Has Top Gear returned to its former glory?

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris head to Oman in what critics call 'one of the season's best' road trips

Matt Leblanc
Matt LeBlanc joined the line-up in 2016 
(Image credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Top Gear: Should the BBC have scrapped show when Jeremy Clarkson left?

17 March

The new season of Top Gear is proving as divisive as its former host, Jeremy Clarkson. Matt LeBlanc and his co-hosts have been lauded for their "excellence" and "brilliance" by some reviewers, but warned they are "doomed to flop" by others.

This has opened a debate over whether the BBC should have scrapped its motoring series when it fired Jeremy Clarkson in 2015. While some feel the show, which has been a BBC mainstay since 2002, should now be consigned to the scrap yard in the sky, others argue that series two is moving along nicely.

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"It's funny and dangerous.. what more do you want?" says The Sun. "Matt Le Blanc's heavy-lidded quips always hit home," add William Spencer. "His droll approach feels brilliantly uncensored", he continues, adding that the new series has "got it all".

Antti Kautonen of Autoblog is also blown away. He says episode two proves that the "perceived excellence" of the first episode "wasn't a fluke". He adds: "It's safe to say this is now what we can expect from this season – and that's a very good thing."

Digital Spy was "pleasantly surprised" with episode one, which it says "felt fresh, funny and full of new energy after last year's misfire". However, while it found episode two "enjoyable", it still argues it "felt flat", suggesting there is more work to be done.

The Daily Telegraph has its own reservations. Describing the opener as "winning", Ed Power has higher standards for episode two, which he feels is "still not tip-top Top Gear" because of numerous "creaky moments", notably the interview with Dr Who actor David Tennant.

The Daily Mail gets straight to the point, declaring that "Top Gear is doomed to flop" but it is GQ editor Dylan Jones who truly puts the boot in. He says the programme "should have been parked when Jeremy Clarkson was fired", a decision he describes as "unnecessary, politically motivated and financially ruinous".

He warns that while the series is only seven shows long, "seven weeks is long enough to ruin a reputation".

Meanwhile, viewing figures show the length of the journey ahead for the team. Some 2.8m watched the opener, two million fewer than the equivalent episode last year.

Top Gear: Critics hail 'genuinely dangerous' second episode

13 March

Former Friends star Matt LeBlanc raced a supercar down a mountain in Nevada with the engine turned off in last night's Top Gear – but he roared into the critics' good books.

Taking a road trip across California, the actor joined co-presenter Chris Harris to see which was the best all-weather car - the Porsche 911 Turbo S convertible or the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder.

After a head-to-head battle around Willow Springs racetrack, the duo headed out to the Sierra Nevada, where they were challenged to race down a treacherous mountain road without using any engine power.

While it was "unthinkable" the BBC would place its Top Gear presenters in harm's way, says the Daily Telegraph, it "looked genuinely dangerous".

Only a "few inches of tarmac" separated the hosts from a "precipitous fall", the newspaper claims, and the show "did an effective job" of injecting a sense of peril into the film.

However, Digital Spy say it was a "shame" the third member of the line-up, Rory Reid, "missed out" as his "effortless" personality could have made the film feel more "real" and humorous.

Nevertheless, its critic says Top Gear continues to be "one of the best looking shows out there" and the overall signs suggest it is heading in the right direction.

Last night also saw former Doctor Who star David Tennant become the latest celebrity racing the show's new reasonably fast car, the Toyota GT86 – and to argue there's nothing wrong with owning a Toyota Prius.

Top Gear: Critics praise new season's 'roaring' first episode

06 March

Matt Le Blanc's first episode as head Top Gear presenter received a thumbs-up from the critics last night.


Together with co-presenters Chris Harris and Rory Reid, the actor was challenged to drive a car with more than 480,000 miles on the clock - the equivalent of driving to the moon and back - to the baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Travelling over desolate salt flats in sub-zero conditions, the trio were given a series of challenges to test the reliability and performance of their vehicles, including a race in an abandoned quarry and a top-speed drag along a deserted highway.

It was a "roaring" return, says the Daily Telegraph, which praised the "blokey banter" during the "stunning" road trip.

It added that there was a "genuine chemistry" between the three presenters that was absent last season, when Chris Evans was in charge, and that this compensates for the unparalleled "Hollywood sheen" of Clarkson's Amazon Prime show The Grand Tour.

Radio Times says it is "so much better" than Evans's reboot, with the lack of the former presenter's "shouting and general demeanour" dramatically improving the show's aura.

Clearly the trio of presenters get on "far, far better" than Evans and Le Blanc did during the last season, continues the magazine, although it says they haven't yet "perfected or polished" the dynamics during studio segments.

However, The Guardian claims Top Gear still has "too much baggage" from the time of Clarkson and his co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May.

While its new tree presenters are "likeable" individually, says the paper, they appear to be "feeling the pressure" of living up to the show's success and they all need to "relax" to let their onscreen chemistry come alive.

Top Gear continues next Sunday at 8pm on BBC 2.

Top Gear: New season kicks off with adrenaline-fuelled trailer

24 February

An adrenaline-fuelled trailer is giving Top Gear fans a hint of what to expect when it return to UK television screens next month.

Petrolheads will be particularly excited by the sight of the ultra-rare LaFerrari-based FFX K track car, which flies around the Daytona International Speedway at the hands of presenter-cum-racing driver, Chris Harris.

There are also several television debuts for some of the world's most exclusive supercars. Bugatti's replacement to the record-breaking Veyron, the Chiron, flashes out of shot towards the end of the trailer while Ford's new six-cylinder GT and the Aston Martin DB11 can also be seen.

This is the 24th season for the BBC's motoring show and it has undergone another major revision of line-up and format.

The departure of main host Chris Evans, after just one season, has left Matt LeBlanc in charge, joined by Harris and last year's hit presenter Rory Reid, taking the show back to the three-host layout used by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

That might not be the only step back in time. The Sun reports the Star in a Reasonably Price Car section could use a Toyota GT86, suggesting a return to racing around the old Dunsfold-based tarmac test track instead of the rally cross course of last year.

As for who will be competing in the section, the paper adds that TV presenter Ore Oduba was pictured being attended by ambulance crews at the site, although he didn't appear to have any serious injuries.

The new series of Top Gear airs on 5 March on BBC2.

Chris Evans admits to struggling with Dry January

17 January

Former Top Gear host Chris Evans has revealed his battle with Dry January on his BBC Radio 2 morning show.

The post-Christmas detox has become a popular tradition in the UK, with many opting to banish the booze for 31 days in hope of health benefits such as weight loss and a decreased risk of cancer.

But responding to a listener who had lost a stone in weight after dieting, Evans said he wasn't interested in shedding pounds through his abstinence.

"I don't care, I'm so miserable, I don't actually care how heavy I am. I don't care if I'm two stone lighter, five stone heavier," Evans said.

He added that without alcohol, there was nothing to differentiate the days.

He said: "Friday night was like Wednesday. Saturday morning was like Tuesday afternoon. There's no light and there's no shade."

Evans had thought about continuing with the booze-free challenge until the beginning of May, when he's taking part in the London Marathon, but admitted that wasn't going to happen.

Indeed, he told listeners, he might not make it to the end of January after all.

"Tonight at 7pm is looking dodgy to be honest," he said.

If he does fall off the wagon, no doubt his Twitter followers will be first to know. The TGI Friday host has been giving them a running commentary of his struggles to stick to Dry January.

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Chris Evans 'almost died' at Christmas

10 January

Chris Evans says he nearly died while on holiday in Barbados over the Christmas period.

Speaking on his BBC Radio 2 show, the former Top Gear presenter said he was "felled like a sack of spuds on Christmas Eve" and "nearly pegged it" when his temperature soared to 41C.

He said: "At one point I thought, 'Do you know what? I've got a lovely life and love my family to death but do you know… I feel so ill at the moment.' It was nearly curtains for me."

Evans was treated by a local doctor on the island, he told the Daily Mail: "A very nice Bajan doctor diagnosed me with an upper airways infection; actually three – one for the ears, one for the nose and one for the throat.

"He was quite amazed when the thermometer showed that lava-like temperature reading of 106[F]. Immediately he gave me a shot of something rather lively in my gluteus maximus plus three oral medicines that I had to take at various intervals in the day, whilst avoiding grapefruit. Go figure."

Evans believes he was suffering from a form of pneumonia. Dr Fiona McAndrew, the Mail's resident health expert, says he might have been suffering from mycoplasma pneumonia, a slightly milder form of the illness.

She said: "There is a lot of influenza going around, and with a temperature that high – I don't think I've ever seen a patient with one of 106 – it is very possible he had pneumonia, or mycoplasma pneumonia."

The Sun says Evans regularly holidays in the Caribbean with third wife Natasha and his family.

He had a much more successful trip last year, adds the paper, when he helped to rescue a pensioner who was struggling out of her depth at sea.

Radio listeners turn off Chris Evans after Top Gear exit

27 October

Chris Evans lost more than 400,000 listeners from his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show in the three months after he quit Top Gear, new figures show.

Figures from audience researchers Rajar show the DJ attracted 9.06 million listeners per week from July to September 2016, down from 9.47 million per week from April to June. Evans quit as the motoring show on 4 July, following a slide in ratings.

The BBC claims the drop is "likely to be down to fewer people listening to breakfast shows during the summer months", although it also marks a fall of 400,000 from the 9.42 million people who tuned in during the same summer period last year.

"It's not all bad news for Chris, as he still has the most popular radio show in the UK," notes Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, hundreds of young motoring fans have had their official Top Gear Track Experience days "axed at the last minute", according to The Sun. TGXP, the firm running the days out, has gone bust, blaming the TV show's plummeting popularity.

"Despite good reviews and early strong sales for the Top Gear Track Experience, there has been a sharp decline in ticket sales and interest since the changes in the television show," said a TGXP company spokesman.

"We deeply regret the position this puts our remaining customers in, have posted refund advice on our website and will be contacting all our customers directly in the coming days."

A BBC Worldwide spokesman said: "We share the frustration of fans who've had their track day cancelled by TGXP."

The track days, which include off-roading, driving with the Stig and Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, have been running for two-and-a-half years, says the Sun.

Matt LeBlanc signs on for two more series of Top Gear

26 September

Matt LeBlanc has signed on for another two series of Top Gear, the BBC has announced.

The US actor will be the sole main presenter of the show after his co-host Chris Evans decided to call it a day. He'll be supported by Chris Harris and Rory Reid, who will also continue to present their online-only spin-off, Extra Gear.

There will also be regular appearances from F1 star Eddie Jordan, German racing driver Sabine Schmitz and stalwart masked driver "The Stig", adds the BBC.

Mark Linsey of BBC Studios said: "Matt was hugely popular with Top Gear viewers last series with his humour, warmth and obvious passion for cars and for the show, so I couldn't be more delighted that he's agreed to come back and do more for us."

According to The Sun, which dubs him "Fat Cat LeBlanc", the former Friends star has negotiated a fee of £2m, up from the £500,000 he was paid last year. "Now it's cars and an unreasonably-priced star," it puns.

The paper claims the BBC was "panic-stricken" at the loss of the Great British Bake-Off (and "caved in" to LeBlanc's demands – as well as his insistence that filming fits around the shooting of his new sitcom, Man With a Plan, in Los Angeles.

The Sun also reports the BBC is to funnel most of LeBlanc's pay through its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, thereby avoiding having to disclose publicly how much he is paid, as it will under proposed new rules from government.

It also reports that BBC 1 controller Charlotte Moore offered Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood a presenting job on Top Gear in an effort to persuade him to stay with the broadcaster and not move to Channel 4, which bought the popular baking show earlier this month.

The first series of Top Gear filmed after former main host Jeremy Clarkson was fired for punching a BBC producer was plagued by rumours the main stars did not get on with each other, the Daily Mail says.

LeBlanc and Evans supposedly "fell out" when the British DJ tried to distance himself from the embarrassment caused by the decision to film his co-host doing donut stunts in front of the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Evans quit after Top Gear's viewing figures plunged disastrously from 4.4 million per episode to 2.3 million, saying he had tried his best – and it had not been good enough.

Top Gear: Will Matt LeBlanc become as unpopular as Chris Evans?

22 September

Matt LeBlanc was one of the few bright spots in this year's poorly received Top Gear reboot. However, after his appearance at the Emmys this week, questions are being asked about whether his popularity will continue into the BBC motoring show's next season.

The former Friends star was criticised on Twitter for making what was called a "creepy" comment about Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.

Asked by interviewer Jason Kennedy whether he was a fan of HBO's hit fantasy drama, the 49-year-old actor replied: "Yeah, I saw the first season and I kind of fell out of touch with it.

"I guess that's when she [Emilia] started getting naked, so I need to catch up."

The quip was greeted with anger and disbelief on Twitter:

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Others suggested it was in keeping with the downmarket trajectory of the revamped Top Gear.

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The BBC has announced Top Gear will return in 2017, but it is still unclear what the hosting line-up will look like.

One thing the corporation has confirmed is it is not looking to replace lead host Chris Evans but will instead "build on the characters that worked, ie Rory [Reid], Chris [Harris] and Matt LeBlanc," head of BBC Studios Mark Linsey told Radio Times.

He added that while Top Gear "was built around an ensemble, Matt LeBlanc was an important part of that ensemble. Clearly the viewers enjoyed Matt LeBlanc, and we want him to come back".

Will Paul Hollywood leave Bake Off for Top Gear?

15 September

Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has been tipped for a new role in the next series of Top Gear. Hollywood is a self-confessed petrol-head - in his spare time he is an amateur sports car racer - and has previously presented a one-off show about Aston Martins called Licence to Thrill, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The Bake Off judge has proper credentials behind the wheel, adds the paper: last year, Hollywood qualified second at the Britcar Trophy Championship at Silverstone and also competed at Le Mans.

While the BBC insists that there are "no plans" to alter the line-up on Top Gear, the Bake Off team has pledged its allegiance to the channel, and the corporation will be keen to keep Hollywood and co-judge Mary Berry on board.

Hollywood appeared in the recent series of Top Gear and has refuted rumours in the past that he would join the show following the departure of Evans.

But "recent events surrounding the Bake Off may have changed his mind", says GQ.

The news comes as the head of the newly created BBC Studios, Mark Linsey, has said he has faith in the new Top Gear reboot, despite the first season's poor performance and critical reception.

Host Chris Evans decided to quit the show after just one series, during which ratings hit an all-time low, saying "I gave it my best shot."

But Linsey has told The Guardian that the producers are not looking for another Evans on Top Gear, but are instead "building on the characters that worked".

Linsey was also quick to allay fears that former Friends star Matt LeBlanc would not be a part of the next series, saying that the new Top Gear was "built around an ensemble".

"Matt LeBlanc was an important part of that ensemble. Clearly the viewers enjoyed Matt LeBlanc, and we want him to come back. Clearly they enjoyed the other Chris [Harris], and Rory [Reid] – they have told us that," he said.

"All the elements were there of an ensemble rather than just focusing it on Chris [Evans], and I think that is evident in the way that we produced it."

Although continuity is key, Linsey added, "there will be change," but that change "will be building on the characters that worked, ie Rory, Chris and Matt LeBlanc."

Explaining the show’s low ratings, which plummeted to 1.9 million in July compared to an average of 6.49 million when Jeremy Clarkson was presenting, he said: "Top Gear was a phenomenon, but it certainly didn't start as a phenomenon. It grew over time. When you are trying something new, albeit with a well-known format, but certainly with a new cast, it is going to take time.

"If you look at the first series of the Clarkson era it didn't even have James May in it. It took ten years to grow and the new Top Gear needs time to grow. It certainly didn't surprise me it didn't do the audience figures of the previous series."

One man who could be making a sooner-than-anticipated return to the Top Gear studios is American actor Patrick Dempsey. The Bridget Jones and Grey's Anatomy star was a special guest on the final episode of the most recent series and was a definite hit with viewers.

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Dempsey was pressed on the prospect of replacing Evans by Digital Spy and, though he neatly sidestepped the question, he did praise the work that LeBlanc had done, particularly following in the footsteps of the popular Clarkson, Hammond and May.

"Talk about tough shoes to step into with that show and those characters," he said. "You can never really recreate that show.

"I would love to do a car show. And I think Matt has done a great job, but no one has asked me, so I don't have that pressure of having to answer!"

Although Dempsey remained particularly coy about Top Gear he was effusive in his praise for British television, saying he would jump at the chance to work in the UK.

"Absolutely," Dempsey said. "I would love to. If anybody wants to offer me a job over here, I'd be willing to come!

"I love it here. My mum loved everything - she would only watch the British comedies."

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