Can being coached by a pro on a PlayStation improve your driving on the track? Turns out it can, but not in the way you might think
Sony's XZ Premium has an intriguing feature tucked away in its angular body. The Sony flagship is well known for boasting a 4K display; a feature that's either impressive or silly, depending on your outlook. What you might not know, however, is that you can also use the Sony XZ Premium – along with its Xperia stablemates – to play full-blown PS4 console games.
Known as Remote Play, the feature is a simple idea. You first pair your phone with your PS4 or PS4 Pro and then pair your controller with the phone, at which point you can play full-fat console games on the screen of your Xperia phone. It even works on Sony's crazy touch-driven Android projector, the Sony Xperia Touch.
After some coaching from a pro driver on the PlayStation, the idea was to transfer our hard-earned “skills” to an actual proper car on the North Circuit to see whether we could put what we'd learned into practice.
As you'll discover, the answer to that question is “not really.” That said, as an exercise it certainly opened my eyes to a feature that, because I don't own a PlayStation (sorry Sony), I hadn't tried out much before.
Part 1: Remote Play training
If Sony wanted to prove a point, it certainly managed to do that. With four PS4 Pro consoles connected up to matching Sony Xperia XZ1 phones, mounted atop DualShock controllers, we were invited to take a seat – facing away from the PS4 Pro – and race around Brands Hatch in a Mercedes AMG-CLS 63, the same car we would drive around on a hot lap of the track later on in the afternoon.
The challenge was to get as fast a lap time as possible, with the help and advice of our tame pro racing driver.
After a few laps, it became abundantly clear that, despite many, many hours wasted on Forza Motorsport 7, I'm still NOT VERY GOOD at driving games. I'm always braking too late, carrying too much speed into the corners and generally a little, well, untidy. But with some gentle guidance, I was able to slowly nibble away at my lap times, and eventually get the lap time down to a point at which it wasn't completely embarrassing.
I'm going to be charitable here, because there were clearly Wi-Fi issues at play. The fact you can do anything like this on a phone is pretty impressive, and others at the event managed to score lap times that I couldn't get near, even when I eventually turned around and played on the big screen.
Part 2: Putting training into practice
So now for the fun part. Driving an actual car, really fast, around around a real track. In fact, the car I ended up driving was a Mercedes AMG-CLS 63 – a 576bhp monster of a saloon, with a 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged engine capable of roaring from 0 to 60mph in a nosebleed-inducing 4.1 seconds.
My copilot instructs me to floor the throttle as hard as I can and then slam the brakes once I've hit god knows what speed, just to get used to how capable the car is. After a couple of rounds of this, we venture out onto the track. A couple of laps in and, sure enough, I get over-confident and forget to brake in time for the corner at the end of the fastest straight on the lap.
At this point on the PlayStation, I'd career into the barriers, curse under my breath and resume – no harm done, except to my ego.
In real life, the consequences would be rather more severe, which is why my copilot has dual controls; he hits the brakes in the nick of time and we make it around the corner by the skin of of our teeth.
I laugh nervously at this point. A little bit of wee comes out.
And no, I'm not going to share the in-car video footage of my terrified face. You don't want to see it, trust me.
One thing is clear, though: permission to drive a 576bhp car around a track as fast as you like (within reason) is great fun, exhilarating and exhausting – all at the same time. And it's nothing like sitting in a comfy leather chair, attempting to improve my lap times little by little.
The question is, did I learn anything at all, or was this just a desperate ploy to get me to use Remote Play. Well, it's a bit of both. I certainly learned how to corner properly in my time on the sofa and my lap times did improve. I like to think that stood me in good stead on the track, too.
I also learned you need a reliable Wi-Fi connection for Remote Play to function correctly and that, as well as being – at best – a middling console-game driver, I'm also far from the speediest driver on the track. Clearly those skills need some work.