Lowdown

Title: "Forza Motorsport 3"

Publisher: Microsoft

Platform: Xbox 360

Cost: $59.99

Web site: forzamotorsport.net

Like most drivers, I don't think much about how my car gets me from point A to point B. The idea of fiddling with my Nissan Sentra's engine, brakes or suspension is as appealing as being stuck in traffic. About the only thing I can do to my car is fill it with gas.

And yet I'm easily seduced by high-end auto-racing simulators like "Forza Motorsport" and "Gran Turismo." I enjoy popping the hood on a virtual Ferrari or Lamborghini -- because if I do any damage, I can easily reverse it.

"Forza Motorsport 3" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99) still lets you play grease monkey. But if you don't know the difference between a transmission and a carburetor, you can still coax maximum performance out of even a Ford Focus, thanks to a handy "quick upgrade" button.

That simple addition is emblematic of developer Turn 10's approach to "Forza 3" -- maintaining all the options that serious gearheads love while making the game accessible to people who just want to go for a spin.

Once you're on the track, the most noticeable new feature is the ability to rewind a few seconds of the race. Anyone who's ever played a racing game knows the frustration of seeing a big lead wiped out by a spinout on a corner. Gameplay rewind lets you try that corner again, and it really comes in handy if you've gotten bleary-eyed at the end of a long race.

For true beginners, "Forza 3" offers a variety of assists, including automatic braking, traction control and overlays that suggest when and where you should slow down. Once you start piling up easy victories, you'll want to turn off each of these options and add factors like tire wear and standard transmission control.

One other welcome change is that all of the game's 400-plus cars are unlocked from the start -- you just have to earn enough cash to buy them. That means you can get one of the more exotic vehicles fairly early on, so you can upgrade quickly from a Hyundai to a Maserati.

"Forza 3" looks sharper than ever, with gorgeous race tracks, detailed car modeling and the ability to paint whatever you like on your ride. And the in-car cockpit view, combined with the fact that every vehicle feels somewhat different, really makes you feel like you're behind the wheel.

Fans of more action-packed, arcade-like racers like "Burnout Paradise" may find the simple presentation of "Forza" boring. And it does suffer from achingly slow loading times, taking about a minute to go from starting a race to actually putting the pedal to the metal.

But since most of us don't make Jay Leno money, this is the only way we'll get a garage full of Jaguars and Porsches. And you won't get oil under your fingernails.

Rating: Three-and-a-half stars out of four.