Top Gear Returns – Series 20, Episode 1 Review

Top Gear is arguably the biggest motoring-related television programme in the world. So for what is now the 20th (!) series, EngageSportMode will be writing a short review of each episode. So here we go [warning, contains non-aerodynamic spoilers]:

Top Gear Series 20, Episode 1 – UK Air Date 30th June 2013

I’m not sure what I’m more surprised at. The fact new Top Gear is now into its 20th series, or that I can still remember reading the copy of the magazine which announced the beginning of this era back in October 2002. Eitherway, the latest series is claimed to reflect the fact the format is now almost eligible for secondary school by promising to deliver “more mature and slowed down” action. Cue montage of destruction, caravans, staged comedy moments and more caravans.

Car Reviews: Peugeot 208 GTI, Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo, Ford Fiesta ST

Celebrating the emergence of three new junior hot-hatches, Richard Hammond put all three of the above to work on the Top Gear test-track. This feature is probably one of the biggest performance car tests of the summer for those in the real world. The usual OTT production visuals and music made it hard to see any actual on track driving, or hear what sounds the three souped-up superminis make – bar the Renault. Hammond trotted out the same clichés about “flappy-paddle gearboxes” in the twin-clutch Clio, and was then amazed that the Fiesta had been lowered by 15mm. In the end, Hamster proclaimed the Fiesta ST to be the best, despite it being slowest in a drag-race. After some usual Stig jokes, the three cars were put round the track with the Clio fastest, Fiesta second and 208 third.

As a review for the average punter, it was OK. But as someone who might want to actually buy one of the three cars tested, I didn’t quite feel so well-informed.

Rating B –

The News

Some stuff about pubs in motorway service stations, using cheese sauce to fill pot holes…yeah, I’d zoned out of this.

Rating D +

Main Feature: Epic race – Car vs Boat in New Zealand

Episode one’s piece de resistance was a race between James May on an America’s Cup yacht, and Clarkson in the “world’s fastest car”; a hire car. Clarkson’s argument for the very average Toyota Corolla being the fastest vehicle available, is that as it belongs to somebody else you don’t care how you drive it. Fair point.

Starting from the same point, both had to reach New Zealand’s second most northern point. Clarkson had further to go, but the benefits of the quicker car, whereas May had a shorter journey but the uncomfortable and unpredictable yacht to rely on. From the offset, Clarkson’s segments had the feeling of being a huge advert for Avis hire cars, with him extolling the virtues of damage waivers and swapping his destroyed blue Corolla for a red one. May, on the other hand, was shown constantly unhappy and drenched.

My gut feeling was “does anyone actually believe” these races are real anymore? Watching Clarkson accidentally hit a wall, or clip a sign, just left me wondering why? In the beginning these epic races were lauded as a true test of the car versus other forms of transport. Now they just feel like an extended slap-stick routine. Although at least it was harder to fake the torment James May went through on the yacht.

Rating: C+

Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Brian Johnson, Joss Stone, Rachel Riley, Warwick Davis, Jimmy Carr, plus others

The Kia Cee’d is gone, welcome the new Reasonably Priced Car the Vauxhall Astra Tech Line 1.6. As is the custom, to launch the new car the Top Gear team hosted a BBQ at the test-track and invited along various celebrities to set lap times. In amongst this were some cringeworthy scenes, with Warwick Davis sitting on bread buns to be able to see over the steering wheel, Hamster being awkward around Joss Stone (my, hasn’t she grown) and Clarkson attempting to woo Rachel Riley. AC/DC rocker Brian Johnson set the fastest lap on the new board.

Motoring TV shouldn’t make me feel the need to cower behind the sofa at how awkward it makes me feel, unless a Sssangyong Rodius is pictured on-screen. This segment did unfortunately.

Rating: C (mainly because of Joss Stone).

In conclusion, episode 1 felt very much painting-by-numbers for Top Gear. Nothing was really a surprise, and you could spot the gags coming 2.7 miles away. Hopefully things will improve next week…

Overall Rating: C-

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