Guys, Top Gear is back
Chris Harris, Rory Reid, and a couple of key guests give us what we’ve been missing.
The show has finally stumbled on a workable formula that puts the right hosts in the right places. Evans, has proved he's quite good at shouting, and is stuck shouting in the passenger seat as Sabine Schmitz flings an Audi R8 V10 Plus around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. LeBlanc gets to exercise his comic timing after inadvisably replacing an open-top London sightseeing bus with Ken Block's Hoonicorn Mustang, and the bulk of the actual car reviewing goes to Chris Harris and Rory Reid. They both kill it.
Anyone that's watched Harris during his years on the YouTubes celebrated his appointment to the Top Gear team. But the show has criminally underused our favorite HarrisMonkey, relegating him to Extra Gear. His debut on the big show, then, is a reminder of what fans got excited for in the first place. He's great, running a lovely Ferrari 250 Tour de France around, um, France, before hitting up Circuit Paul Ricard. But rather than using the vintage Ferrari as a lead-in for the main attraction, like Evans did with last week's long-wheel McLaren F1 GTR, Harris actually drives the 250 on the track before into the new Ferrari F12 TdF.
The entire film looks and feels like Top Gear in a way that the show hasn't been able to manage before. Harris draws on his years of review experience and a penchant for drifting to put the F12 through its paces in the same entertaining, easy to understand way that made him a must-view on YouTube. For example, rather than getting all technical with the TdF's rear-wheel steering system, Harris tells us about how it impacts the performance. Considering the lack of driving impressions in the series, Harris' insights are refreshing. We sincerely hope Top Gear continues to use him.
Rory Reid has been the big surprise in this new season. He's made Extra Gear his own thing, a mix of interviewing, entertainment, and car reviewing. Reid's excelled in all three roles, but he showed his range on the last front this week with a three-car hot hatchback comparison. From bombing around Wales in a Ford Focus RS to working out the Honda Civic Type R and Mercedes-AMG A45 – a hatchback version of our CLA45 – on the TG track, Reid is a natural. His drive impressions aren't as detailed as Harris', but he's somehow more relatable – probably because he's not an inhuman drifting machine. Reid is giddy over the idea of a Drift Mode in the RS, and he makes excellent points about where Honda has gone wrong with the Type R. Where Harris can get bogged down in driving minutiae, Reid says the kind of things you might think after driving a car.
But Harris and Reid aren't the only things that make this the best new Top Gear episode so far. After a shaky start with the Dodge Viper and a better outing in the McLaren 675LT, Chris Evans comes into his own with his Audi R8 film. It's not as detailed or focused as Harris or Reid's videos, and Evans still shouts like a gameshow host, but this outing is far and away his best. You can see he's becoming more comfortable talking behind the wheel and sharing the camera with a car. It's good to see Evans paired up with Sabine again, too. The pair run hot laps around Laguna Seca, with the R8's electronic aids on then off, to see which way is faster.
While the test is interesting, TG could have published the results a bit better – it's just a footnote after the film. Also, I'm beginning to get worried about how the show is using Sabine. She was interesting in episode one, but her role in episode three could have been filled by the Stig (or the Stig's Californian cousin – that'd have been a sight). Yes, we know Sabine is a hot shoe racer, but her skill set is too broad to just use her as a Stig replacement.
Evans also gets to flex his interview muscles with a good pair of guests in this week's Superstar in a Rallycross Car segment. Paired with comedian and actor Kevin Hart and IBF World Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua, episode three's interview still has issues – the stilted introductions and car history comparisons suck the energy out of the segment, even with a guest as energetic as Hart – but it's not the cringe-worthy exercise of the last two episodes. In this segment, Evans asks some good questions, getting an inside look at both Joshua's boxing mentality and what it was like for Hart to repeatedly get slapped by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. You won't want to skip it.
Since debuting, Matt LeBlanc has established himself as a funny car guy with a natural character on camera. He's been a standout since his first Ariel Nomad video. For this episode, LeBlanc exercises his funny bone in a very James May way. We won't spoil his video with Ken Block and the Hoonicorn, but suffice it to say, it's the unnecessary but exuberant slide (pun intended) to top off the show's home run.
I'll admit, these recaps have been difficult to write. The first two episodes were just so hard to sit through, especially for fans of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond – it was like watching someone else drive your car. Episode three is the first time I felt that sense of wonder and entertainment that old Top Gear tapped into so easily during its prime. As I've said, there are still problems, but they are few and minor. A lot of that is because of Harris, Reid, and the guests. Can the show muster the same result next week, when it sounds like Harris and Reid will go back to their Extra Gear duties? I don't know. I doubt it. But TG has some smart producers, and if other outlets echo our positive reception of this week's episode, hopefully we'll see more of Harris and Reid in the future.
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