I know what you’re thinking and you’re right – No, I am not a TV critic. But if you’re a Motorsport101 fan, you’ll know that I’m a mad petrol head, and have seen every episode of Top Gear, ever made. So naturally when news of The Grand Tour came around, I was incredibly excited. We’ve spoken about it on the Podcast, so why not take it one step further and have me write about it? So here’s me reviewing Season 1 of The Grand Tour!
Now, before we get started, some ground rules before we get going – I use a 20-point system, scores out of 10, half points included. And these reviews WILL contain spoilers. It’s hard NOT to include them.
Right then, on to the show!
I was curious as to how this opening would go. First impressions are important. And I have to say… The Grand Tour nailed it. It starts with Jeremy Clarkson walking out of BBC Television Centre with radio excerpts talking about him leaving the BBC from the end of 2015 on a rainy evening. He gets a flight to Los Angeles, and as he walks through an airport car-park, he smiles as he sees his Ford Mustang. Yes, Clarkson smiled at the thought of driving an American Car, so he’s already WAY off script.
Anyway, he drives down the mountains of LA, and he’s joined by Hammond and May in more Mustangs, as they drive through the California desert to their roaming tent based studio. It’s an INCREDIBLY well shot part as a whole bunch of cars join them in a fleet, accompanied by Breitling Jet Team, as the band “Hothouse Flowers” do a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” on a stage at the Rabbit Dry Lake. A bit like driving to Glastonbury but without all the mud and wellies.
So, the boys get on stage and introduce each other, and Jeremy Clarkson talks about potentially pleasuring a horse now he’s on the Internet and not on the BBC. Ladies and gentlemen, it begins.
Also, they show off the new tent, and their new drone, which immediately gets shot down without explanation. This totally doesn’t become a running joke. They now enter the tent having gotten changed, and immediately mock America for having different car terms. Getting those “old new” Top Gear vibes yet?
On a side note, the tent setup is amazing, mostly because it doesn’t really feel like a tent, it feels like a properly massive TV studio, it’s impressive work.
Apparently, The Grand Tour got a £180m budget for three seasons, the biggest in British Television history. The opening shot cost nearly three million. You can certainly see where the budget went, even more so, given the episode name is “The Holy Trinity”, for the much awaited hybrid hypercar shootout between the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, and Ferrari LaFerrari, filmed in Portugal, and the Portimao race circuit…
…Which is immediately a problem, because any keen petrol head will know that New New Top Gear presenter Chris Harris did his own triple review, in Portimao with Tiff Needell and Marino Franchitti. I suspect they all got in on this together, mates rates. So sadly, TGT have already got competition here.
No surprise, each hypercar have their own team of mechanics, because if you remember the malarkey of trying to arrange the triple test on old, new Top Gear – These car makers have enormous egos and want to be the best. No surprises there, either. There’s some Hammond/Clarkson point-scoring pettiness too, but I have to admit, I laughed when Clarkson jabbed Hammond about the Porsche’s economy score given the infamous VW Diesel faux-pas. That was funny.
When they finally get to driving them, it’s gold. Hammond and Clarkson are so good at connecting with viewers emotionally when they’re driving, and it’s genuinely warming to see them enjoying themselves while driving the opposing patron’s cars (Clarkson in the 918, Hammond in the P1, the opposite of their individual old new Top Gear reviews from Series 21).
The quality of the filming was incredible. Again, you can really see where the budget’s gone. Incredible overhead angles, onboard footage, powerslides, you name it – And in stunning 4k resolution as well. Decent music choices too, which I always thought they may struggle with given they didn’t have the BBC music library in their back pocket anymore.
So, with more pettiness exchanged, James steps out of a truck and says hi. In the Ferrari LaFerrari, which he obnoxiously calls the Ferrari TheFerrari. Because lolz. Surprised he didn’t shout “buffeting” again, either. But yeah, the mock race they have around Portimao is friggin’ spectacular.
But this isn’t “Top Gear” without some skit comedy… So the tests start up with a drag race on electric power only – The joke being that James May’s LaFerrari can’t take part because his car works the F1-style KERS system and can’t run on its own via electricity. Hammond’s Porsche wins, to the shock of no-one. *sighs*
To end Part 1, Hammond proposes to drive back to the hotel… Which again, James can’t do. His LaFerrari isn’t registered and came in a lorry because if they do register it, it becomes second hand and Ferrari has to pay the tax. Great. You make up all this hype about these three cars being together and a good 5 minutes has gone into taking one of those three cars OUT of the picture to get some unfunny jokes in. But hey, we get James May reversing a Lorry! Sweet! *double sigh*
Back to the tent, and to fill in the void of what Old New Top Gear called “the news”, the Grand Tour has a segment known as “Conversation Street”. It even has a comedic silhouette intro. More on that in future episodes – But the first one is basically just mocking James for getting caught speeding at 37mph. Ha.
Next, they show off their new track, creatively known as “The Eboladrome”, at RAF Wroughton. It’s named as such because it’s shaped like the Ebola virus – Well known public knowledge that. It has corners such as “The isn’t straight”, “Your Name Here”, “Field of Sheep”, and driving around an un-exploded bomb from World War 2. Nope, I got nothing to add here. In positive news, the demo lap is done in a Ferrari 488 GTB, so no complaints from me there! Shame they couldn’t put it on the new lap-board, because Ferrari wouldn’t let them time it. Typical Ferrari.
We get some more track action though as Clarkson gets to drive the new BMW M2 around, and it actually looks pretty cool. Take it from a massive Forza Horizon 3 player – It’s pretty potent. Clarkson actually calls it the best BMW M-Car ever made, which is crazy.
They also introduce a new celebrity driver. Now that Ben Collins is milking his sacking for an easy paycheck, his replacement was Mike Skinner, former NASCAR driver, nicknamed “The American”. His gimmick? Everything that isn’t an American with a V8 is labeled “communist”. Fuck, this is going to be another running gag, isn’t it?
“3 litres, six-cylinders. It wouldn’t pull the greasy stick out of a dog’s ass.” – Actual Skinner dialogue.
So, thoughts on the Eboladrome? It’s not bad. I like how technical it is, but it just feels a little second rate given the FRIGGIN’ AIRFIELD they used to have. To be fair, and I’m breaking the fourth wall here – It has grown on me a bit in future episodes.
Next, another new segment called “Celebrity Brain Crash”. But first, more skit comedy, as Clarkson pisses off the US crowd by saying the RAF was better than the US Air Force, which leads to a whole heap of cuts showing them pretending to fight the audience. It’s actually pretty funny, and I love the scene of James May popping out from behind an upturned table with a black eye. Wonder if that was a Clarkson inside joke…
…Anywho, the point is to test the reaction times of various Celebs. First up is Hawkeye himself – Jeremy Renner, who parachutes into the tent… And “dies” as he crash landed. But they have a backup! He’s Arnie Hammer…. And he’s “killed” by a snake. But they have a third guest, it’s “Loose Woman” Carol Vorderman… And she’s “dead” too. Of course. I suspect this one enormous riff at the “Star In A Reasonably Priced” car segment from Old New Top Gear… Which I guess worked? I actually didn’t mind it the first time around, but as we find out, this wouldn’t be the last “Grand Tour” casualty. *triple sigh*
Back to Portimao for the Holy Trinity test, and the boys line the cars up for a drag race. Shoutout to Clarkson nearly killing himself by breaking with his DRS wing still open. It turned into a series of drag races as none of them could get a consistent result, due to reaction times, messy launch control systems and wearing Converses. I too have that problem at work.
They close the segment with some hot laps with a fast driver, and it turns out it’s former Formula 1 driver and Formula E superstar, Jerome D’Ambrosio! After we get the old Jezza tweaking the subtitles gag as Jerome speaks French, the timed laps take place. It’s a lot like many of the old new Top Gear multi-car tests, someone else looks really impressive driving the cars while the boys make mocking jokes. You know the drill.
Clarkson also makes the joke that if the P1 isn’t fastest, the boys can knock Jezza’s house down. That totally doesn’t become important later.
The LaFerrari does it in 1:54.4. The Porsche 918 does it in 1:54.2… The McLaren P1 in a… 1:55.5?! What? Well, Clarkson’s now going to end up homeless. Ha. That wraps up the episode, see you next week in Johannesburg!
First of all, I’m really glad I watched it again. Reason being, it was without that initial “OMG, THEY’RE BACK” natural hype that came with it being the first episode. It allowed me to be a bit more critical. And on the whole… It’s not a bad debut.
The brightest positive for me was the production. And props to Andy Wilman as Executive Producer, he’s done an amazing job of creating an ethos around The Grand Tour. The tent, the locations, the shooting, it’s all gorgeous. The 4k quality is stunning, the shots are incredibly well done. That stood out to me over anything else. When the show in general concentrated on the driving, whether it be in “The Holy Trinity” segment, or in the BMW M2 introduction to the Eboladrome, it was awesome, and exactly what I had hoped for. That opening was brilliant, too. Excellent way of setting the tone.
Everything else… meh. The hypercar test in particular. See, it doesn’t help that I genuinely think Chris Harris’ film on it is one of the greatest pieces of automotive journalism ever made, it makes TGT’s look a little bit bush-league. I know Top Gear’s trio has always focused on entertainment first and serious tests second for the most part, but this just didn’t work on the whole for me. The comedic elements felt more of a distraction than anything else. I don’t know what you gain in alienating the LaFerrari as soon as it appears, or rehashing old jokes.
Speaking of which, there was a lot of not-so-faint jabs at Old New Top Gear here. See, I didn’t mind it so much in this case as it actually made good sense to poke a bit of fun at their old employers to get the ball rolling. Even if I didn’t find Celebrity Brain Crash funny. At all.
And I hate to be #ThatGuy here – But I think the lap times at the end were bullshit to set up the joke to knock down Clarkson’s house. Chris Harris’ times were 1:53.5 for the McLaren, 1:54.2 for the Ferrari and 1:53.9 for the Porsche. Now unless Jerome was half asleep, Harris was not only WAY quicker, but also, the McLaren being a second a lap slower just doesn’t hold up. As I said, I think the times were rigged for the Clarkson house knocking joke, which already had made Facebook as a trending story that Jezza had planning permission to tear his old house down in Chipping Norton. Not TGT’s fault that that particular cat got let out of the bag early, but yeah… to sacrifice a segment you made a big deal off for a joke is a questionable decision in my eyes.
And that’s just that – The Grand Tour could be something refreshing, genuinely brilliant, with the main trio pushing the envelope with this new platform… Instead, it was Top Gear v1.1, but with all the BBC elements either ragged on, or ignored. Now, that’s not totally a bad thing, it’s just not going to rock my socks off when we’ve been here before for the last 14 years. For most viewers, Episode 1 was enough to get the hype train going. Looking back just a month on, yeah… the nostalgia drum was being beaten worse than that Chargers fan who was eyeing up the cheerleaders.
Not a bad start, flashes of potential on the whole, but could be better. What did YOU think? Trust me, watch it again and see if you still feel the same way you did after the first viewing. Let me know in the comments, and check back soon for Episode 2, Operation Desert Stumble!