To be honest, I haven’t seen either episode, and being entrenched in automotive journalism myself, you’d think I’d have a keen interest to watch. Sadly, there’s no motivation anymore. Before the debut, I was on the fringes thinking it might have a shot. It might be good. After all, Top Gear UK’s budget didn’t take a hit, so we’d still have the same amazing cinematography, and access to far away destinations in cars of every exotic flavor imaginable.
I felt with my foot in the door to this kind of stuff, I had to remove myself from the hype. I didn’t want egg on my face later on for making a prediction that ended up becoming false, but so far, the new format has met resounding criticism. I feel this might be related to the way Top Gear US never took off: hosts need to be automotive journalists.
It’s easy enough to be wowed by acceleration. Or the brakes. Or the handling of any given car. But there’s finite points to a car that most of us don’t get the chance to experience. We want something more than generic words. We want feelings and emotion. For example, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a simple car – it has a dead axle out back and Fiat forgot to put a muffler on it – but I still love it anyway. Why? Because it is a bully if you’re not driving fast. If you go around a corner slowly, the car feels bored. You’ve let it down. You then have to apologize to it, and go around the next corner much faster. And then it rewards you with endless grip, great brakes and a raspy angry exhaust note that’ll have you reach for the red line in every possible gear. Legal or not. It seems like we don’t get that from the new Top Gear. In the first episode, Evans described a particular American car as a “race car for the road” over and over, but how does an audience know what that means? A Subaru STi is supposedly a race car for the road, even though the car Evans was driving was the far more capable Dodge Viper ACR. I just don’t feel that Evans has the ability to articulate that type of information to the audience. I’m not sure he knows what bump-steer, a swing axle or excessive caster actually do to a car’s handling (but I’d be glad to be proven wrong).
To their credit, every current Top Gear UK host is a massive petrolhead. Evans owns some of the most desirable Ferrari’s ever to hit the road (including a Ferrari GTO that was literally too expensive for Jeremy Clarkson to drive), and LeBlanc can certainly wheel a car around, placing very high on the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment of old Top Gear. Mind you, for as boisterous as Clarkson is, his current ride a – very humble Golf GTi – is a big contrast to Evans’ collection.
As said in a previous PetroleYum post, Evans is not the right fit. Harris is. Harris can actually explain in detail what a car is doing, and why it is doing it without seeming boring. It’s not like he’s never done this sort of thing before…