The new Top Gear fronted by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc has just aired on BBC2 in the UK. And while it’s not terrible, it’s also not great either. The new format involves Evans and LeBlanc as the main presenters, with Sabine Schmidt only involved in a short stunt driving segment, and internet-famous pair of Chris Harris and Rory Reid relegated to ‘Top Gear: Extra Gear’ only available online via BBC3.
The new Top Gear feels like you’re watching a dominant world champion switch to a new team and struggling. Whatever you personally felt about Clarkson, Hammond and May, the trio had an undeniable chemistry which meant that watching Top Gear felt like being with some slightly incompetent mates who realised how lucky they were to be doing the job they did.
The Evans & LeBlanc version feels like watching Michael Schumacher struggling in a Mercedes. Or Matt LeBlanc in Joey.
Essentially the new series seems to have slimmed the trio down to a duo who seem to have met about 5 minutes before filming. Fortunately the format of new Top Gear appears to be a slightly bigger and flabbier version of what was already working, so at least they’re working with a proven formula. Unfortunately the fact it’s so similar to what has come before, it highlights what’s been lost with the stand-ins.
First up was a 2016 Dodge Viper ACR with a price of around $122,490, being hooned by Evans around the U.S Navy Top Gun base in a dogfight against Sabine Schmidt in a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Coupe. Which apparently isn’t close to the Viper, but what they didn’t mention is that the standard model is $40,000 cheaper than the Viper ACR. Or £27,383 in old money, which is quite a price difference. It’s also a comparison that has been done in a number of places already – for instance, U.S mag/Youtube channel Motor Trend did it back in January
There was a typical challenge which saw Evans and LeBlanc attempt to drive from London to Blackpool in Reliant Rialtos, and then up a mountain in a Land Rover and a Willy’s Jeep. And the most interesting and enjoyable part was LeBlanc taking to the desert in Morocco to test the new Arial Nomad. Mainly because the Nomad is so cool that it would be almost impossible to make it seem dull.
And it was the only part that didn’t bring back memories of Clarkson rolling a Robin Reliant, or driving a Range Rover up a mountain to the displeasure of conservationists across the UK. Or trying to get invalid carriages up a mountain.
The Top Gear set seems to have been expanded with a gallery which brings to mind a TFI Friday look. And now everyone enters via some sliding doors, which kills some time. Along with the slightly pointless and dull interview of the Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car, Gordon Ramsay and Jesse Eisenberg, who had the experience of driving a BMW Mini around a Top Gear test track which now includes two off-road sections designed by British WRC driver Liam Doran.
It’s particularly annoying, as the Top Gear: Extra Gear with Rory Reid and Chris Harris has some chemistry, some actual car news, a good chat with comedian Chris Ramsey, and Harris actually gives some good feedback on driving the Nomad on the Top Gear track. Plus Reid goes to chat with Sabine Schmidt at her home at the Nurburgring. Basically it feels like if you wanted to solve all the issues of cloning Top Gear, you’d have had a much better chance with Reid, Harris and Schmidt – see for yourself on the BBC iPlayer.
We’ll wait and see if the new Top Gear improves over the coming weeks – it’s not unbearable to watch, although Chris Evans’ constant enthusiasm and LeBlanc’s constant bemusement at the English might start to get annoying. And rather than facing the prospect of the two of them in 90 minute specials, the Clarkson, May and Hammond Grand Tour will be available on Amazon in the Autumn…