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: Chris Evans defiant in the face of criticism

31 May

Chris Evans's first episode of the rebooted Top Gear was slated by fans and savaged by most reviewers - but the new presenter refused to accept any criticism.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Breaking his silence on Twitter yesterday, Evans tweeted that despite the outpouring of disappointment, the first episode was a resounding success.

"The new Top Gear is a hit. OFFICIALLY. 23 % audience share. 12% MORE than the opening episode of the last series," he wrote.

"These are the FACTS.Top Gear audience grew throughout the hour. FACT. Won its slot. FACT. Still number one on i Player. FACT. These are THE FACTS folks."

See more
See more

Some 4.4 million viewers watched Evans and co-host Matt LeBlanc on their first outing since taking over from Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond.

At its peak, the show had 4.7 million viewers, 300,000 shy of Evans's ambition of five million viewers.

Clarkson has remained uncharacteristically silent since Sunday's show went to air, despite a pointed jibe from Evans at the top of the show.

This may be because the show's former star allegedly stands to gain financially if the reboot is a success. At an event in London earlier this month, the 56-year-old presenter said that some elements of the press had suggested "I am trying to scupper [Evans]. But I discovered the other day that every time it gets recommissioned I get paid, so that’s a curious bit of BBC contract but I wish them all the very best."

The first episode of the new series can be seen on iPlayer here.

Top Gear: Chris Evans bans newspapers from 'glitzy' press launch

26 May

After enduring what he called a "perfect storm" of criticism since taking over Top Gear, Chris Evans took the unusual step of blacklisting several national newspapers from the show's press launch yesterday.

The "glitzy launch" of the BBC's rebooted motoring programme was attended by a select group of "handpicked journalists", the Daily Telegraph says.

"Newspapers that had printed articles deemed hostile to the new series, including The Telegraph, were blacklisted from the event, at which media from across the world saw a preview of the new show," it adds.

Evans has faced a barrage of hostile media reports ahead of this Sunday's launch of the show, including one newspaper's claim that he was "out of control".

Asked about the reports by The Guardian, the presenter said: "I thought it was ultimately funny. Some of, almost all of, the observations from certain aspects of the press have been so nonsensical and so facile and fictitious… All the people they were talking about in lots of the stories know the truth."

As for whether the press hostility was about him, the BBC or the fact that he was attempting to fill the void left by the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, he said it was a combination of all: "I think it's the perfect storm. If that's your business to write these stories, this has got to be juicy. I think they had to go for it; in a way, that's their job. Do I respect them for it? Do I like them for it? That's sort of not an issue."

Top Gear is on BBC2 this Sunday night at 8pm.

Top Gear: What will Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc's reboot be like?

24 May

Less than a week until the BBC broadcasts the first episode of its rebooted Top Gear and anticipation is mounting.

New host Chris Evans added to the excitement last week by unveiling his first studio guests – celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and US actor Jesse Eisenberg. Their roles are being kept under wraps, but one of them is likely to feature in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment.

The reboot has been a rocky road for the BBC, with countless rumours of rows, rifts and reports that Evans can't talk and drive at the same time. So what will the show actually be like?

Broadcast date

Top Gear was initially scheduled to return to screens on 8 May but after two delays, it is now expected on Sunday 29 May.

Bigger than ever

Evans hopes to make the show "bigger than it ever has been" – and even dreams of launching a Top Gear theme park.

He lays out the idea in his latest book, Call The Midlife, saying people would come from the "four corners of the planet" to stay at Top Gear World. He also thinks it would be the perfect place to host the programme live.

Also bigger than ever is the presenting team. Although led by Evans and former Friends star Matt LeBlanc, it will also feature several other regular contributors: German race driver Sabine Schmitz, F1 pundit Eddie Jordan, journalist Rory Reid and YouTube star Chris Harris – not forgetting, of course, old face The Stig.

International flavour

Top Gear will still feature mini-films recorded in exotic locations around the world, with Evans saying last year: "We're going to America to make our first inter-continental in January."

True to his word, the 49-year-old presenter has been spotted in Monterey, California, although photos later emerged showing him pulling his £134,500 luxury Audi R8 V10 to the side of the road to vomit. The show has also filmed in Ireland, Morocco - and Blackpool.

Top Gear may struggle to outdo Clarkson and co's rival motoring show on this front, however. Aptly named The Grand Tour, the new Amazon Prime series will be filmed from a different location every week.

There will be a spin-off

A half-hour show called Extra Gear will immediately follow each episode with Reid - "arguably the least-known" of Top Gear's presenting team, the Daily Telegraph says - offering behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and specially recorded films.

Reid was formerly the editor-in-chief of car and tech website Recombu and submitted an audition tape after the BBC appealed for people around the country to try out for the revamped show. Evans said it "simply blew [him] away".

After the show was announced, Reid said that Top Gear fans are "some of the keenest in the world and with this show, I'm giving them a chance to really get a peek behind the curtain".

Extra Gear will be broadcast on BBC Three, via the live page or BBC iPlayer.

"Supersized" track

The Top Gear track at Dunsfold, Surrey, which is home to the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment, is expected to be even bigger.

LeBlanc and Evans are working on their chemistry

Many fans are sceptical that the two main hosts will be able to reproduce the easy camaraderie of their predecessors. The Drive says that the connection between the hosts will either "make or break" the revamped show – which makes reports of a rift all the more worrying.

Stories have been swirling about whether they actually get along have been going since they were appointed. Tabloid reports claimed the two had fallen out after LeBlanc was castigated in the press for shooting a racing scene close to the Cenotaph in London, a stunt for which Evans publicly apologised.

Eventually, the pair even took to Twitter to respond to the rumours that they were "at war".

See more
See more

Fewer controversies

Evans has said he would never let anything go out on Top Gear that he thought could "justifiably attract any negative reaction or criticism for the sake of it to cultivate notoriety". He added that "careful doesn't mean boring" and that it was a "lack of imagination that makes you have to shock" – comments that some interpreted as a little dig at Clarkson.

Former Top Gear co-host James May has raised eyebrows at the rumours of production woes, suggesting Evans might be exaggerating problems to lower viewers' expectations. Speaking on ITV's This Morning, he said reports of the new presenter being carsick might even have been an elaborate hoax.

"That's my theory," he said. "To be brutally honest, that's what I'd do; I would make out it was all going terribly."

However, he added that he wished the new incarnation the best and didn't hold any grudges. "We always said [Top Gear] would survive beyond us," May said.

There will be a female host

Sabine Schmitz will join the Top Gear team as a co-host (of sorts), making her the show's first female presenter in 15 years.

The racing driver told the Daily Telegraph how she got the job, saying that she never had a formal interview.

"I've worked with Top Gear for 12 years, so I know nearly everybody involved with the show," she said. "I did the live shows in South Africa, DVD stuff, sometimes I was on the Top Gear show itself. So they called me and said, 'Maybe we have a good deal' and I said, 'Yes.'"

Asked about her relationship with Evans and whether the presenters have gone for a drink together yet, she replied: "Chris is quite thirsty, it's hard to keep up with him. But we have everything under control.

"Eddie is very funny, I used to work with him a lot at the Nissan GT Race Academy and also on the Top Gear live shows. I called him Grandpa. He's not happy about that, but he'll get used to it. He asks silly questions all the time."

Evans intends to prove everyone wrong

According to the Daily Express, Evans has steeled himself to the negativity surrounding the reboot and says there's nothing he can do now but just "prove people wrong".

But he insisted he was not feeling the pressure. "You can't lose if it looks like you're on to a total loser from the outside. A lot of people have written the show off before it's hit the air. Nothing I can do about that other than prove them wrong or confirm that they're right. But I know what's in the can," he said.

Or will it be "career death"?

Despite his protestations, the 50-year-old presenter admits he has been thinking about the worst-case scenario following the critical reception he's received.

In his column for the Mail on Sunday, he wrote that experiences he and his team have had on the programme so far have given him "a long overdue and welcome wake-up call with regards to career mortality".

"As a consequence of the mud-slinging, I have taken to daily, contemplative soaks in the bath-tub of 'worst-case scenario'. I am a realist hoping for the best, while preparing for potential imminent career death," he said.

Writing of his critics, Evans added: "I have no idea what it is that's driving these malcontents to stoop so low, but I wish them well with their inner demons."

Top Gear: Chris Evans unveils his first guests

20 May

The first two studio guests for the new series of Top Gear have been announced – Gordon Ramsay and Jesse Eisenberg.

The swearing celebrity chef and the star of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Social Network will both appear in the opening episode, scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday 29 May.

Although the exact nature of their roles has yet to be confirmed, commentators expect at least one of them to feature in the 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car' segment or similar slot.

Radio Times understands that the first episode will also include the much-discussed race to Blackpool between Chris Evans and his co-host Matt LeBlanc, with the latter also taking an Ariel Nomad to Morocco.

Both LeBlanc and Chris will be featured driving around a rain-soaked Blackpool in a pair of roofless Reliant Rialtos.

The hotly-anticipated series opener will also feature a tribute to the movie Top Gun, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary. This segment will see Evans fly to Nevada to drive a 645bhp Dodge Viper ACR against a Chevy Corvette Z06 driven by presenter Sabine Schmitz.

As the world holds its breath for the dawn of the post-Jeremy Clarkson Top Gear era, the BBC is preparing for the return of Top Gear next weekend after unveiling a temporary 100ft statue of Stig outside Broadcasting House last night.

Earlier this month, Chris Evans quipped that he is bracing himself for career suicide when the new series finally hits our screens.

New Top Gear trailer slammed by disappointed fans

6 May 2016

The latest trailer for the BBC's revamped Top Gear has been met with a poor reception by viewers, receiving six times as many negative reactions on YouTube as positive ones.

Hosts Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc have not had an easy ride since taking the helm of the motoring programme earlier this year. They have struggled with car sickness, accusations of bullying, criticism over a stunt near the Cenotaph in London and a generally tepid reaction to the trailers they have released online.

The latest teaser, released yesterday, features the pair apparently getting married in Blackpool, which some commentators have interpreted as a riposte to media speculation that they had fallen out during filming.


It has been watched on YouTube by 130,000 people and received 7,000 reactions - 6,000 of them the thumbs down.

"Looks like I'm gonna have to order that Amazon Prime subscription soon," wrote one viewer, in reference to former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson's move to Amazon Prime, where he is working on a new show alongside his old BBC colleagues, James May and Richard Hammond.

"Can I stop paying my license fee now?" another asked.

"BBC (bring back Clarkson)," was one comment.

According to the trailer, it seems that while the show's hosting line-up may have changed, its basics have not. The team is seen driving a range of very different cars in exotic locations around the world.

The clip begins with a classic Ferrari, followed by an Aston Martin Vulcan on the Abu Dhabi GP circuit and a Mercedes Benz 4x4, driven by Texas frontwoman, Sharleen Spiteri.

The new Top Gear series will return on BBC Two on Sunday, 29 May.

Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson denies making life difficult for Chris Evans

04 May

Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson says he is not trying to make life difficult for the show's new presenter, Chris Evans.

With Clarkson and his fellow presenters, Richard Hammond and James May, working on a show of their own for Amazon, Evans and his team are under pressure to win fans over when the rebooted BBC series begins broadcasting later this month.

But speaking at the China Exchange in London on Tuesday evening, Clarkson denied accusations he had been trying to "scupper" his successor.

"What's very entertaining is that Chris Evans is having a very hard time at the moment as he attempts to put Top Gear back together again," he said.

"It's been suggested that I am behind it, that I am trying to scupper him. But I discovered the other day that every time it gets recommissioned, I get paid. So that's a curious bit of BBC contract but I wish them all the very best."

His comments come a week after the BBC issued a firm rebuttal of The Sun's claim that Evans was a "control freak" who reduced one of his Top Gear colleagues to tears.

In a statement, the broadcaster said the tabloid was on a campaign to publish negative stories about the presenter.

"The Sun's continued assertion that Chris Evans' behaviour at Radio 2 since beginning work at Top Gear has been in any way below BBC acceptable levels is completely untrue," it said.

"The Sun, for its own reasons, continues on a weekly, sometimes daily basis to publish negative stories about Top Gear and unfounded nonsense about Chris, which is no longer worth any serious consideration or response."

The Sun published a story claiming Evans had been acting like "a diva" during filming. The report came on top of a previous in-depth article featuring accounts from an "insider" of "a catalogue of setbacks" for the reboot.

The BBC categorically denied any such problems and said Evans had been a model of professionalism, motoring website Jalopnik says.

"Since taking on Top Gear alongside his Radio 2 breakfast show, Chris has displayed even greater commitment and professionalism. He remains a team player, a huge asset to the BBC and continues to show outstanding leadership in all he does on Radio, Television or for Children in Need," said the broadcaster.

Evans's Top Gear is due to hit screens on 22 May.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.