As I’ve already referenced in this blog, there are certain small manufacturers that end up getting brilliant exposure in the various Gran Turismo games due to the refusal of certain more well-known marques (I’m looking at you Ferrari,Lamborghini and Porsche, although Ferrari have finally relented and will be appearing in GT5). In Gran Turismo 2, the two notable examples were Vector, the American supercar maker, and Venturi, the eccentric Frenchmen responsible for producing the fabulous 400GT (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) and the outrageous 600LM. Polyphony have famously long countered the refusal of Porsche to officially licence their cars in the game by simply using RUF, a Porsche tuning company, as an alternative. in GT4, the niche marques return in earnest, with brands like Proto Motors, Cizeta, and Hommel, and it’s the lattermost marque that I shall be looking at today.
Which is all well and good, until you actually look at the powerplant it’s packing.
What were you expecting? A throbbing V8 like the car which inspired its looks? A shouting V12? Maybe a turbocharged V6?
Errm, no, no, and no again. It’s a 2-litre 4-cylinder.
Now, I know most small sportscar manufacturers are hardly over-endowed with cash, but is this seriously the best they could find? And before you say anything, I’m well aware that a humble 4-cylinder can be made into a giant-killer. But we aren’t talking about a Honda VTEC powerplant here – the motor is actually sourced from Citroen. Performance credentials are therefore thin on the ground, and you sense this as soon as you depress the accelerator. Depress is the right word, as it is quite depressing.
It has 165hp, but what it seems to do with them I’m not quite sure. They certainly aren’t pushing the car forward, that’s all I know. This car doesn’t seem to accelerate…more marginally gather speed. It has all the pulling power of an exhausted moth, and you cannot escape the inner feeling of ‘is this it?!’ To give you an example, my test bed for this car was the Tous France Championnat series, where I competed against various French hot hatches, and in one event, I distinctly remember the embarressing feeling of being out-accelerated out of a corner by a Peugeot 106 Rallye. I since discovered that all cars in the series are PD-tuned to around 200hp, so it’s highly likely he did have a horsepower advantage on me, but it was still a little galling – the sight of a dinky hatch pulling away from a sportscar must have been pretty hilarious for the crowds in the grandstands.
If I seem like I’m being harsh on this car, I’m going to compare it to my beloved Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA, one of my all-time favourite cars in GT. This car is around 35 years the Berlinette’s senior, and in standard trim it cedes 428cc’s and around 50hp to the French machine, but it takes off like the proverbial scalded feline, and pulls really nicely – so much so that it actually feels like it has much more horsepower than it actually does. It certainly does more with its 115hp than the Berlinette appears to do with its 165hp. Granted, the little Alfa is around 200kg lighter, but I’m still convinced that the Berlinette spectacularly flatters to decieve in this department.
So, if you’re taking my experiance above with the 106 as a snapshot of my performance across the whole championship, you would assume that I was smashed out of sight, right? Especially considering that the 106 was far from the most potent opponent in that series – other competitors included a Renault 5 Turbo, a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 and a menacing-looking Renault Clio Renault Sport V6 Phase 2. So, with that sort of lineup, you’d assume that I got completly bagged by the Hot Hatch Mafia and was sent fleeing from France with tail well and truly between my four-cylinder legs, right?
(cue Family Fortunes buzzer noise) Incorrect!
In Race 1 at Opera Paris, I sliced through the pack from 6th and happily hunted down the Clio V6, overturning a 4-second deficit in under 2 laps to take a comfortable opening win. At Circuit de la Sarthe, the lack of power was well and truly exposed, yet I still managed 3rd, and could’ve sprung an upset had I not made some silly errors. These were atoned for with another comfortable win at Special Stage Route 5, and the only reason the championship went down to the wire at the final round was a complete gaffe from me at Grand Valley Reverse, where I spun out of the lead on the final lap. Even there, I recovered to finish a respectable 2nd, before dominating the final round at Cote d’Azur and taking a comfortable championship victory.
All of this was achieved using the car’s one spectacular trump card – fantastic handling.
To my mind, this handles just as well going into and through a corner as any Elise, and though the lack of acceleration out of a corner is a hindrence, nine times out of 10 you will have your opponent well beaten under braking for the corner anyway, therefore meaning that the hamster-esque acceleration is nicely negated.
It really is an absolute joy to drive. The feedback I got through the force feedback steering wheel was crisp and clear, and when I turned the wheel, I was confident the car would go where I told it to. It turned on a sixpence, hugged apexes with ease, and in completely standard trim, drove like a Scalextric car. No traces of oversteer, and the only time understeer entered the equation was when I carried a little too much speed into the corner, but then again, that’s hardly the car’s fault, is it? Overall, it was a real blast, and a fantastic confidence booster – I would recommend this for anybody learning the art of race driving, or new full stop to the world of Gran Turismo. It doesn’t punish you particularly harshly if you get it wrong, but it rewards you tremendously if you get it right. I have absolute confidence that this car, on a twisty circuit such as Cote d’Azur, Opera Paris or something similar like Citta di Aria, Costa di Amalfi, George V Paris, or even a real-world track like Tsukuba, I’m convinced this car could pull off some real giant-killing with it’s magnetic handling alone.
So then, the pathetic way this car gets from corner to corner is nicely balanced out by the way it takes the corners when it gets to them. It’s also worth remembering that this is the world of Gran Turismo, where nearly everything with wheels has a rich catalogue of hop-up parts readily available to improve performance, so you can probably guess what my recommendation will be when you buy this machine – part with some more cash to not only improve the already fantastic roadholding with uprated brakes and suspension, but bring the performance levels up to par with some engine tweaks. Particularly focus on engine mods that will improve acceleration and torque off the line, as like I say, this is certainly this machine’s the massive Achilles heel.
Speaking of money (or credits, if we’re being accurate), this particular machine costs around 47,000 of them to buy new, and as far as I know, it doesn’t appear in the used car lots at any stage. This seems like a lot, but if you compare the Berlinette to it’s closest rival from across the Channel, the Lotus Elise, it shows up favourably – the base-level 2000 Elise costs 41,000 and cedes about 40hp in performance, and despite having not driven one, I’m fairly confident that the Berlinette can hold it’s own in terms of handling against le rosbifs.
So in final summary then, we have a sportscar here that nicely bucks the trend of small sportscar manufacturers in Gran Turismo – rather than being a loud and proud beast, all noise and smoking tyres, the little Berlinette quietly goes about it’s business focusing on the parts of the track that are the most important in road racing – the corners. Like the Elise and other under-powered cars before it – I’m thinking of the original Mini Cooper – it may well be blown away in a straight line, but as soon as the straight ends, watch out for the Berlinette, as I can guarentee it will be snapping at your heels under braking. It’s also a delighfully easy car to drive in the bargain, so novices, take note – if you want to learn cornering technique quickly, the Berlinette is an ideal training car for you, and I guarentee you will have a whole bucketload of fun in the process too.
Grin Factor: 82%
Engine Type: L4:DOHC
Pwr/Wgt ratio: 5.692
Specifications taken from GTPlanet.net
Photos taken by me using the Gran Turismo 4 Photomode.