Following what I'd dare to call a disastrous relaunch of the series last year, the BBC is back with the 24th season of Top Gear, the greatest motoring show on the planet. You'll see it on BBC America on the 12th of March, and I'm happy to report that they made quite a few changes to make sure it'll rock.
During the middle of the Chris Evans season, BBC brought in experienced head of department to sort things out, after which both Chris Harris and Rory Reid got promoted to be Matt LeBlanc's full-time co-hosts, thus creating a new Top Gear trio. There's great chemistry between the two Brits and the American. And since they are also true car nuts, the BBC even gave them a new studio as well, with red wonders like a Lamborghini Countach, a Ferrari Testarossa and a Lotus Esprit Turbo acting as the decoration. No need for more.
Top Gear's team also managed to review the Ford GT before anybody else, the Ferrari FXX K before anybody else, and the Bugatti Chiron before, you've guessed it: anybody else.
The first thing we will see this Sunday is Chris Harris losing his mind in a Ferrari FXX K at Daytona. But that action will be followed by an old fashioned Top Gear challenge: Matt, Chris and Rory racing across Kazakhstan to see a rocket launch in an old Mercedes E-Class, a Volvo wagon and a London Taxi, all of which have done at least 480,000 miles. That's the equivalent mileage of going to the moon and back.
This seven-part season will also take them to Montenegro for a Bond-style chase in an Aston Martin DB11, to the Isle of Man in an eight-wheeled Russian all-terrain vehicle, to Cuba for some old-school motorsport and through America's wild west in convertible supercars.
The new ride for the celebrities is a Toyota 86, which Chris Harris calls "a much trickier car that they're gonna find really challenging." I can confirm that the Top Gear test track is much more difficult to master than it looks on TV. To talk about that, and many other things, I got seven minutes with each of the presenters, one-on-one. And to see just how different or similar they are, I asked them all the same questions.
Road & Track: What was your first car, and what was it's best feature?
Chris Harris: My first car was a 998cc Mini City, D234DWS. And what was it's best feature? It wasn't that rusty.
Rory Reid: A 1978 Ford Fiesta. I think the best feature about that car was that it never broke down. It was super reliable, so even though the paintwork was disgusting, even though the interior was horrible and worn out, the engine was a peach, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times it broke down. Mechanically, it was mint, so...full respect to Ford, and to me for keeping it going!
Matt LeBlanc: My first car was a 1984 Nissan sport truck, a pickup truck! Standard cab, standard bed, four-wheel drive. And I guess it's best feature was that it was four-wheel drive, because where I lived, outside of Boston, it was snowy, and I didn't get stuck.
R&T: What Eastern Bloc car would you choose for a long road trip?
CH: What was the Tatra that had the flat-eight in the back?
R&T: The 603 (and for the record, it was an air-cooled V8).
CH: That's the one.
RR A Lada Niva. I think they look tremendous. The styling is so basic but so rugged! I think even if they made the exact same version that's doing its rounds and released it today, it would still look really desirable. I'd have one of those.
MLB: I guess I would pick a Lada, because they're indestructible (laughing).
R&T: Is there a classic car the you always wanted, but can't afford or just wouldn't spend that much on anymore?
CH: Just about all of them. I'd love a Daytona, but I don't think they're worth £600,000. I'll give you £200k for one, but not £600k.
RR: No. I mean, I'm very focused in my desire for a particular classic car, which is a C3 Chevy Corvette, and the prices of that remained relatively stable. The ones I want are from 68-73, before the US imposed those restrictions. If I can get one of those with the chrome bumpers, then I'm a happy man. But I also want a C2, and the prices of those have gone up, so if there's any car that skyrocketed a bit, I guess it's the C2s.
MLB: Probably an early 911.
R&T: Is there a car you regret selling?
CH: Are you taking the piss? 993 GT2. You knew exactly. They all know the fucking answer to that question. I get that once a day on Twitter. "You regret selling your 993 GT2?" NO, OF COURSE I DON'T.
RR: No, because everything I've ever sold has either been hideous to look at like the Fiesta, or it broke down, or it tried to killed me. I had a Vauxhall Astra GTE, 16-valve, which is really powerful. I modified it with a K&N air filter, aftermarket exhaust, Brembo brakes, but the ABS system didn't work. The first time I drove that car, I went really fast towards a junction, hit the brake hard, and the ABS system just gave up completely. I went straight across the road, and narrowly missed being hit by a bus. And we couldn't fix the braking system, there was nothing we could do, the electronics were totally screwed. So, when I sold that car, I was like "yeah, I'm glad to get rid of it, because if I keep it, one day, it'll kill me.
MLB: I had a 2000…I believe it was a 2000... 360 Modena, Ferrari. And I've done all the upgrades to it, put a set of Novitec wheels on it, Tubi exhausts and all that work. That was a nice car. But it was getting a bit long in the tooth, so I decided to get rid of it…and you know. I didn't get the money for it, and they hadn't appreciated yet, but they will in time, and I probably should have hung on to that.
R&T: If you'd have to build a vehicle for a Mad Max scenario, what would you base it on?
CH: You'd want a really strong frame, wouldn't you? I'd probably base it on something like a G 63 AMG. Big solid ladder, and then you can do what you want, kind of.
RR: I'd have to be rugged, fairly simple…I'd go for a Fiat Panda 4x4, because they are not too complicated, they're four-wheel drive, very practical, quite small and amazing off-road as well! I'd take one of those, because there are places even a Range Rover can't go, and because they are so light, they don't get bogged down in the mud. Definitely, a Fiat Panda 4x4, with some upgrades, of course. Knifes in the wheels, Uzis…
MLB: A Peterbilt.
R&T: What's the most exciting modern technology in the automotive world?
CH: Hydrogen. Excites me much more than anything electric, because I can see how it'd work. If you got behind it and understood how you could produce and distribute it, it could work, because it creates an infrastructure problem that I see us solving, while with electricity, I can't. I don't understand how there's gonna be a charging point in as many places as there is a fuel station. I don't get that. And where will all that lithium come from?
RR: I think battery electric vehicles are very exciting. Hybrids are cool, but EV's are even cooler because of some things you can do with the drivetrain. Especially if you have individual motors in each wheel! You can change the torque distribution, from being an all-wheel drive car to a front-wheel drive, or a rear-wheel drive, and experience at least three different layouts in one. So, if you want to play about with some lift off oversteer, or power slides with a ridiculously powerful rear-wheel drive system, again, you can do that. And if you want to do stupid things like diverting all power to one wheel, the left front only, you can do that as well. I love playing around with tech to see what possibilities there are, and battery electric vehicles with individual motors in each wheel could end up doing so many clever things and make driving a lot of fun.
MLB: I would say now probably active aerodynamics. I think that is fascinating to have the computers and the motors be fast enough to control and change the wings in real time to help the car. I was lucky enough to drive the new Ford GT around Laguna Seca, and…well, actually there's an embargo on my opinion on that, I can not really talk about that. But that has active aero, and I guess in general, that's really impressive because you can feel it at work. You know, when you get on the brakes and the nose dives, the active aero keeps the car balanced. And you're like "why is it not sketchy at the front?" Because when the car dips at the front, it changes the way the air goes over it. To keep it level and not bounce back is good. That's the most impressive advancement for me.
R&T: What's the most annoying modern car feature?
CH: Oh, so many. Electronic hand brakes…what's the point in that? How are you supposed to do a fucking hand brake turn?
R&T: Packaging reasons. That's what the industry is telling us.
CH: That's just…that is technically, horse shit. The blind spot warning? Never works, always completely disastrous. And another one is the auto dip beam. I've never driven a car that doesn't blind someone.
RR: Keyless entry. Simply because you got these keys which don't have to be plugged into the vehicle. So you start the car, and if somebody else then takes it and parks it, and you still got the key, those who took it can't start the car back on. It never tells you if the key is not in the car once the engine is running, so you could have the key on you, while somebody drove the car a 400 miles away, and turn it off, only to end up not being able to start, or even lock it again. Someone needs to do something about keyless entry, because I've fallen victim to this several times.
MLB: Autonomous cars.
R&T: What was the most disastrous moment in British car design?
CH: Many people over here say it's the Austin Allegro, which is pretty high up, but I'd say…I mean, there's just so many to choose from! I'm going to say…yeah, I'm gonna to say the Austin Allegro. I think it's just appalling.
R&T: I also have to ask you about the American, because Matt LeBlanc told me to.
CH: The American one? Edsel? Something like that? No, that's unfair. Corvair…I still struggle with that. I don't like the look of those, I think they are pretty awful looking. But was the crazy early eighties thing that had the glass at the back? What was it called…the Pacer? Oh, Pontiac Aztek! The Aztek is the worst.
RR: I'm patriotic! I don't think you can go as far as calling anything a complete disaster! What I'll say though is that everybody loves the Jaguar E-Type, and they say it's the best looking car of all time…I think Enzo Ferrari famously said that this is the most beautiful car ever. I don't see it! I think it has a face a bit like a fish and the ergonomics are totally wrong. If you got this convertible car and you're sitting in it, your head is almost above the windscreen. So if you flip it, you gonna end up on your head. I just don't buy into the hype. It's not a disaster, I appreciate people appreciating it.
R&T: What was the most disastrous moment in American car design?
MLB: Woo…there have been a few. That would be either the AMC Pacer, or the Gremlin. They did make a Javelin, which I took my driving test in. My stepfather had one. It was completely rotten, you could see the road through the floorboards, but the Pacer and the Gremlin…maybe not highlights.
R&T: Is there a defunct car brand you miss?
CH: You know what? And it sounds awful…If you could resurrect Saab to make cars like they made in the late eighties, like a slightly quirky 900 with the most incredibly comfortable seats and that lovely turbo whistle…I thought those were great cars! I didn't like the GM-era Saabs, those were shit, but a proper Saab with those sort of aerospace ergonomics and the quirks, I'd have one of those.
RR: TVR, definitely. It roars back every year, I think, but it never quite happens, does it? TVR is one of my favorite brands just because of the styling, and the Sagaris is a car I'd love to have. Just the outrageous design of that car! I've been passed so many times by those just on the high street, and when you hear one, the sound is absolutely ridiculous. They are a lot of money now, the good examples, but yeah, that'd be a dream.
CH: No, I don't miss TVR. Well, because I have awful memories of all of them trying to kill me.
Well, there you have it! For the rest, Top Gear returns Sunday, March 12 at 8/7c on BBC America.