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The Unsung Heroes of Gaming: The Mazda Demio A-Spec (Gran Turismo)

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“Get the new machine! Check the garage!”

Spare a thought for the poor old Mazda Demio.

It was never the best looking car in the world. The mid-90s version visually sat somewhere between the horrid, boxy Mercedes A Class and a Croc. (The plastic shoe, not the reptile.) It didn’t set the world alight in terms of its performance, either. It dawdled to 62 mph in 13.5 seconds. Nor was it particularly comfortable or luxurious, and it certainly wasn’t cool.

No, the Mazda Demio was practical, and it was relatively cheap, and – being a sensible, Japanese marque – it was fairly robust. Those were its key selling points. It wasn’t desirable, is the key takeaway here.

Then one day, the Mazda Demio got the nod that it would be featured in Gran Turismo, the slick, stylish, realistic driving simulator for Sony’s PlayStation console.

Why, exactly? We’re not sure. Perhaps because, while Sony was filling up the Gran Turismo roster, it tapped up Japanese carmakers like Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Mazda for their performance models.

And when your game features progression through a license system from slower to faster classes of racing, you can’t just focus on the top end. You need sensible cars for players to learn on, progress through, and, ultimately, leave behind. There’s even something pleasing about being able to virtually hoon around in the sort of car you normally drive down the shops. So for every Honda NSX, you’ll need a Civic and Prelude. For every Nissan Skyline, there’s a Pulsar and Primera. For every Toyota Supra, the Corolla and Starlet are filling the ranks.

Mazda only really featured three types of car in Gran Turismo. Yes, there were a dozen different trims, but for the most part it was just variations on the Wankel-powered RX7, the Eunos roadster/coupe (known as the MX-5 in Europe and the Miata in the US), and the lowly Mazda Demio.

And that’s OK. In a game of Top Trumps, somebody needs to be the weakest card, and in Gran Turismo? That was probably the Mazda Demio.

But there was an additional ignominy afforded the poor Mazda Demio: it was the prize players were awarded for winning Gran Turismo’s first and lowliest event, the Sunday Cup. Even its name sounds pedestrian, the “Sunday Cup” conjuring images of ageing, overweight men with cigarettes hanging out their mouths and crates of Carling in place of Lucozade, breathilly chasing a worn leather football around in the local Sunday League.

For winning the Sunday Cup outright, you receive 15,000 credits. There are prizes for placing well in the individual races, too – up to 3,000 credits for first place, with a 1,500 bonus for each pole position. That’s a lot of money in early-stage Gran Turismo terms. And then there’s the bonus prize.

“Get the new machine! Check the garage!” The game proclaims, with fervour. You check the garage and find the Mazda Demio A Spec spinning on a plinth, like a supercar at an auto show, displayed in all its glory. Trouble is, this looks less like a prized sports car and more like an upturned Tupperware glued to a roller skate and spray painted silver, going round in circles on a goamt lazy Susan.

You drive the Demio, then, moments later, resolve to sell it for reasons of awfulness. It’s here that the Demio’s true purpose becomes apparent. If you sell it to Toyota or Nissan or any other dealership, you’ll get just 10,000 credits, but if you sell it back to Mazda? It’ll be worth 12,000. That’s a useful lesson in Gran Turismo and in life, to be fair.

If Gran Turismo were released today, in the age of always-online games and heavy analytics, developer Polyphony Digital would no doubt have released a stat of how many Mazda Demio A Spec prize cars had been sold by players. It must be in the millions? It was by far the easiest way to progress through the early game, grinding out those little Mazdas in the Sunday Cup to allow you to buy better cars and upgrades.

Spare a thought for the poor old Mazda Demio, then. The booby prize. The lesson in dealership economics. The carnival prize token. The one car in Gran Turismo that’s specifically designed for nobody to want to keep it.

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