Currently this season of Top Gear is averaging a C grade from EngageSportMode’s reviews. Could a supercar themed third instalment help bump up the marks to something worthy of putting on the fridge door? As ever, contains spoilers (but no donkeys).
Top Gear Series 20, Episode 3 – UK Air Date 14th July 2013
We’re now really getting into the meat of this 20th series of Top Gear. In keeping with seasons past, this episode featured an “epic journey” pitting the three presenters against the realities of bankrupt Spain.
Feature Part 1 Affordable Supercars in Spain Road Trip
It’s a format we’ve seen before: each presenter picks a car and heads out on a themed road trip through a certain location. In the past this has borne witness to the sublime journey to the Millau viaduct (series 7), to the stupid US Special (series 9) and the downright embarrassing Albania mafia trip (series 16).
This episode saw Clarkson behind the wheel of a Mclaren MP4/12C Spider, Hammond in the Ferrari 458 Spider and May in an Audi R8 Spyder, making their way through Spain. The kicker was that, due to España’s current financial crisis, the trio had to make sensible choices and prove their car was the most affordable and austere. The vehicles chosen were said to be at the “budget” end of the supercar market, and thus appropriate for driving through a country with huge unemployment. Throughout the episode the challenge would therefore be for the trio to prove that their car was the least conspicuous and most cost conscious choice. To be fair, the question of an affordable, discreet supercar seems a hyperbole, but that’s for another article.
The first challenge came in the form of each presenter attempting to drive through Puerto Banús on the Costa del Sol, whilst getting the fewest number of pictures taken of their respective car. EngageSportMode once tried to go to Puerto Banús but ended up in Marbella instead due to ESM’s OH’s navigating. Luckily direction was no problem for Top Gear. James May went first in the Audi R8, followed by Hammond in the Ferrari. Clarkson was positively mobbed by the time he took his turn, meaning he lost. Badly.
Another challenge revolved around proving which car’s engine was the quietest when hammering around an empty housing development (one of many in Spain). Clarkson’s Mclaren and May’s Audi tied on 105 decibel, whilst Hammond’s Ferrari racked up 107. It’s fair to say the Audi sounded immense, and exactly like that awesome advert.
This week’s news began with an admission that the previous episodes test of the Ferrari F12 had not been filmed in Hertfordshire as Clarkson had claimed. It was quite obvious from the previous programme that it was Scotland, but as is the way with Top Gear numerous people felt the need to point this out for those to stupid to realise. But then there was a significant number of people willing to believe Michael Schumacher was The Stig…
Amongst some scripted humour on electronic accessories, was a remark made by Hammond about powered boot closures being fitted to cars, which rang a bell. Mainly because the comments seemed identical to this on Sniff Petrol, written by Top Gear script editor Richard Porter. There was also a segment discussing “Sport” mode being fitted to cars, and the fact they make no different to lap times. EngageSportMode obviously disagreed with this!
Finally, there were jokes at the expense of a humorously named car designer.
Even less news than usual, and a coincidental dig at EngageSportMode. Oh dear.
Rating D –
Feature Part 2
Seconds out, round two, of the road trip across Spain in affordable supercars. Highlighting the España economic problem, the team came across the abandoned Ciduad Real Central Airport which cost €1.1bn to build but closed after less than two years of operations.
With a main runway 4km long, the obvious challenge to try and get the maximum speed from each of the three cars. Clarkson’s Mclaren was fastest, followed by the Ferrari, with the Audi bringing up the rear. Although outgunned in a straight-line, it was pleasing to note that the R8 wasn’t a million miles an hour away from its much costlier competitors.
Sensibleness out-of-the-way, the second test on the runway was a drag race to see who could get their roof up, and complete a quarter-mile first. Hammond was at a disadvantage, given that the 458 Spider has to be completely stationary to raise its hood. Something which struck me at this point was that, somehow, Top Gear was making supercar driving seem boring; something I never thought I’d say.
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Benedict Cumberbatch
The guy off of Star Trek and Sherlock in case you’re wondering. Seemed a nice bloke, but not much of a car guy. In all honesty he was more than likely just there to promote the third series of the BBC’s Sherlock due to air in October. Not hugely quick, not hugely slow.
Rating B –
Feature Part 3
After spending the night in one of Spain’s many empty houses, the grand finale of the episode was a time attack competition on a hastily built street-circuit in Madrid. Using the roads designed for a housing estate that nobody can afford to live in, the team shipped in The Stig to set a time in a Jaguar XKR-S convertible. Each presenter would then have to try and beat the time in their respective vehicle.
It looked fairly impressive, with more slow motion footage similar to that of Chris Harris On Cars, and some swoopy boom camera shots, but was over almost as quickly as it began. Back in the studio, with a typical Top Gear conclusion, the Audi was hailed as the winner but all three would take the Ferrari. Cutting edge journalism at work there.
Feature Rating B
Overall, despite my sardonic tone, this episode was better than the previous two by way of the fact it concentrated more on the cars themselves. However, Top Gear fails to capture that visceral and emotional pleasure from driving a supercar, unlike other online or even print media. But that is a reminder that TG is an entertainment show which happens to feature cars, rather than an actual car show.
Overall Rating C +