Hands-onGran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo

We test-drive the latest version of Gran Turismo while at the Tokyo Motor Show 2001.

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The Tokyo Motor Show is famous for being the platform that many Japanese car companies use to unveil their concept cars. At this year's event, Sony unveiled its own batch of concept and upcoming cars with yesterday's announcement of Gran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo, a standalone expansion pack to Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec that adds around twenty of the concept cars that are currently on display at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show. We made the trek to the auto show today to get some hands-on time with this upcoming game.

Sony's booth contained no less than 19 Gran Turismo Concept stations, all of which were hooked up to Logitech's GT Force wheel and pedal set, and were equipped with Sparco racing seats. Some of these stations were linked together using the game's i-Link mode, while others were playing single player games. As we mentioned before, Gran Turismo Concept is strictly an arcade mode with around twenty new cars...you won't be able to collect these cars in a garage, upgrade them, or do anything that you could do in Gran Turismo 3's Gran Turismo mode.

The builds of Gran Turismo Concept at the Sony booth had 15 of the final game's 20 cars available for play, and four of the five final tracks. These tracks--Tokyo R246, Midfield, Swiss Alps, and Tahiti Maze--also had the respective mirrored versions of each, and they all featured very subtle changes from those in Gran Turismo 3. Swiss Alps, for instance, had a larger crowd standing around the track and Tokyo R246's last turn seemed a bit wider. In the game's quick race mode, you simply choose a track, choose a car, change its color, select from manual and automatic transmissions, pick from racing or drift suspension setups, and then race against a group of computer-controlled opponents. Gran Turismo Concept will also let you compete against the developers' times in a number of new time trials, race against a friend via split screen, and compete against five other players through the PlayStation 2's i-Link mode.

Interestingly enough, Honda had its own special version of Gran Turismo Concept at its booth, and it featured a car that was locked in the build at Sony's area: the Dual Note. This all-wheel drive concept car is unique in that it's powered by two engines: a 3.5L I-VTEC V6 for the rear wheels and an electric motor for the front wheels. The entire drivetrain is linked together using Honda's ATTS system, which it debuted a few years ago on the Prelude SH. The end result is a 400hp car that handles like a dream...second to the Nissan GT-R, the Honda Dual Note is easily the most impressive car in Gran Turismo Concept. It's also the only car to have its own unique interface. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen is a vertical health bar of sorts. This bar displays the remaining amount of power left in the car's electric engine. The electric engine is constantly being recharged by the car's internal combustion engine, but only when your foot is off the gas (or finger is off the circle button, anyway). So when you accelerate, the bar slowly depletes itself until it reaches the empty mark, at which point the Dual Note loses a significant amount of power. Thankfully, the electric engine seems to recharge about as fast as it displaces energy, and besides, we weren't able to completely drain it of its electric charge even in the front straightaway of Tokyo R246. It's interesting to note the balancing factor that this unique handicap of the Dual Note brings to Gran Turismo Concept.

Toyota has two particularly interesting cars in the game as well. The first, called the Rugged Sports Coupe (RSC), looks like an SUV, but it's actually an off-road sports car. It only seats 2+2, and its cargo space is nothing to write home about, but it's the fastest rally car available in the game. And unlike Suzuki's powerful rally car from Gran Turismo 3, the RSC's large wheels and sturdy suspension keeps this car firmly planted around courses like Swiss Alps and Tahiti Maze. The other Toyota car of note in Gran Turismo Concept is the pod. In real life, the pod's front facade is made up of an LED "face" that will light up in different colors to display various emotions. Slam the door too hard, and it'll glow an angry red. Drive it too long, and the face will turn blue to indicate weariness. If the pod gets a flat, its headlights will actually start to cry...no joke. It even has a tail that it wags when it's happy. Additionally, this car can even communicate to other pods via a 2.5GHz transmitter, to request lane changes or to say thank you for being cut off. However, since the pod wasn't in either of the two Gran Turismo Concept builds at the show, we don't know which, if any, of these features will make it into the actual game.

Gran Turismo Concept 2001 Tokyo is slated for a January 1, 2002 release in Japan for 3,200 yen (about $26). Sony hasn't commented on a US release of this game, but we'll keep you posted as news becomes available. In the meantime, enjoy this newest batch of movies.

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