Category Archives: Car Tests

Car Test – 2000 Hommell Berlinette R/S Coupe (GT4)

Front View
Side View
Rear View

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.

When I first saw the Berlinette, it looked to my mind like a baby GT40 – it has that same elegant body shape, with the cockpit seemingly perfectly mounted amidships, and the front dipping down in an aggressive, shark-like manner. I say baby GT40 as it certainly carries none of the muscular menace of that legendary machine, but it’s a pretty-looking car nonetheless. The colours available also compliment it nicely – a mix of traditional silvers, blacks and such, as well as bright yellow or several shades of deep blue. All good so far then, if a little inoffensive. It also has a crucial sports car characteristic – it looks fast. This is certainly no Q-car (i.e. a car which looks relatively dull and tedious but in fact possesses face-bending performance) – this car states its sportscar intentions right off the bat, and is a head-turner on the street.

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.

Handling/Control: 90%
Power/Speed: 66%
Style: 79%
Grin Factor: 82%

Rating: 78%

At-A-Glance Specifications

Engine Type: L4:DOHC
Displacement: 1998cc
Power: 165hp/6500rpm
Dimensions: 4120x1780x1150
Weight: 950kg
Pwr/Wgt ratio: 5.692
Drivetrain: MR

Specifications taken from
Photos taken by me using the Gran Turismo 4 Photomode.

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Car Test: 1995 TommyKaira R (GT2)

TommyKaira are one of those unusual manufacturers that appear only in Gran Turismo. Having done a little research all that I can deduce is what most people have guessed anyway – they focus in tuning up popular Japanese cars, with the odd hand-made car of their own – the cutesy ZZ-S coupe and the more sinister ZZ-II and ZZ-III cars. This is one of the tuned cars – a specially modified Nissan Skyline R33, but with a mean bodykit and TommyKaira decals to show people this isn’t an ordinary Skyline. I’d love to tell you oodles of details on it, but all I can find is what Gran Turismo themselves say and what a bloke who bought one says on the Sports Compact Car site – apparently only 400 of these were made, meaning there are more Ferrari Enzos on the road than this. But more on that article later, because right now, a question has arisen. See, a standard Nissan Skyline R33, has identical dimensions but with only 309hp (dealer quoted 276hp) and 42.5kgm torque. Even the weight is the same. Yet you can pick up a decent R33 Skyline for around 25-28,000 at the Nissan used car forecourts, whereas a TommyKaira R has to be ordered from the TK dealership for a cool 69,800. So then, the aim of this review is not just to find out whether the car’s any good – is there any point to it? Is it worth the extra 41,000-odd credits? To help me find out, I’ve also got a standard R33 Skyline alongside to compare it to.

So, lets start with the obvious – performance. The TKR is up by 0.2 seconds on 0-60 and is around about a second faster in the 1/4 mile and 1000m sprints. On the top speed test the standard R33 was lagging by around 10mph. And in all of the tests, the TKR felt planted and very rapid…but strangely soulless. All that could be heard when stamped the throttle hard was a loud turbo hiss and a small kind of whine in amongst it – it was hard to even distinguish whether there was an engine in there, or whether it was just some self-contained turbo system under the bonnet. Even the standard car, though slower, was more noisy. But whatever it was, it certainly propelled the car fast. But again, does 10 more mph justify 41,000 more credits? Just keep reading, and don’t cancel that TKR order just yet. See, when I took both cars to Special Stage Route 5, the TKR’s big secret weapon was unleashed – it’s ferocious road-holding. In the straight-line tests, both cars had face-bending traction off the line thanks to the 4WD system. But a big downside, I’ve found, is that 4WD often equals understeer in the corners. But, surprise surprise, the TKR doesn’t just remained planted in the corners – it’s actually mastered what I call ‘controlled oversteer’, i.e. the type of oversteer that is easy to both initiate and control. It is in fact fantastic in the corners – of course, being 1530kg, it wasn’t going to go round like a Lotus Elise with superglue tires, but completely standard it was a joy to drive. The 4WD understeer is there, but only if you REALLY force the car. In contrast, the standard R33 felt almost flabby and wallowy in the corners – the body roll was more pronounced, the understeer was more pronounced, and it was generally more of a battle to get it round Route 5 than the TKR.

So we’ve ascertained then that the TKR is a lot better than the R33 Skyline, and we’ve ascertained that the TKR is a magnificent car. But…there is still one question left…and that can only be answered by the Event Synthesiser.  So then, we bring out…a Vector M12, Nissan Skyline R34, Honda NSX Type S Zero, Dodge Viper GTS and a Lotus Espirit V8 SE. The track? A small island racetrack named Tahiti Road. And we were going in reverse.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is this car’s horrendous power band – anything vaguely below or on 5,000-5,500rpm and this car doesn’t accelerate – kind of more gathers speed. Slowly. It really is bad, and frequently in the race everything I’d achieved in the corners was undone by my glance over at the rev counter and my stark realisation that I was floundering at 4,500rpm. And…if I’m honest, while the oversteer was easy and stylish when I was running around on my own, when the back end stuck out in the race it was entirely unwelcome, because as we all know drifting is NOT the fastest way round a corner. But overall it performed magnificently, and it was only the organic squishy thing behind the wheel (i.e. me) that prevented it from winning. In the end I finished 0.068 seconds behind the Vector M12 side-by-side…sadly the M12’s 493hp was enough to pull him ahead in the drag race to the line from the final corner. Everything else was swept aside relatively easily.

So then, is it a good car? Yes. Is it a good race car? Absolutely. But is it worth the extra money over a standard R33 Skyline? Well, if it’s straight out-and-out performance you’re looking for, look elsewhere – I’d hardly say 10mph top end speed was worth 41,000 would you? But if it’s handling you need…look no further. In fact, the TKR is a bargain – to get equivalent handling out of the R33 you’d need the weight reduction AND racing modifications, which altogether cost way over 100,000. And it holds it’s own in the real world against such cars as the 78,000 Viper, the 98,000 NSX and even the 192,000 M12.

When you look at it like that, 69,800 doesn’t seem like a lot after all.

Handling/Control: 86%
Power/Speed: 72%
Style: 73%
Grin Factor: 88%

Rating: 80%

At-A-Glance Specifications

Length: 4675mm
Width: 1780mm
Height: 1360mm
Weight: 1530kg
Engine: 2.6L 16valve DOHC
Displacement: 2568cc
4-wheel drive
Horsepower: 411bhp@7,000rpm (dealer quoted 394hp@7,300rpm)
Torque: 43kgm@7,000rpm
Redline: 8,000rpm

0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
1/4 mile:12.987s@108mph
1000m: 24.309

Max Speed Test
1st gear: 45mph
2nd gear: 76mph
3rd gear: 110mph
4th gear: 143mph
5th gear: 182mph
Max Speed: 182mph

Review originally written in 2007.
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Car Test: Venturi Atlantique 400GT (GT2)

France is by and large not a country which springs to mind when supercars are concerned. For the most part, they deal with cars which range from cute to weird to downright deranged. But can you name any French supercars? That’s a resounding no.

And for those who said “Citroen SM”, no, that doesn’t really count.

In fact, the last car to have come out of France with the traditional supercar layout of mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, is the, erm, Renault Clio V6. Great car, yes, but it’s still a hot hatch, which means no matter how much performance it has – and believe me, it’s a lot – it’s still more Manchester High Street than Monte Carlo. So really, the message is clear – if you want something quirky and a bit eccentric, and overall different from equivalent Teutonic or Pacific rivals, buy a French car.

Which is why, up until you played GT2 for the first time and found them in West City, you’d almost certainly never heard of Venturi. Venturi are one of those tiny companies (I’m thinking the likes of Vector and Cizeta as other examples) that featured in Gran Turismo because PD couldn’t get hold of the licences for the more established and well-known supercar brands, e.g. Ferrari and Lamborghini. Actually, that’s a little unfair. These cars which come out of these tiny independent companies are the work of clever men in sheds, rather than accountants in Munich. Which means if you drove one in real life, it may generally break down within five miles and it may have an interior made out of melted down Army Men figures, but nine times out of ten it would be fast, and nine times out of ten you would step out of it with a massive grin on your face. And in the world of GT2, where interior quality and reliability matter not a jot, these cars are fantastic. Venturi are no different. Originally conceived in the mid-80s as ‘France’s answer to Ferrari’, they fit squarely into that bracket of tiny-company-with-barely-any-money-yet-still-makes-fantastic -sports-cars. Through the 80s and 90s they were often found racing – and winning – at Le Mans, and the 400GT is in fact a holmogation special for the mad 600LM, which you can find in the Special section of Venturi.

I must say, the 400GT is a handsome beast. If a TVR Speed 12 looks like a gurning thug with a broken bottle, all aggression and phlegm, then the 400GT is like looking at a dark-suited hitman – unassuming and wearing shades yet with enough muscle to crush a man’s head like a beer can. And, having seen photos of the interior on the interweb, I retract my previous interior comment in this case – it’s a handsome, if rather overly tanned-leather, place to sit.Under the bonnet, things threaten to deteriorate – it’s packing a 3-litre V6, which if we return to the hitman metaphor, is a bit like packing a BB gun as opposed to an Aston Martin’s V12 Desert Eagle, but don’t despair – it’s got TWO turbos on it to bring it right up to speed. The power figures reflect this – 405hp and 384ft. lbs. of torque.

That BB gun has suddenly been equipped with a full-automatic switch and a telescopic sight.

0-60 in 4.7 seconds. 0-100 takes just over 10. And top speed 180mph. Corvette, be very afraid. In fact, with these kind of figures, nearly everything else should be very afraid. Because, while these are very strong figures as standard, this is the world of GT2, where performance upgrades are just a few button-presses away. All of a sudden, splash a bit of cash and that BB gun is quickly looking like an Uzi, ready to gun down anything in it’s way in a hail of bullets.

For now though, let’s stick with that BB gun and focus on what we get straight out of the dealership. My comrade Parnelli Bone has already reviewed the 400GT’s sister car, the Atlantique 300, which is more a grand tourer than a supercar. He liked it, although it did have some glaring faults, some of which was down to Polyphony Digital’s famously stupid statspeople, which listed it as having a pathetic 213hp, as opposed to the real-life car’s 302hp. Fortunately, that problem appears to have eluded the 400GT. Aside from this, PB enjoyed the car’s noise and found that it had good maneuverability, though criticised it’s snap oversteer and steep pricetag. So how does the 400GT compare?

Well for starters, you’ll have to dig deep into your GT wallet – the price is cr.137,040, which is steep, however, not only is it a limited-run sports car, its a holmogation special – and whenever you hear those words, you know you’re in for something special.

Sadly, first impressions didn’t appear to be that great. The engine sounded good, but not great – but this is a Peugeot V6, so it’s hardly gonna sound like a Dodge Charger – but whenever it came to a corner, especially the high-banked and long Red Rock Valley ones, it suffered from the most dreaded word in driving, the one which makes all racers shiver. Deep breath now….understeer. There, I said the word of Satan. Even if I probed and prodded the throttle gently, it would still struggle to get round corners without trying to remove the paintwork from the front quarter panels. And no matter which way you spin it, understeer isn’t fast, and neither is it fun.

Oversteer, however, is. And to get it from this car, you must go against one of the commandments stated in the GT2 Driver’s Manual, and – (gasp!) – brake whilst turning into a corner.

On the really long corners, this doesn’t work, but it worked perfectly on the mid-length twists and turns of Special Stage Route 5, and in the space of a lap, my impression of this car changed – coming out of corners I was no longer gnashing my teeth as I bounced off the outside barrier, I was grinning from ear to ear as I came out sideways in a cloud of smoke.

But here’s the clincher. Once Id finished being 6 years old again, I applied a simple steering adjustment and the back end was back in line, and I was howling off towards the next bend, where I could shred the rear tyres – which were already crying for mercy after I’d simply gunned it away from the start – a little more. This was the case every single time. Not once did I feel out of control in the 400GT. The steering response was strong, and the messages I were recieving from the battered and bruised tyres were clear. The brakes were strong and firm, and are key to providing that beautiful oversteer. As such, then, despite this car’s horsepower and supercar aspirations, this is a really quite easy car to have fun in. You can, provided you’ve got enough decent turns, have a whale of a time in this car.

And no matter how sideways you get, I guarentee you will never be found wanting for power. At one point I was stranded down in 4,000rpm in 3rd, but before I could change down, it was already rising beyond 5,000, and the speedometer was climbing at an alarming rate. Sometimes, perhaps subconciously, I’d change down, thinking it was out of the power band, and the engine would punish me for being an eejit by screaming at me at 8,000rpm. Seriously, if this was a real car, I’m fairly sure I would have blown it up, simply by not realising just how potent the power band is. Try it for yourself – cruise along a straight in 3rd, at about 3,500rpm, then floor it – I guarentee you you will struggle to find any car which has such a broad power band. This also means it is ideally suited for road racing – whereas in other cars, you’re either struggling to hit the tiny power band right at the top of the RPM gauge or all out of ideas at some very low number, the 400GT just effortlessly belches power from nearly everywhere in the rev band. This all just adds to the feeling that this is an incredibly easy car to hoon around like a nutter in. Even PD’s numbskull AI seem to find driving it a breeze – I guarentee you will face this if you race in Arcade mode in an S-class car. Be warned – you’re in for a serious challenge.

I’d love to think that Venturi are still producing beauties like the 400GT now, but sadly, in the last round of “we’re broke please buy us” back in 2001, the two French billionaires who bought the company were obviously adverse to licking windows, because nowdays theyre found building just one car – the Fetish. The name is bad enough – do you think the Bugatti Veyron would have been quite so famous if it was called the Bugatti Dildo? Exactly. The fact that it’s powered by a lawnmower and looks like a child’s pedal car just adds to it. Even they themselves have no confidence in the thing, as they’ve only made 25. And who the hell would buy them? All I can think of are car collectors and fellow members of the window salivating society. This is a crying shame, because as we’ve seen here, when they put their minds to it Venturi can produce awesome cars. The 400GT was awarded the prize of being the fastest French production car ever, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it still held that record. It was also the first production car to be fitted with carbon brakes. Just think what they could be doing now – France’s answer to Ferrari? France’s replacement for Ferrari, more like.

As it stands, the three cars we get in GT2 will have to do. But at least what we have is very good. And whether the 400GT can top other supercars in GT2, such as the Vectors, I don’t know, but I’ll tell you now, I’m gonna have an absolute riot finding out.

Handling/Control: 80%
Power/Speed: 77%
Style: 89%
Grin Factor: 90%

Rating: 84%

At-A-Glance Specifications:

Engine: Twin Turbo V6

Power: 402.0 bhp @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 520.0 nm / 383.5 ft lbs @ 4500 rpm

Drivetrain: MR

Weight: 1150 kg / 2535 lbs

Wheelbase: 2500 mm / 98.4 in

Length: 4140 mm / 162.9 in

Width: 1990 mm / 78.3 in

Height: 1170 mm / 46.1 in

Top speed: 180.0mph

0 – 60 mph: 4.7 seconds

0 – 100 mph: 10.4 seconds

Original review written 13th October 2007
Picture and specification credit:
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