Okay, we’ve made it. It’s finally here – the last episode of the worst ever season of Top Gear. The conclusion of what has been a painful season, I can’t wait for this to be over. Truth be told, I almost skipped reviewing this episode. But having done the other five, I can’t just ignore this last one and sleep well at night. Now then, let’s crack on.
Chris Harris starts the first film with a glowing remembrance of Honda in days gone by. Following the new millennium, Honda has apparently gone from being sporty to turning out “beige stuff your gran would drive”. But all that is set to change with the new Honda NSX gearing up. Unlike the original, this model was designed and built in America instead of Honda’s homeland, Japan.
Boasting a 3.5-litre V6 turbo engine and nine-speed gearbox and four motors for the four-wheel drive, the new hybrid NSX sounds extremely promising. Harris does note some downsides, though. The flappy gear paddles feel ‘cheap’, the interior is unmistakably Honda and the outside looks like “somebody has face-swapped an R8 and a McLaren”. As with most supercars, it does carry a hefty price-tag – £130,000. Harris reckons the price is worth it and does the only sensible thing he can do – hand it over to the Stig! With both battery and petrol engines to drive him forward, Stig manages a lap in a respectable 1-17.6.
Beginning with a list of great American inventions (“the swivel chair, spandex… the spork”) Matt reveals the greatest one yet – muscle cars. One question he has though – do they work outside America? How about on the A835 in Scotland? Rory Reid takes the world’s most iconic muscle car- the Ford Mustang – to find out. Due to Britain’s backwards driving, overtaking is nigh-impossible. But not in the new Mustang GT. With the steering wheel on the right, this version is now drivable on the tiny island that is Britain.
With new suspension at the rear and brakes that work, the feature that grabbed my (childish) attention is called ‘line lock’. What it does is keeps your car perfectly steady as you send clouds of smoking across starting lines. Unlike the last part, this car is much more affordable – just under £35,000. But it’s neither as fast nor efficient as some other cars. Ford realised this and made the Ecoboost – a much tamer Mustang. With the same engine as the Focus RS and over 300HP, it’s not bad. But Reid reckons neither is really worth the salt. The true winner is the one and only, the original Ford Mustang.
Stars in Cars
I willingly admit, I haven’t been a fan of the new format. Shove a celebrity in a car and watch them tumble around a race track – that’s driving. Throwing them through a pile of mud is off-roading and not a fair measure of their skills. By with Craig Davies and Patrick Dempsey going on, I feel it was quite a success this time. There’s a clip of Dempsey in his upcoming Bridget Jones’ Baby and Davies is in the third season of his own (written and starring) Man Down. Despite appalling conditions and minimal training, Davies pulls in 2-27.1. The much more experienced Dempsey comes in at 2-12.0.
Matt realises that he has done some good things at Top Gear but one thing he’s not done yet is tested a car on their track. After some polite letters between himself and the producers, they send him out with the new Porsche 911 R. Although Matt instantly falls for his new love, it does carry the high figure of £137,000 and a small petrol tank. There’s also no air-conditioning or radio but (and I flashed back to his role of Joey here) there is room for a sandwich.
The 911 R’s main rival is (bizarrely) the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. With bells and whistle included, the GT3 RS has the same engine but six thousand pounds off the price. But, in Matt’s book, that doesn’t make it any better. Lots of modern cars are so full of details and extra bits that people like the Stig are needed to fully use them. Matt feels that the simplicity of the 911 R brings it back to the basics and gives the driver a better connection to the car.
For Evans’ final showing on Top Gear, he reminisces about cars of the past. Older models were designed by hand, there were more problems, they were noisy and uncomfortable and they leaked everywhere. So why are there companies fixing up the problems on old models and building them up again? Chris takes a new/old Aston Martin DB5 for a spin. Features that you can add in for the rebuild can include power steering, air-conditioning and even satellite navigation. But all that fixing, rebuilding and upgrading doesn’t come cheap – easily passing a solid £1,000,000. Similar prices are spread across other models, ranging from the inexpensive £435,000 to far more than you should be spending on anything. Chris takes a new/old MGB out for a drive and realises that the modern upgrades do make it all the better.
For the episode (and season) finale, the team came up with something less serious and more fun. On the rallycross stage, the Stars drive each week is a small jump where most of them catch some air. So, the six presenters decided to see who could go the longest. The winner drives through a muddy puddle whilst the others get to stand nearby wearing plastic ponchos. In viewing order, here’s what we got:
- Rory goes first and gets a very meagre 2.8 metres – the scale begins at 2M.
- Sabine has the smart idea of draining the fuel tank to lighten the car slightly – 1.6 metres.
- Evans drops the spare seat and takes a longer run-up than the others – 8.9 metres.
- Matt spends some time waiting for the breeze to shift direction and carry him even further – 8.2 metres.
- Harris taps up the cracks to improve aerodynamics – 14.0 metres, way beyond the end of the measure.
- Jordan – after stalling – gets in at 9.0 metres dead.
The inevitable splash is chopped in with the credits as the show comes to a close.
Whilst touring through the internet, I came across several people pointing out that Top Gear wasn’t the program – it was Clarkson, Hammond and May. The three idiotic genii had a long friendship and understood each other in ways that they probably paid no attention to. No matter how much talent BBC crams in, the show will never be as good as the old Top Gear. But it did alright as its own thing. Chris Evans didn’t do so well – despite his good intentions – and has now parted company from the show. Despite my opposition to him being there, I feel sorry for the guy. It’s like dreaming of being an astronaut your whole life but then getting pulled from the team after one training run.
The new brand of Top Gear will be retaining the other five presenters but I don’t think it will last beyond another three of four seasons at the most. I remember Hammond and May trying to create a Reliant Robin space shuttle. Except for a single – albeit vital – bolt failing to blow, the entire plan almost worked. Have you ever wondered who stood up in a meeting and said “Guys, you remember those aqua-cars that didn’t work? What if we did them across the Channel”? Top Gear has become much more official and factual. But there are dozens of other car shows out there that already do that. The Three Stooges told us all we needed to know about cars in a way that stuck with us and made us laugh and I can’t wait to review The Grand Tour.
Maybe Top Gear will find it’s new groove and I’ll start writing about it again. But for now – and on that bombshell – I’m going to say goodbye.