Cars and computer games are converging. If that seems an odd statement, then think about it for a second. Think of iDrive, touchscreen sat-navs and built-in iPod connectivity. Then, on the other hand, think of computer game controllers; ever more complex levels of interactivity and ‘feel’ are being built into computer game-playing experiences.
And where is this merging of realities most obvious? Easy - it’s steering. What fascinates me is this: as car companies are, for whatever reason, dialling out the sense of a mechanical connection between driver and front wheels, so the gaming industry is searching for ever more realistic ways to reproduce it through the steering wheel controllers it produces for driving games.
I'm sure that we’ve reached the point now where some computer game steering wheels feel more ‘real’ than the helms of some cars. Drive a low-spec Vauxhall Corsa after playing Gran Turismo 4 or Forza Motorsport 2 with a really snazzy wheel; you’ll be just as convinced.
And this weird new world order throws up some interesting results. I drove a Hyundai i30 diesel into work this morning, and its steering feels almost exactly like that of the Sega Rally 2 arcade machine. Same springiness, same smooth, oily action, same dead area just off the straight-ahead. It's spooky.
Funny thing is I really like it, if only because it doesn’t have any pretensions. Hyundai knows it can’t provide ‘real’ steering feel (and why should it), so instead it has concentrated on accuracy. The i30 has the most incredibly precise steering. You feel as if you could place it on the road with millimetric accuracy.
Maybe that particular similarity will help Hyundai appeal to the playstation generation. Maybe Hyundai’s marketing department is planning on making a virtue out of it: “Coming soon – the i30 Sega Rally”. Stranger things have happened.