Top Gear Review – Series 20, Episode 2

So after the initial hurrah of a new series, we’re now at that awkward second episode stage for this season of Top Gear. Check out what EngageSportMode made of it below. Warning, contains spoilers, but is gluten-free.

Top Gear Series 20, Episode 2 – UK Air Date 7th July 2013

EngageSportMode wasn’t hugely complimentary of last week’s opening episode. So, what would the second episode bring us? Hopefully more car reviews and news, and less staged stunts and painful puns.

Car Review BAC Mono

BAC-MONO-2-1024x768

After some Cheshire jokes from Clarkson’s back catalogue (seriously, just read some of his books) we got to see the subject of this week’s big test; the single-seater BAC Mono. It’s quite weird to see a car featured so prominently that has been around for quite a while all ready, to the point where the Top Gear gave it an award back in February 2012. But regardless of that, a lightweight sportscar like the Mono should make for exciting TV.

Well, yeah, it probably would, but the Top Gear producers felt the need to go into overdrive with fireworks and fancy editing. I get that it’s meant to be dynamic and emotive, but at times I just want to see the car. It’s like buying a magazine to find every page releases bursts of confetti and tinsel; fancy but unnecessary.

After the regular jokes about the Mono having an open cockpit, Clarkson finally got down to the business of evaluating the car itself. In all fairness, Jezza actually did a pretty good job for a change, extolling the virtues of the Mono’s prodigious cornering ability through a clever cornering speed comparison. This is what I watch a car programme for, to learn about stuff like this.

Reading back through my notes, despite the OTT production, the BAC Mono review was actually fairly comprehensive. The Stig put it around the track to record the second quickest lap time so far; impressive stuff.

Rating A-

The News

Let us be honest, the “news” on Top Gear isn’t really news in the format the rest of the media world understands it. In reality it’s more recent announcements used for entertainment. This week we had Clarkson joking about taking up cycling, some cringe-worthy “jokes” about improving Formula 1 and the self-parking Volvo. Oh, and there was also a drawn out sketch about new super cars. Meh.

Rating C –

Taxi Racing Feature

I’m going to admit I hadn’t watched the trailers properly, so I was actually taken in by this. Then I saw Lydden Hill what this was really about; a race like the buses and campervans seen in seasons past. Good, I thought. Then I saw the “hilariously” placed PortaKabin next to the track. Oh dear, I thought, I can tell what’s coming.

With the choice of contenders including a VW Beetle, Ford Crown Victoria, stretch Limousine and classic Austin FX4. With touring car legends such as Anthony Reid, Matt Neal, Tom Chilton and Gordon Shedden the racing should have been fun to watch. Top Gear must have been struggling to make up numbers as Paul O’Neill had been invited along too.

I’ll cut to the chase. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t actually about racing, but about more staged stunts. Hammond crashed through the PortaKabin, the Limousine got split in two and another car rolled spectacularly. Why Top Gear, why?! You didn’t do this with the buses or campervans, why did you need to ruin this one? Damn you.

Rating D + 

Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Ron Howard

I’m possibly going to be a little bit harsh on this week’s subject, but that’s mainly because I’m a little bit saturated with Ron’s presence. I know he’s just released Rush, but he seems to have been at every Grand Prix for the last five years. Every grid walk I’ve seen Martin Brundle do, there’s been Ron loping around in the background. He was there at the German Grand Prix on Sunday, so come Top Gear time my Howard-ometer was maxed out.

He seems a nice guy, a little bit dull, but not much of a racer. Clarkson spent more time talking about his children’s middle names rather than cars. In the end, Ron set a rather slow lap time and he’ll still always be Richie from Happy Days whatever films he makes.

Rating C –

BBC Television Centre Race

I pay my licence fee for this?! Two free runners versus motorbike trials legend Dougie Lampkin in a “race” through the empty BBC Television Centre in White, City London. In the end it was so obviously staged that it eroded a lot of the impact of what was being done. It also made me start hoping that James May would fall through a fragile roof, such was the irritating nature of his commentary. Lampkin won, with a rather impressive jump to the finish line, but the rest was just dross.

Rating F

Driven Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

Ignore the premise about attempting to prove supercars like the 730 hp F12 can still be used effectively in the United Kingdom and this wasn’t actually too bad a segment. Yes there was more OTT production effects and silly analogies, but on the whole it felt a bit more like Top Gear of yore, even if Clarkson did conclude that the car had too much power. There was some impressive slow-motion footage, and Jezza getting the Ferrari completely airborne at one stage over a hump in the road.

My only main criticism is, that having watched Chris Harris On Cars for some time now, I have to admit Harris does a much better job of actually road-testing a car on film. So no matter what Top Gear tries to do, real petrolheads actually have probably already moved on.

Rating A –

When it’s Clarkson talking about cars in isolation, this programme still works. When you throw in James May and staged stunts and gags it rapidly descends into stupidity. I can see a theme emerging already.

Overall Rating C

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