I've not owned a Need for Speed game before, mainly because it really was not my type of thing (I much prefer the likes of Race Pro and Forza).
Maybe that's EA's mistake, and this should have never have been a Need for Speed game in the first place. It will probably disappoint loyal fans of the series and sim fans won't touch it with a barge-pole because it's a Need for Speed game.
So it's fair to say that it's too realistic to be an arcade game and too lightweight to be an outright sim racer (OK, so some cars can be fitted with Nitrous tanks, but you can avoid that altogether and it won't affect your game at all).
Who's going to like it? People who don't mind compromising on absolute realism and who just want a great racer that is exciting to play.
OK, so the handling is a bit different to other games you might have played before, and some people have commented that the cars feel too oversteery (not sure that's a word, but never mind). True, some of the early cars feel that way, but once you get to the second, third and forth tiers of cars, they are much more balanced and realistic to drive. Once you learn that you can't just mash the accelerator all the time and that you have to balance the throttle a lot more than you do in other games (the game actually rewards you for doing this) then even the early cars become good to drive (it's worth noting that I play with driving aids all off - so I can't comment on what it feels like with them on).
The game looks great too, especially in-car (better than even the great Forza 3 in that department).
The levelling up system is quite clever and classes you into either a precision or aggressive driver, this rating carries on into the multiplayer where it will try and match you to other drivers that race the same way you do.
The only complaint I have is that the AI (on Hard) is far too aggressive and on medium is too easy to beat. Having said that the AI cars do crash spontaneously and quite realistically. It all adds up to races that feel quite real and exciting to be in. Although if you pick hard AI then you will have to re-start a lot (no rewind feature here).
I, like many people, bought this for something to do until Forza 3 came out, but it can certainly hold it's own amongst top tier competition like GRID and PGR and will probably appeal to some of the people who liked those games.
All in all it's a great racer!