Top Gear is revving its engines as it looks to accelerate full-speed ahead into a new era after its stalled start in 2016. But if the first series without Clarkson, May and Hammond was a *cough* car crash – Chris Evans’ iteration was a disappointment with critics and audiences alike – and last year’s series was an attempt at rebuilding, then the new run looks ready to put the pedal to the metal and maybe even guide it back to its glory days.
It’s down to Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid to find their own identity while winning back long-time fans of Top Gear – and on the evidence of the first episode of series 25, they look very close to striking a winning formula that stays true to the show without becoming a cheap imitation of its past.
LeBlanc appeared comfortable at the helm in the first episode of the new season, although if truth be told, with his presenting team of Chris Harris and Rory Reid, it feels like the three petrolheads are on an equal footing, enjoying their time together.
The banter between the trio is fantastic – and it was an inspired choice to kick the series off with an episode almost entirely dedicated to a road trip across Nevada in tribute to the V8 engine.
Their cheeky humour shines through, especially with a number of impromptu tasks, including a Wild West “duel in the dirt”. After which, the loser is faced with a nail-biting challenge – the watch-between-your-fingers ‘Chain Car Figure of 8’ which really has to be seen to be believed.
It’s not all long open roads and inventive tasks, though – at one point, the trio face a race against Officer Block as they run a crate of moonshine to the state line. And we’ve also got the return of the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car segment, which is a very welcome move.
This week, it’s comedian Rob Brydon in the hot seat – and it’s worth watching for his commentary on his run alone. Charming, hilarious and knowledgeable, he’s a great guest to kick off the series, even if Matt and Rory can’t resist tearing into some of his choices in cars.
He set himself a goal of beating Tinie Tempah’s time of 1:50.04 – you’ll have to check the episode this weekend to see if he was able to – but the excuses came in early as the track was absolutely drenched.
Battling the elements, Rob struggled with the gears but got enough control to put in a very good effort. Commentating on his run, he teased from the studio: “The classic Roman profile gripping the wheel with assuredness and a strange sensuality.”
Naturally, it’s not perfect – some lines and segments come across as a little awkward and too scripted, with the three stars still finding their feet and getting used to each other. Reid admitted last year that chemistry doesn’t come overnight, and while that’s definitely true, they’ve still taken great strides and now come across as much more likeable.
There was a slight disappointment that the trio couldn’t complete a challenge at Bonneville – the US’ fastest race track – because freak rain left it waterlogged, but they seem just as gutted as us. Harris admitted: “I suppose I’ve now got one of the worst Bonneville stories out of anyone I know.”
All in all, the biggest take away from the first episode is just how easy it is to watch without comparing it to what has come before, and enjoy it for what it is. Sure, The Grand Tour has Top Gear’s successful and beloved trio at the helm, but LeBlanc, Harris and Reid are in the driving seat of a new era and the road ahead looks clear. Hit the gas, boys.