Okay. We admit it. Just like most automotive journalists, most of the team here at GreenCarReports love the thrill of power, speed and driving a really powerful car really fast. 

But we know driving huge gas-guzzling V8s around a race track isn’t exactly good for the planet, our health, or our bank balance. The solution? Computer gaming. 

Over the past few years we’ve seen a huge number of increasingly realistic games come to market for everything from a full desktop computer through to gaming systems and even cellphones, offering would-be champions everything from dirt-track racing through to Formula 1 and NASCAR. 

For the most part, these games have sought to replicate racing internal combustion engined cars, but more recently we’ve seen more and more racing games offer virtual representations of both electric and hybrid cars.

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza Motorsport 4 is just the latest title to do just that. Released earlier this month, it offers a huge range of over 80 different cars from around the world, as well as a huge collection of faithfully replicated raceways, drag strips and circuits to race them on. 

Armed with a suitable beverage, a high-definition television and our XBox 360, we set out to do some of the most surreal test-driving we’ve ever done. 

Everything from Teslas to Toyotas

For several years now, we’ve seen the iconic Tesla Roadster get represented on racing games. After all, with a 0-60 time of under 4 seconds and phenomenal handling, the Tesla Roadster has long been the token electric car in racing games. 

But in Forza 4, other plug-in cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Chevrolet Volt put an appearance beside cars like the 2012 Bugatti Veyron, while other green, high-mileage cars, like the 2012 Chevrolet Spark and 2012 Honda Fit Sport are represented alongside the 2012 Toyota Prius. 

As for the 2011 Tesla Roadster? It’s there too -- but only available as part of a downloadable add-on pack from the XBox 360 marketplace or as part of the limited-edition collector’s version of the game.

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Race, buy, tweak

As with many racing games, Forza 4 revolves around winning races in various classes in order to win prizes and progress through the game. Race well, and you are rewarded with credits that you can use to buy new cars, or upgrade cars already in your race garage.

Once your car has been upgraded from factory specification, possibilities for tuning everything from brake setup to gear ratios are opened up. 

For example with a little bit of patience and some upgraded power electronics in our stock 2012 Nissan Leaf, we were able to produce a fully tricked-out race-ready Leaf, capable of a 0-60 time of around 5 seconds and a top speed of over 130 miles per hour. 



Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Realistic, but not quite there yet

Unlike games devoted to one particular type of racing, where we’ve found realism second-to-none, Forza 4 falls short when it comes to car realism. 

While the actual 3D models used for each car are truly beautiful and highly accurate, we found each and every stock car we drove had a 0-60 time of several seconds longer than its real-life counterpart. 

In fact, our stock 2011 Tesla Roadster took an agonizing 6 seconds to reach 60 mph, a good few seconds slower than the real-life car. 

And while game developers Turn 10 used a Tesla Roadster to create record the tire noises used throughout the game on each car, the stock in-game Tesla Roadster handled much worse than the real thing, making any kind of Tesla-based racing a tiring experience. 

Annoying quirks threaten early gamplay

As we progressed through the game, we also started to notice specific quirks about the game we didn’t feel portrayed real life. 

For example, we discovered that the 2012 Nissan Leaf -- while easy to handle in corners -- was particularly prone to slowing down on even the most modest of hills. In fact, while racing on a replica of the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, our factory specification Leaf slowed from 66 to 61 mph on the slightly inclined Rahal Straight approach to the track’s infamous Corkscrew chicane -- something we’re sure wouldn’t happen in real life. 

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Perhaps more bizarre however, was the quirk we discovered with the 2012 Chevrolet Volt which enabled us to turn the automatic plug-in hybrid into a manually-geared racing car. 

Given time, it gets better

We have to admit that after a few hours with the game we were ready to give up thanks to unrealistic 0-60 times, poor handling and what we assume was a stock electric motor sound which we thought bore little resemblance to the real cars. 

But as we started to upgrade our cars, we noticed a distinct improvement in the gameplay. 

You can, for example, turn the poorly performing stock Tesla Roadster into a much more realistic representation of the real thing.  And as we’ve already hinted, a stock Nissan Leaf can be tuned into a race-ready 130 mph dream machine. 

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Forza 4 Electric and Hybrid Cars

Better than most, but still a long way to go

Once the poor factory specification cars were upgraded, we discovered that Forza 4 is a fun game to play, with many different elements in it. 

Add Microsoft’s Kinect system, and extra realism is given in the form of virtual glances to the left or right whenever you move your head. 

Ultimately, Forza 4 isn’t meant to be a facsimile of real life, but an enjoyable and safe way to get your adrenaline fix without stepping foot in a real car.  Catering for everyone from complete novices through to race-experienced gamers, we’re pleased to see electric, hybrid and high mpg cars share the limelight beside the more traditional racing cars. 

And with on-line playing possible using Microsoft’s XBox Live, we think it won’t be long before we see virtual all-electric races taking place between fans keen to prove that virtual motor racing doesn’t have to have a virtual gasoline engine attached. 

Forza 4 starts at $59 for the basic game, rising to over $100 for the Limited Edition set.