How does The Grand Tour compare to Top Gear?

While the rival franchises have a great deal in common, Jeremy Clarkson’s new show ‘blows Top Gear out of the water’

Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Clarkson was dropped by the BBC in 2015 after assaulting a Top Gear producer
(Image credit: Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images)

Jeremy Clarkson's new motoring show The Grand Tour has broken records to become the most-watched series premiere on Amazon Prime Video, the streaming service has said.

Although the company does not release specific audience numbers, it issued a press release saying "millions" had tuned in to watch the first instalment of the globe-trotting car show, which stars the former Top Gear presenter and his regular co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May.

Amazon Prime usually caters to binge-watchers by uploading a whole series at once, but The Grand Tour is being released in a more traditional TV format of one episode per week.

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Episode one, which went online at a minute after midnight on Friday 18 November, surpassed the viewing figures reached by the previous record-holder, alternative history drama The Man in the High Castle.

In contrast, the BBC's reboot of Top Gear, fronted by Chris Evans – who will not return for a second series – and former Friends stat Matt LeBlanc, struggled to win over viewers, with just 1.9 million tuning in by the end of the series.

With each of the 36 planned episodes costing the site a reported £4.5m, it is clear Amazon is expecting big things from Clarkson and co.

Luckily, episode one received a generally warm reception from critics as well as from fans of the trio's previous TV incarnation.

The Grand Tour vs Top Gear

The Mad Max Fury Road-style opening sequence for The Grand Tour episode one showed the hosts crossing the desert in Ford Mustangs, flanked by a convoy of cars, vans, bikes, a pirate ship and a squadron of fighter jets overhead.

It also featured a new racing track called the Eboladrome; a race between a Porsche 918, a McLaren P1 and a Ferrari LaFerrari; and a segment where celebrities, including Jeremy Renner, Armie Hammer and Carol Vorderman, met untimely ends.

Ben Travis at the Evening Standard, describes it as a "stunningly beautiful show" – basically "Top Gear with a nitros boost of Amazon finances", even if it "can't quite reconcile its attempts to be a general entertainment show and a must-watch for car nuts".

"Those who have never counted themselves as Jeremy Clarkson fans aren't exactly going to be won over," says Travis. "But episode one is a confident opener that leaves the BBC's attempted Top Gear revival in the dust."

Ed Power at the Daily Telegraph agrees, calling The Grand Tour "the Cecil B DeMille /Auto Trader crossover you hadn't realised you needed in your life". The critic says the show was always "going to arrive with a bang", but the real question was: could it recapture the chemistry that made Top Gear an international sensation?

While the rival franchises have a great deal in common, the new show "blows Top Gear out of the water", says Power. "Petrol heads can rejoice".

The Grand Tour is different to Top Gear in format, says Sam Wollaston in The Guardian. "There are loads of new ideas, or the BBC lawyers would have been on to them."

Yet it's all utterly familiar, because it's the personnel that matter, he says. The BBC will be left wondering how they'll compete, he adds. But "fans of old Top Gear are going to be happy".

Indeed, Amazon's Grand Tour is really just "Top Gear on steroids", says Allen St John at Forbes. All the things we loved about the show are here, with just enough tweaking to avoid intellectual property issues.

St John complains that the first episode spent too much time with the three presenters instead of the groundbreaking cars, but he expects that "after a few episodes they'll stop trying quite so hard and settle back into their old groove".

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