If GT2 never introduce the Autozam, then maybe i'm not thinking of buying one of those today. Anyway, since the real car is kinda hard to get, so for now here's a review for this thing!
Exterior and History
Here's one of the sweetest rides in Gran Turismo. Anyone agree?
Check it out, man....two seats, gull-wing doors, and that classic wedge shape which looks as though it just left the wind tunnel with a smile.
The Mazda AZ-1 is one of the most distinctive kei cars ever. Autozam. That's what AZ stands for. I don't know exactly why it's called the "Autozam"...but the name seems to fit...like something out of a comic book. "The mighty Camaro followed a Corvette into the chicane but AUTOOOOOOOZAM!!! a puny Mazda AZ-1 cruises by un-noticed and spoils the win!!"
....Too bad it's so frickin' slow. The above scenario (an AZ-1 beating a Camaro and a Corvette) could only happen in our dreams...unless we're super-good or super-lucky. :)
As GT2's and GT5's AZ-1 info pages tell us, this miniature sports coupe was only in production for a few years before being dropped. Several versions were created including the A-Spec car that we can win as a prize in GT2. Matter of fact, GT2 has two versions: the A-spec and a base car. Neither really shines above the other: both can be maxed with 177 horses, both can be reduced to 1,459 pounds, and neither gets a race-kit. GT4 only has a base car from 1992 we can find in used lots. GT5 features the '92 Autozam, which is now a Premium level car, complete with a sparse but handsome dashboard area.
The AZ-1 will get thru crowded cities and traffic jams with ease, and this trait can be carried over to our imaginary race tracks as well, so long as we keep it going in the right direction! Sometimes, this is easier said than done. The AZ-1 is similar in size to the Honda Beat by less than an inch in most cases. Both cars are 55" wide, both are around 129" in length, etc. And both cars share similar driving characteristics, but the AZ-1 seems slightly more controllable in GT2 for some reason. Its curb weight of 1,587 pounds is about 100 less than the Beat, not that this should make much difference. Weight reductions don't take much off the Mazda (they average around 50 pounds per step in GT2—a bit more in GT4), nor do they seem to help much with the car's skittish behavior, so Stages 2 and 3 can be delayed while other parts of the car get developed. At around $8,000, the AZ-1 is a steal in GT2. GT5's price has risen to $14,980, probably since the AZ-1 is somewhat of a rarity (it was only in production just a few years before Mazda canned it) and it's now become a collector's item. Either of these prices are pretty low, making this comic-like automobile deceptively easy for beginners to purchase. Unfortunately, this car is NOT for beginners!
Mostly, the mid-engine layout and light weight are to blame. Like I said before, I find that the AZ-1 is a bit more driver-friendly than the Honda Beat, but in reality both of these can be difficult.
Engine and Drivetrain
Here we have another motor which qualifies under Japan's strict Kei-class. Translation: it's s-l-o-w. Slower than a speeding jar of Sominex.
...At least, this is how it starts its life off the dealer's lot. Credits spent and parts applied, things start to change, and (unlike the aforementioned Beat) the AZ-1 does enter new and better realms outside the much-hyped Kei events.
Engine upgrades include two stages of intercooled turbo tuning, which boost power up to 130 @ 6,800 rpm with the 1st step, and 180 @ 6,900 after the 2nd. This drops the weight/HP ratio from 25.6 to 8.24 if full weight reductions are also bought, realistically making the AZ-1 competitive with larger cars in a much different class. Just wait till you get to Grindelwäld and show those snobby Jags and spiffy Lancias what your 1,500 pound, 3-cylinder baby can do. Put them to shame!
This difference in power from MazdaSpeed is great, but comes at a huge cost: upgrading the engine fully will strip $40,000 out of your wallet, and that's not including weight reductions, tires, drivetrain parts, etc. The long & short is: anyone can buy an AZ-1, but only the rich or the skillfull will be able to develop one and really make it useful on the tracks.
This car can be difficult to win with consistently, unless you've got some skills, making earned money for upgrades a 'here and there' sort of thing. But if you've got the skills (or the "skillz"), don't worry. As I said, it's easily possible to go further in an AZ-1 than in a Beat, simply because the AZ-1 gets much more power in GT2.
For some situations outside of K-Cup events, the AZ-1 will need a full-custom racing gearbox, too. Factory-set gearing maxes around 117 mph, which is fine for a lightly modified kei-car, but the fully modified engine will want to run faster during more challenging races. I find that as I enter AZ-1s in their manufacturer's event, the sports gearbox can also be used if the engine hasn't been boosted with a Stage 1 turbo yet at tracks like Autumn Ring, Rome Nite, and Laguna Seca. The semi-racing gearbox is pretty much useless.
Unfortunately, the AZ-1 can't go as far as it did in GT2. There just isn't as much power available, which really sucks. But it can do almost all the Compact Car events, the Lightweight K-Cup Challenge, Sunday Cup, and perhaps a couple others.
There are some really important differences from GT2 to GT5, one of the biggest is the AZ-1 now has a completely different 5-speed gearbox, somehow, which is taller than it was. There are also more RPMs available before redline and the RPM limiter bogs us down. This is good because it ensures the engine will rarely max revs (which means a full-custom transmission is not necessary). Note: one must shift EARLY if they're using a manual transmission. Really early. Peak power is around 6,500 while the car is still stock, yet the redline doesn't show up for another 2,500 rpms. Automatic users and those manual drivers who are lazy with gear shifting will find themselves losing power as the tiny 3-cylinder engine gets far past its peak area.
Chassis and Handling
If you're going to really make this car race-ready, reliable, and fast, racing slick tires and the sports suspension will be your best, most cost-effective option. Though it gets a lot more power than the Honda Beat, both cars handle similarly. They're both mid-engined, and that means plenty of tricky driving. Easy tracks like Tahiti or Midfield Speedway can become nightmarish for those who don't have good steering control.
The computer competition we face from AZ-1s in GT2 always make this car look flawlessly easy to drive, which in reality is deceptive. They are more difficult to control than many larger cars that have more power and a mid-engine layout, that's for sure. Steering is very responsive (read...too responsive), meaning that even at a relatively low speed of say...60 mph with brakes applied, the car could easily spin as weight gets transferred from back to front. Those 155/65-13 tires don't have much grip...they are designed for mostly city driving, after all. In many cases, mid-engine cars will have larger tires in the rear than up front, perhaps Mazda chose not to do this as a cost-saving attempt? Who knows.
An ideal set-up for this car (assuming you've got the money and are using full engine upgrades) would be the sports or semi-racing suspension (mostly this is needed for extra damping force and lowered ride height), and a combination of hard tires up front and medium on the rear. Putting softer tires up front only increases the chance of grabbing and spin-outs. It's also a good idea to max front camber if you're using the sports suspension, and front camber can be taken up to 4 or 5° safely if the car has a semi-racing suspension, which helps alleviate the front-end's quirky nature a bit.
Lightly modified AZ-1s can be raced around with stock (Normal) tires up front and Sports in the rear, which will help eliminate front-end corner grabbyness. Limited-slip differentials help keep the car from being too nervous, tho I find the 1, 1.5, and 2-way units can also introduce too much understeer, killing the AZ-1's better cornering advantages sometimes.
Another issue is the brakes. I've seen much heavier cars with shorter stopping distances. This car may be light, but it suffers from poor brake response as power gets built. We can't rely on late braking into tight corners as a method of screwing the competition like we can in some other kei cars. Bottom line: Spend some money here.
In this game, the AZ-1 (like many other civilian cars) starts its life on intermediate radial tires, otherwise known as "comfort mediums". This makes the AZ-1 somewhat difficult to drive right from the get-go, especially for drivers who aren't very skilled.
Like the Beat, the AZ-1 is probably chosen more often than other keis simply because it is kinda nifty-looking. ...But it doesn't always handle nifty! This becomes apparent during GT5's Kei car events, where we can watch the AZ-1 sometimes getting sideways when driven by the Ai. In GT2, the sim drivers always drove this Kei car flawlessly. Not in GT5, though. Take this as a warning.
Right away, I'm noticing this car has a habit of feeling confident on entry (into turns), but also has a habit of getting sideways mid-corner a little too easily. Traction is always great, though. The only time we lose traction is if the car happens to get into one of its slides. Usually what happens:
1). The driver (me) brakes into the turn. Since I know this is a mid-engine car with more weight located rearwards than up front, I usually try to brake-in as straight a line as possible.
2). When steering-in (and letting off those brakes) the front-end can become grabby very fast, which can cause the rear to swing around. For this reason, steering inputs must be sparse on-entry. Direct the car in the direction it needs to go, then straighten it.
3). Mid-corner, one can steer more heavily, while watching the rear for any errant behavior. No matter how careful, sometimes the AZ-1's backside gets to squeemish anyways.
4). Leaving corners is easy if one has avoided swinging. Lots of traction, basically.
During higher speed curves, it's pretty much guaranteed the driver is going to need to employ some form of countersteer. This often includes sport tires as well as radials. The rear often has a habit of getting just slightly sideways at times, which is both fun and dangerous. Whoever thought Kei cars could be such a handful?
One thing that helps is a trick straight from our Gran Turismo 1 and 2 days: mixing tire types. During the Sunday Cup at Autumn Ring Mini, where my Autozam was sliding into turns and sometimes slipping a bit through them, I realized it's the rear of this mini-mobile that was causing the most problems. After swapping those rear tires for softies (but leaving the medium comforts up front), it was amazing how much more balanced the car now felt. Gone was all the rear-end sliding, and now the front-end responded into turns with a very slight understeer. All of this is interesting. Did you think a Kei car would garner so many sentences and paragraphs during this section of the review? :) I sure did not.
Any way we slice it, this can be a difficult car to race, even when the power is low (ESPECIALLY when it is low!). Keep steering as light as you can to avoid spin-outs or darty behavior. The AZ-1 is one that should be reserved for those who have some more experience with the game. Too bad, since it looks cool, doesn't it? But personally, I'd recommend a Vitz or an Opti-Club to a beginner before I'd recommend an AZ-1.
Let's have some Pros and Cons.
1). Low initial cost.
2). Space-age 'electric car' looks feature gull-wing doors in real life. In the game we can't mess with these doors, but the AZ-1 still looks far out. Autozammm!!
3). GT2: The engine can be modified pretty good with two stages of intercooled turbo, will go further than that ‘other’ sporty mid-engine Kei car.
4). A highly nimble machine that (in the right hands) can outwit others. But it takes practice. Small size often guarantees the AZ-1 can fit thru tight areas, and get an advantage while passing during corners.
1). Low price tag doesn't include a warning to beginners about how difficult this car is to race!
2). Poor tire grip. You'll probably need slicks or sports after the first turbo modification, unless you're good at controlling extremely light, mid-engine cars.
3). Prone to spin-outs. The front tends to be too grippy thru corners. Balance is not this car's forté by any means.
4). Poor initial power and acceleration. Top speed maxes under 120 mph before engine upgrades.
5). GT4 & GT5: the Autozam doesn't get as much power from the MazdaSpeed aftermarket as it did in GT2.
6). Racing gearbox needed to increase top speed sometimes in some games.
7). Brake controller is also needed early.
8). So is the limited-slip for some drivers.
9). No racing kit in GT2.