It’s back! The Top Gear vs The Grand Tour bout continues, with series 24 of the BBC’s flagship motoring show. Amazon Prime might have landed the first blow with The Grand Tour, but this is the BBC returning with a sucker punch.
The post Chris Evans era feels leaner and less shouty before, with Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid taking the wheel as the show’s hosts. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be running through a list of all the cars featured in the current series. We kick things off with a rather special Ferrari…
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Choosing to launch the new series with a VIP-only Ferrari hypercar was a predictable if wise decision. This was, if you like, Top Gear sending a direct response to The Grand Tour’s ‘Holy Trinity’ extravaganza and, let’s face it, the format does seem to work.
Chris Harris has probably driven more exotic supercars than most, but watching his childlike excitement and wide-eyed wonder behind the wheel of the FXXK is a high point so absent from the previous series.
You can hardly blame Harris for channelling his inner ten-year-old. Few people get the opportunity to drive the super-rare Ferrari FXXK – only 40 will be built – and he is being paid to do a few hot laps behind the wheel. Hashtag ‘pinch me’.
The FXXK is a LaFerrari with the volume cranked ‘up to eleven’, each one costing a cool £2 million. Not that deep pockets will provide access to this racing club: if you’re name’s not down, you’re not coming in.
Harris is the first ‘outsider’ ever to drive a Ferrari FXXK and his sense of excitement – and no doubt a dollop of nervousness – is palpable as he emerges from the pitlane. Power is sourced from the same 6.3-litre V12 engine seen in the LaFerrari, but with a combined system total of 1,050hp.
With power comes the need for control, and Harris is the man best placed to harness the true potential of the FXXK. He concludes the piece with a hot lap in the special ‘Qualifying’ setting. Proper ‘hairs on the back of your neck’ stuff, this.
Consult the ‘Motoring Shows for Dummies’ handbook and you’ll find two requirements: a supercar and a challenge. With the FXXK ticking the supercar box, it was left to Messrs LeBlanc, Reid and Harris to embark on a challenge. The quest: to drive to a space station in a trio of high-mileage heroes.
What does Chris Harris choose to drive across Kazakhstan? An LPG-powered Volvo V70, of course, which Harris describes as “a minter”. With 570,122 miles on the clock it certainly meets the ‘high-mileage’ criteria, although it doesn’t stay ‘mint’ for long…
Next to emerge is Matt LeBlanc in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, finished in the familiar shade of ‘German taxicab beige’. As Harris points out, the chances are this E-Class has led a hard life on streets of Berlin, but it looks to be in surprisingly good shape.
The E-Class has covered 800,137 kilometers (497,182 miles), which is an awful lot of trips to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Schönefeld Airport. Its final fare: the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
London Taxis International TX1
“You wanna talk reliability, this has gotta be in the conversation,” says Rory Reid as he reveals his choice of wheels for the challenge. That the London Taxis International TX1 is a reliable car is in little doubt, but would you choose one to drive across Kazakhstan?
With 483,222 miles on the clock, the TX1 is positively low-mileage compared to the other cars, but it’s the only one of the three able to claim ‘iconic’ status. Fair play, Mr Reid, this is a terrific choice.
The scene is set for a gruelling drive across the vast expanses of Kazakhstan, interspersed with a series of mini challenges. Which car emerges victorious is for you to find out.
Needless to say there are a few hiccups along the way, but the presenters show a level of camaraderie notably absent from a certain other motoring show.
Reasonably Fast Car: Toyota GT86
And so to the celebrity segment, so often the weakest part of Top Gear. Thankfully, the show’s producers have chosen to return to a simpler format, ditching the MINI and rallycross track after one ill-fated series.
The new idea: a Star in a Reasonably Fast Car, kicking off with James McAvoy in a Toyota GT86.
Watching a celebrity wrestle with a proper driver’s car is most welcome, although the segment seems needlessly long. The studio pieces feel laboured, although it’s worth remembering that the Clarkson era of Top Gear took a while to bed in.
Sunday nights are great again, with Top Gear following an hour of Robot Wars. Get your homework done before 7pm, kids.