, purely because it's a game of constant side-to-side transitions that highlighted the gritty feel of my geared Logitech wheel. Wanging from lock to lock was also quite a noisy affair with my old wheel – and the Fanatec Clubsport base is a revelation here. It's glassily smooth to turn, and almost silent too, so I can plough up the Col de Turini without disturbing my other half's evening sancerre consumption. Now I can just use my fingertips to precisely judge my lines, and flick my vintage Lancia Fulvia HF up a hill with complete accuracy. Coming from Project Cars, there's a slight lack of road-surface feel, but in time you get used to it – and that's a feature of the game rather than the wheel.
It's even made Forza Motorsport 7's dodgy wheel settings feel OK
Forza Motorsport's always been my least favourite racing game to use a wheel – it's just a more enjoyable experience with a gamepad. Sad, but true. However, with the Fanatec plugged in, I could at least just about hold slides with the dreaded simulation steering switched on. Usually, simulation steering takes away the gamepad-friendly 'opposite lock helper', but leaves you fishtailing out of corners with almost zero chance of catching a slide.
It didn't take me long to realise that the magic of the Fanatec setup isn't just in a smoother, more precise wheelbase, because the pedals make just as much difference.
The throttle pedal on the CSL Elite pedal set has a much longer travel than on my old Logitech G920, and this means you can more accurately meter out half throttle mid-slide to hold an angle, rather than smoke the rear tyres into oblivion and your bumper into a tyre wall. The first time I managed to come out of Mugello's looooong final corner in my Lotus Exige, rear tyres gently smoking and *not* end up on my roof ranks among my proudest Forza 7 moments. Forza's standard force feedback settings are quite harsh with the Fanatec – you get way too much vibration from the track surface, and you just wind up knackered. Knock a few settings down as recommended by Fanatec, and you're good to go.
Is the Fanatec loadcell brake upgrade worth it?
The loadcell brake pedal upgrade definitely feels like it's worth the cash – unlike brake pedals that use movement to dole out in-game braking, this uses the pressure you exert. Which sounds technical, but what it really means it that you get your intended braking force replicated in game far more often than with regular brake pedals.
It's already become second nature to give a short sharp dab to get the weight of a car over the front tyres before turning in – helpful in something like the Porsche 935 in Project Cars 2, which is otherwise a bit of a bastard to turn. With a bit of practice, I've managed to nail the first corner a Long Beach. See below.
These are just my notes from a few weeks testing the Fanatec setup, but so far, so impressive. From the build quality to ease of setup, it's taken my Xbox racing enjoyment to a whole new level. It worked straight out of the box with my Xbox One X, and only two weeks in did I plug it into my PC for a firmware update, just to see if it made any obvious improvements. It didn't, which is fine – because it feels like one of the most worthwhile upgrades for my gaming enjoyment.
Downsides? So far the only criticisms I can level at the Fanatec setup are that the wheel-mounted rev limit light at the 12 o'clock position doesn't do anything in any game (I believe this is because the Xbox doesn't send any extra data to the wheel), and if you have any amount of lock on the wheel when hitting the Xbox menu button then you'll want to get your hand out of the way, because the wheel snaps back to centre and feels like it could remove your thumb if it's in the way.
I'll report back in a few weeks with a more in-depth review of what I like and don't like about it. Stay tuned, and ping me any questions in the comments below.