It's effectiveness was partially due to the odd performance by Gosling. For me, the choice of Gosling was brilliantly against type, whereas if McQueen were still alive, it would be just another stereotypical adrenalin ride for him.
Is Gosling heir to McQueen's franchise? Hardly. McQueen has flinty McQueen eyes that betray a subtext of humanity in turmoil. Gosling has Betsy-Wetsy eyes that convey the subtext of a vacant parking lot. Even so this subtext becomes scary during the course of the film in the same way a smiling Stepford wife would be, or a great white shark-- a violence is hidden by the blandness, a violence that now and then flashes suddenly out of the void with deadly accuracy. It is difficult to predict what Gosling's character will do next. In fact, it is difficult to predict if he will do anything at all, ever. Many of the scenes are of such protracted inaction that after a while I almost expected to hear the director's voice call out "action." Or maybe it was my internal voice begging for it?
I realize that the "lack of affect" Gosling portrays was a choice of both his and the director's. He reacts to everything that confronts his character with the same, half bemused smile: love, death, sorrow, pain. No righteous anger, no loss of control, no nerves enter into his behavior set. His movements are precise and ballet-like. He seems to rather enjoy whatever experience he is having at the moment, whether driving, or helping the down and out, or killing scumbags, and so ultimately the question becomes: can we care about what happens to a sociopath? Can a sociopath be a hero? I think the answer is no.
In many ways DRIVE reads like a horror movie with the driver in the role of monster. But it does make an interesting film to watch.