We are now two-thirds of the way into this season of Top Gear. So, how did episode four shape up? Like an old copy of Max Power magazine, this post contains spoilers.
Top Gear Series 20, Episode 4 – UK Air Date 21st July 2013
This episode turned out to be somewhat of a mixed-bag in terms of quality, ranging from competent to cringeworthy.
Car Review Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series & SLS AMG Electric Drive
Top Gear doesn’t have a fantastic reputation when it comes to featuring electric-powered cars on the show. The 2008 test of the Tesla Roadster ended in a failed law suit by the manufacturer, claiming Top Gear had been libellous in claiming the cars featured had run out of power. Fortunately for Mercedes-Benz, and their lawyers, the SLS AMG Electric Drive received no such treatment. In fact, I would go so far as to say this was one of Clarkson’s best reviews for quite some time.
Aside from some silly German accents, the petrol-powered SLS AMG Black was presented in a fairly sensible manner, with Jezza explaining just what a difference the revisions made to the car had when used on track. The usually elaborate production seemed to have been turned down a notch too; perhaps the crazy graphics guy rang in sick that day?
Things carried on being informative and sensible when attention switched to the eye strainingly fluorescent Electric Drive. Yes there were jokes about it being “quieter than a library for church mice” but in general it was all good. JC explained how the electrics worked, what made it special, and gave a great demonstration of just how effective it was.
At times it was difficult to dovetail this with some of the staged humour and gags seen in recent episodes and series. Either way, it was a pleasant surprise and did two impressive cars justice.
Conspicuous in its shortness. Clarkson made comments about the Conservative Government not increasing the motorway speed limit, and why this was a good thing. Followed up by some talk about flooding, which proved to be an interlude for the main feature.
Rating B –
Feature Part 1 Hover Van
Ah. So this is where episode four starts to go rapidly downhill. Based on a loose challenge to develop a vehicle capable of helping flood-hit communities, such as Tewkesbury, the trio decided that a car converted to a hovercraft would be the best solution.
After a scene involving a lengthy explanation by James May about how hovercraft work – probably ripped from one of his other shows – Hammond arrived with the base vehicle; a Ford Transit van. What followed was a workshop segment with the usual staged “gags” typically with May being the butt of them.
The end result was a Transit van, sans doors, but with two small engines mounted in the cargo bay, and huge fan on the back and some rubber skirts. Naturally, the first attempt at getting it to work failed, so it was back to the workshop.
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Hugh Jackman
Another week, another celebrity promoting a new film on Top Gear, who also happens not to be that much of a car person. It does make you wonder; has Clarkson used up the world’s supply of famous people who actually like driving?
But, in his defence, Hugh turned out to be actually rather amusing to the point where it was him leading the interview, not Jezza. On track, Wolverine set a fairly respectable time, and showed his commitment throughout the lap.
Feature Part 2 Hover Van
After the “unplanned” sinking in part one, the second instalment of the hovercraft feature saw a revised design packing a lot more horsepower for lift and thrust. additional buoyancy aids meant it might actually have some chance of staying afloat too.
Launching onto the river Avon, Clarkson, May and Hammond had immediate difficulties in controlling the Hover Van. They did succeed in cracking the windscreen, getting stuck in bushes and soaking people on the river banks with its ridiculous spray.
Heading downstream, more people got soaked, a man fell out of a boat and riverside restaurant patrons got drenched. The Hover Van also encountered problems in a lock, when all three abandoned ship to open the gates.
Perhaps I’ve lost my sense of humour down the back of the sofa, but it just wasn’t that funny. The jokes can be spotted a nautical mile off, nothing is really surprising, and I’m just left with the idea that “I thought this was a car show” ringing in my head.
Feature Rating D –
This episode left me feeling frustrated. Frustrated that Top Gear can still do good quality, and entertaining, motoring journalism with features like the Mercedes SLS twins. But then it throws it all down the drain with more staged silliness like the Hover Van. The juxtaposition is schizophrenic at times, and feels like it’s trying to appeal to everyone at once.