Yet there's still almost no racing. Frequently you're either in a car that's 50mph slower down the straights and has no hope of winning, or you're 50mph faster and lead into the first corner. There's no 'rubber banding' to keep AI cars near you and spice things up, no suggestions or requirements from Polyphony Digital to get you in a well-matched car. This remains a chequebook racer - if you've got cash, you'll win.
The much-hailed damage is haphazard and disappointing, while only 'premium' cars have a dashboard view and standard cars can't be repainted. Weirdest of all, GT5's vaunted vehicles don't even look that good. Yes, even the cars - those 1000-plus cars! - are disappointing. Sure, stick them in photo mode and ogle the hi-res versions and they're gorgeous, but on track and in motion they're surprisingly prone to jaggedy shadows, lumpy edges and blurry textures. The cars in NFS Hot Pursuit look better, go better and crash better.
It doesn't help that they're almost exclusively overgeared and under-tyred, either (as usual). For instance, our early 1.3 Mini topped out at 80mph-ish in third, with two gears to go. I've owned a 1.3 Mini. It didn't do that.
I've also had the incredible honour of being driven around a Welsh forest rally stage in a Mitsubishi Lancer by the WRC driver Gigi Galli, and I can say - without a shadow of a doubt - that WRC cars have far, far more grip than they do in GT5. In real life, I couldn't believe it. In GT5, in contrast, the Focus WRC's tyres are so slippery I couldn't believe they weren't butter. So much for 'the real driving simulator'. Get one of these cars in the air or smash one into a barrier and they're just as floatily unreal as they ever were.
Frankly, it breaks my heart. In case you were wondering, I bought GT for PSone on launch day, I've played every game since (special editions and bike-based Tourist Trophy included) and I've gone to a 4am bed seeing its tarmac twisting behind my eyelids far more times than is healthy. I've loved that game for years.
But it hasn't changed. It's barely evolved and it still has all the problems, annoyances and poor design it always had. After more than a decade of development, Polyphony has simply used up every credible excuse. This thing is a dinosaur.
Unless the later stages and the online sections (inoperable at the time of writing) can utterly override the problems - perhaps by loading an entirely new game I haven't seen yet - GT5 is going to be the monolithic headstone for a once-great series.
Just what the hell have they been doing for five years?
Why you're going to love GT5
"It's brilliant... the best GT yet"
... writes GT fan and real life race fan, Alex Evans
It's almost tempting to feel disappointed. Five long years of anxious waiting, and the first thing I'm asked to do is complete the Dullest Race Ever in a pre-owned Lexus.
It's as if Polyphony did it deliberately. This is Gran Turismo, love it or hate it, but don't expect it to rip up its own rulebook. First up: The iconic, the legendary, Sunday Cup. Ah, it's been so long.
As a GT fan, though, one thing is immediately clear: Gran Turismo 5 is quite simply the greatest GT yet. It feels like the first game in the series to be on a system capable of coming even close to matching the lofty ambitions of its perfectionist developers.
Spine-tinglingly epic intro FMV aside, the first thing to hit you is just how glossy it all is. In the menus, everything oozes with a delicious sheen. In-race, it's floodlight bright and spectacularly-detailed. I actually had to turn my TV's brightness down to save my eyes.
The new level system is the biggest change. After every race, you get experience points depending on how well you did and how tough the race was. Your level affects everything, from which races you can enter to what cars you can buy. It means you can't just repeat a race over and over to get enough credits to drive a car you shouldn't have yet, but you need to work up through the career properly. It's pretty much the largest single tweak to the formula since the series' inception. It'll certainly be interesting to see how it feels over the full course of a career mode. It seems like it could be quite restrictive, but in the early hours, it's more addictive to improve than frustrating to be held back by.