Test Drive 1 logo

Motoring journalist David Vivian swaps a leather Reccaro and momo steering wheel for a comfy chair and a Konix Speedking to compare driving on an Amiga with the real thing.

PEOPLE are always coming up to me at parties and asking "What's the best supercar you've ever driven?" I tend to look blankly at them because firstly I've never seen them before in my life and secondly that being the case, how do they know I've ever set foot in anything remotely resembling a supercar?
"That bloke over there with the blank expression - he works for a motoring magazine." There's always someone who knows and, not content with knowing, has to tell everyone else.

It wouldn't be so bad if the people who asked the question believed the answer I've spent years and thousands of miles formulating. Admittedly, the answer I give changes every time -mostly because I can't make up my mind and sometimes because it's a particularly good party - but whatever I say is always met with a look of abject disbelief. Testarossa? No...! Better than a Countach...? Are you taking the mick? Or, Porsche 911? That heap of German dog's mess! Call yourself a motoring journalist?

I can live without the abuse. In fact, I can live without the "supercar expert" number altogether. When you think of the obscene amounts of money involved, there's something distinctly unpalatable about telling people how to spend it, even if you do know best. Far better that they should climb behind the wheel, fire up and find out for themselves. Well now they can. All they need is an Amiga - preferably with a decent monitor - and a copy of Test Drive by Accolade.

Ferrari Testarossa, Porsche, 911 Turbo, Lamborghini Countach (pronounced Kooon-tasch), Lotus Esprit Turbo, Chevrolet Corvette - the ultimate group test played out by you and a few choice microchips.
Now the only problem is which one to drive first. OK, Test Drive is just a not-very-floppy piece of plastic and an Amiga is a pretty stiff piece of plastic with moving keys and a port for a joystick, and a joystick that just waggles around and has a few buttons on it.

Even if you've spanned the galaxy at two-and-a-half times the speed of light with this collection of components, I can sense that you're just teensy bit sceptical that they can accurately simulate what it's like to travel at 170 mph or hit 60 mph in five seconds on a rocky mountain pass.

Relax, it's just like the real thing... it says here... yeah. They handle like the real thing. They brake like the real thing. They move like the real thing. In fact, Test Drive is so realistic you'll swear the G-Force has pinned you to your seat. Welcome to life in the fast lane. Yep, it's all here I black and white. So let's test drive Test Drive.

A lot of clever stuff happens on the monitor before you get to drive any of "the world's most exotic cars". First you see the super-slick title screen with its tantalisingly dangled key fobs and glamorous reflection twinkles, beautifully resolved by the Amiga. The Accolage multi-channel synth track that goes with it - in stereo if you plug the computer into your hi-fi - is funkier than Jack Mix II and twice as repetitive. Press the joystick button and the opening screen scrolls up to introduced the contenders. Neat.

No need to have a pile of Motor road tests by your side, either. Each car is displayed in profile with its spec sheet (which includes performance data) underneath. Let's see, 173 mph top speed... 5.2 sec 0-60 mph... sounds like a Lamborghni.

Lamborghini Countach

Is this the greatest supercar of all time? No. But try telling that to a little boy: He'll give you the "I suppose there isn't a Father Christmas, either, blockhead" look. Especially if he owns one.
The Countach is one of the most arresting shapes ever to take to the road - it doesn't merely attract attention, it grabs it by the lapels and gives it a good hard shake. In the outrageousness stakes, at least, it's still the champ.
Otherwise, this car is disturbingly overrated. It won't do the 183 mph claimed for it, it doesn't sound very nice, it has a terrible gearchange, clutch and throttle action and awkward controls. It handles well, but then so does a Caterham Seven.

The Test Drive programmers have clearly focussed on the Lamborghini's strengths. The Countach was easily the swiftest car up The Rock and the easiest to drive as well. Its acceleration from rest could only be described as fearsome - realistic enough - but the completely neutral cornering balance and seemingly limitless grip were a bit hard to take seriously. Lamborghini's engineers should buy this program. It's more fun than driving the real thing.

Ferrari Testarossa

Is this the greatest "exotic", then? Closer, much closer. I have nothing but respect for the big "redhead". It doesn't look as aggressive as the Countach - it's not as relentless on the eyes - but I think it actually possesses more physical presence. Its magnificent 5 litre flat 12 sounds better, too: Rather like a Porsche 911 in "Sensuround".

The Testarossa is very fast - 181 mph flat out - but it doesn't accelerate as violently as the Countach (0-60 mph in 5.3 sec against 4.9 sec) and in broard terms it feels a softer machine to drive. Think of it as a superfast grand tourer than a raw, red-blooded racer.

That's pretty much how it seemed on Test Drive. The programmers correctly identified that flat 12's great flexibility (less gearchanging), but what happened to the handling? The Testarossa may not corner with quite the precision and bite of the Lambo, but this one was all over the road and then some. I actually frightened myself.

Porsche 911 Turbo

The 911 is a bone of contention between motring writers. Some would rather walk than drive one; others can't get enough of the perpetual rear-engined Porsche. One thing all agreed on, however, is the Turbo's awesome performance. This car really does haul in the horizon when the turbo blows.

Not so in Test Drive. The programmers have dialled in the right amount of turbo lag - the 911 Turbo's biggest failing - but the tidal surge of power that should follow it amounts to little more than a burst water pipe. Handling is convincingly tricky on the limit, but not as bad as the Ferrari's. A blatant misrepresentation of the facts, I'd say.

Lotus Esprit Turbo

Not as exotic as its Italian peers, the Lotus is nevertheless a kosher supercar. All the basic elements are right. It's very low, very wide, very awkward to see out of and very fast. Like the Lambo, it possesses near track-car reflexes and can generate formidable amounts of lateral grip.
Probably slightly more than the Countach in reality because of its lighter weight, though the Test Drive programmers don't quite see it that way. Their Esprit hangs on pretty well but doesn't corner with the electromagnet security of the Lambo.
Otherwise, this is probably the most accurate simulation of all. The car felt neat and tidy with pin-sharp steering and fast responses. Its peaky engine characteristics were accurately reproduced, too. But for its shortfall of grip it would have beaten the Countach up The Rock.

Chevrolet Corvette

I have to confess that I've never driven a 'Vette and, if the Test Drive simulation is anything to go by, I'm rather glad. Even concentrating so hard that pearls of sweat dropped to the Amiga's keyboard. I couldn't get more than half way up The Rock without doing a Burt Reynolds and flying off towards the edge of the road and destroying the car.

This thing handled like a truck but went like a Concorde. It was too hard for me.

Conclusions

There will doubtless be better supercar simulations written for the Amiga, but I'm not complaining about Test Drive. The Esprit was uncannily close to the real thing, and if the programmers have been unduly kind to the Countach, so what? This is all about living a fantasy, and who wants to drive a Lamborghini that's anything less than totally wonderful?
At least I know what to say next time someone asks me: "What's the best supercar you've ever driven?"

  • David Vivian is Roard Test/Features Editor of Motor magazine. His book, Supercar: the Myth and the Magic, is published by Osprey in October.

Test Drive 1 logo

Amiga
Accolade/Electronic Arts
Price: £24.95

If you usually go off to make a cup of coffee while waiting for games to load, get the kettle on well before you boot up Test Drive. You do not want to miss the loading screens on this one. Never have I encountered a program where the introductory screens made me want to play the game as much as this one.
Test Drive is the sort of game that dreams are made of. It is all about sports cars. Sleek, shiny, fast sports cars. The loading screens flip through the five on offer for you to drive in the game - the Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari Testarossa, Lotus Turbo Esprit, Lamborghini Contach and Chevy Corvette - all so graphically detailed as to make you drool, with digitised speech, some great music, and appealing touches such as the windscreen of the car on display being wound down, and a gleam of teeth and flash of shades from the driver as he roars off-screen (Flas b'stard! - Ed).

The object of the game is to select one of the five cars, and test drive it up a winding mountainous road to the top, avoiding oncoming cars, highway patrols, oil slicks and potholes. The faster you do it, the more points you score.
The program falls into two distinct parts: car selection and driving. The flipping through the selection screens, you get a picture of each car and a detailed and accurate technical specification of its performance: acceleration speeds, tyre types, dimensions, braking distance, etc. This is the drooling bit.

Having chosen your car, you take to the road, with a driver's seat (left hand drive, since it is an American game) view of the dashboard and the road ahead. You also have your rear-view mirror, a radar display to warn you of approaching speed cops, and your gear box. Would that I sat in any of these cars long enough to be able to tell you how accurate the dashboard layout for each car is - from the attention to detail in the selection screens, I would imagine they are fairly faithful reproductions.

Driving is controlled by keyboard or joystick: left and right for steering, directional movement (with the fire button pressed) related to the gearbox layout for changing gear. Run over oil slicks, and you will get mucky marks on the windscreen; potholes affect the steering slightly. With the highway patrol, you can either slow down within the speed limit (there are road signposts as well) which will lose you points, or speed up to try to shake them off.

Assuming you do not crash into anything, or go over the edge of the road, you will automatically pull into a gas station for status reports at various stages. Here, you will generally get a sarky comment such as, "What's the matter - couldn't find second?", your average speed and time, and a points score. If you do crash you experience the game's most disappointing moment, the screen simply cracks unrealistically. Even if you drive over the edge. No sound effects either. Very disappointing. Given the beautiful graphics of the cars' exteriors and dashboard, the road is drawn slightly less impressively.

Each car really does handle differently in the driving screens. On paper, the Porsche and Lamborghini have the best acceleration (0-60 mph in 5.0 and 5.2 seconds respectively), and when test driving each this is borne out; they were definitely nippier than that cheapskate Corvette (0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds and a puny $35,000 to buy).
The traffic police, oil slicks and status reports mean that you can play Test Drive as a straight race against the clock, and very enjoyable it is too, but it is equally, if not more interesting as a simulation. However, there is an is-that-all-there-is feeling that abounds in the game. Something is missing, like a tough Out Run style challenge.