Gran Turismo is one of the world’s most popular racing simulators, and with so many car makers previewing new models on it, can it help you choose a car?

In the last few weeks Peugeot have teased a concept car, Infiniti have built a real-world version of a game concept car, Mini has released a concept car and so have Subaru and Lexus.  I’m a long-time Gran Turismo (GT) player, and for years now in the game we’ve seen many a concept car or an early release of an actual model, timed for just before the vehicle itself goes on sale – a notable recent example being the new BMW M4 coupe.

VW GTi concept car
Toyota concept car – you get to ‘drive’ it!
So if you want to get a look at what the manufacturers are thinking, and experience concepts in a way that just aren’t possible in videos, then Gran Turismo is the place to be.  It even now has a special feature called “Vision GT” for exactly these sorts of cars.
But that’s all blue-sky conceptual, abstract interest.  What if you’ve got a serious, real, here-and-now decision to make on a vehicle, can the game be of any help?  Well, as I test cars as well as play with them virtually, I guess that gives me a reasonable vantage point from which to make a call on the usefulness or otherwise of Gran Turismo as a car buying tool.
First, you need to see if the cars you’re interested in are featured in the game – and there’s a lot of cars (1200 or so in GT6), so that may well be the case.  There are several websites where you can find out what cars are in which version of the game such as this one.  The latest version of the game is 6, and there’s regular online updates that add features, cars and tracks.

 You may think it’s all supercars but no, there’s many affordable sportscars like Honda Civic Rs, Toyota 86s, Subaru WRXes and lots of very normal cars like the Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris, Honda Odyssey and even Land Rover’s Evoque.   Many older cars are featured too, the criteria seems to be cars that are either interesting or likely to be owned by the everyday driver, as opposed to merely fast. 

Gran Turismo 6
Mercedes C63 AMG 2008 and a Fiat 500, 2009.
 If your car is listed then there’s two ways GT can help.  First is the looking, and second is the driving.
Just about everybody is concerned to some degree about the car’s looks, and rightly so.  You can stare at photographs all you like, but fact is cars look different in the “flesh”, in different situations, and at speed.  You can also bet the press and stock photographs will be taken and then carefully selected to show the car to best effect.
What Gran Turismo can do, via its Photo Mode feature, is let you place the car(s) where you want them and how you want them, then take a virtual walk (more like a drone cam) around the car to admire it.  You can choose from a variety of preset locations or out on any number of racetracks or roads.  You then take as many photographs as you like which are saved as JPEG files for export.  This sort of interaction is impossible any other way, and the configurators you see on manufacturer websites don’t come close. To easily compare two cars GT6 allows you to place two cars next to each other in Photomode which makes for a good way to evaluate relative looks.
The game will also let you buy the car in any of the standard colours, or paint pretty much any hue one yourself, sometimes even different panels different colours  You can add some changes (dependent on the vehicle) such as spoilers, wheels, and brakes to see how all that goes, or lower the car.  It’s really not a bad way to get a feel of what a car might look like if you bought the specific model and colour you prefer.
Gran Turismo 6
Two 86s styled by my daughters.
Gran Turismo 6
Two BMW E92 M3s – playing around with different colours. One is slightly lower than the other, there’s different roofs, wheels, wheel sizes,brake calipers, wings and other details.
This leads me to the the most impressive yet irritating feature of Gran Turismo which is the insanely detailed interiors.  That’s good…but what’s utterly stupid is that there’s no way to truly get inside the car and photograph that beautiful interior, just snap what you can through the windows.  Sad, but true.
Gran Turismo 6
The interior detailing on some cars is superb!
Then we come to the driving, and I’d say this is less useful to a buyer than the looking.  First off, GT isn’t a super-realistic simulator.  Second, you’re driving on a racetrack, flat out, and you won’t be doing that in real life.  But the real problem is that much of a car’s experience is things GT just can’t replicate such as the feel of the interior, the steering, stereo, controls usuability, the pedals, the visibility…and in GT that’s the same from car to car, just the screen image changes, so you’re a long from way reality.  The engine sound isn’t well reproduced either. 
The other problem is that you need to be pretty expert in the game to pick up the differences, capable of running the same time for lap after lap.  Only then can you pick up what’s changing from car to car.   That takes a lot of practice, and newcomers tend to spend most of their time smashing into walls – you’re never going to detect subtle characteristics that way.
Gran Turismo 5
Checking the handling…but that’s of no use in a real-life buying decision!
That said, if you know a car well you can pick up traits that are accurately modelled.  The Toyota 86 is prone to back-end sliding in second gear, the Lotus Elise has a tendency to lift-off oversteer, the WRXes just grip and go with some understeer, and the GT-R feels the same kind of awesomely fast in both the game and real life.  But I found my experience in an Audi R8 at Spa Francorchamps to be utterly unlike the game – or at least the car part was, the track was very close.  Still, all that is only applicable to sportscars at speed on racetracks, doesn’t help with any other type of car or situation.  But if you want to learn a track (not a car) then Gran Turismo is a definite help.
There is however one way you can use the driving experience and that is to compare two cars.  Let’s say you’re looking at an AMG C63 vs a BMW M3.  The game does reflect the difference in sounds (AMG better, but not as good as in real life), and even to some degree driving capabilities (BMW nimbler).  Drive a Fiat 500 around the go-kart track, then a Yaris and you will feel an the difference in handling through the game, and there is such a difference in reality too.  Of course, neither are quite true to life, and can’t be at this level. Nevertheless, that is another tiny bit of information for buyers, but again you need some time in the game to be able to do use it in this way.
Once you’ve had your drive then you can replay it as a video from all sorts of angles which gives you a nice view of what your potential car looks like when it’s moving, although the movement isn’t as perfectly natural as it would be in real life.
Overall, Gran Turismo is a long way short of a must-have tool for car buyers, and in fairness it’s not designed as such, it’s a racing and car-culture game.  Car manufacturers use it more to get mindshare of the young people playing it who might later buy the car, although it must be said the average age of a GT player is probably closer to the mid-life than the early-life.  Still, if you have access to a copy of GT and are in the market for a car there’s worse ways to spend a quiet evening than doing a bit of virtual research.

Gran Turismo 5
An older WRX STi at the ‘Ring.
Gran Turismo 6
Looking in through the window at a Toyota 86.



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