It’s no shock that "Gran Turismo 4" turns out to be a very good video game. But I sure didn’t expect that somebody like me would enjoy it so much.

"GT 4" is built for grease monkeys. That’s not me. My real-life car? I’m just happy to hear the engine turn over. It doesn’t need to growl.

This game has an outrageous collection of more than 700 branded cars, each meticulously reproduced from actual car parts that can be swapped for better parts, which can be swapped for still better parts, and on and on.

But here’s the good news: The "GT 4" folks thought of people like me. You don’t have to pick up a single virtual wrench in this game, courtesy of the very fine Arcade Mode, which allows you to quickly zoom off into some of the best racing environments produced in a video game.

Right from go, Arcade Mode offers more than 200 cars, along with a bunch of tracks ranging from dirt-racing routes to famous circuits like the turn-crazy Nurburgring Nordschleife in Germany. You can unlock more goodies, if you’re so inclined, but heck, isn’t the 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan enough?

I kid, of course, though you really can drive that vehicle in "GT 4" if you so desire.

All this said, you wrench wranglers will simply wallow in the depths of Gran Turismo Mode, the rock upon which this beloved multimillion-unit series was built.

This is where you must earn every single car you drive, starting with just a pocketful of credits to buy your first beater. You must win various licenses to gain entry into progressively tougher races. Winning means more credits, more cars, more opportunities to tinker to your ultimate delight.

GT Mode does a great job of organizing your choices on a large home map. You can leave your garage to race, or jump over to ogle new and used rides at domestic and foreign dealerships, take on special challenges and buy parts upgrades.

Once you’re proud of your ride, you can enter a mode that allows you to put it in special settings for photographs.

The cars roll out into some of the best-looking racecourses you’ll find anywhere, with panoramic settings of places like the Grand Canyon and the Swiss Alps. Big improvements make fans stand out on the side of the road. In some races, they gesture, cheer and even dangerously creep onto the roadway to shoot pictures.

Keep in mind that these cars mimic real life. If you run into something, the point-of-view camera jolts like you bonked your head on the window. These are great physics achievements, but don’t expect spectacular crashes.

None of the cars take damage. For a simulator, it seems they’ve left out a major reality there.

But the user-friendly design is thoughtfully inviting both to mechanics and morons, and that makes "GT 4" the best of its kind on PlayStation 2.

© 2005, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.