Top Gear is a widely acclaimed BBC television show about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the world’s most widely watched factual television program. The show actually began in 1977 and was re-launched in 2002 and enjoys a worldwide audience with a broad demographic that ensures its popularity. More recently, a US-centric version of the show hit our screens and features the same mix of ridiculous stunts, test drives and sarcastic jibes.
Sometimes humorous and sometimes controversial, Top Gear puts viewers in the driver seat of some of the world’s most powerful and expensive driving machines, and for effect some lower end models as well.
The show is well known for presenting unusual reviews when reviewing the cars presented. These usually include the standard road test and opinions, but typically go a step further presenting those reviews and opinions in extremely unusual circumstances, or to demonstrate a particular strength in a specific vehicle.
Legit Reviews or Pure Entertainment?
First things first, can we agree that not everyone will drive much less own an Aston One 77? However, after a few minutes of watching the show you can feel like you have driven one. And therein lies the appeal for the show.
We would have to say that the reviews are indeed legit, even though from time to time viewers will disagree.
It’s entertainment first and content second. Sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek reviews on smaller economical models serve a purpose with the show’s producers and that’s to entertain the viewer. And on that account Top Gear has struck a nerve with its viewers. The show continues to bring a fresh perspective on some of the world’s most desired cars combined with an entertaining format.
Top Gear regularly features races, ethnic races as they are referred to, pitting one type of car against another form of transportation and has become one of the most popular features of the show.
Perhaps one of the most popular features and most widely downloaded ontheInternet is the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car”. This segment features a celebrity that is interviewed while watching footage of the guest driving to attain the fastest lap around the Top Gear Test Track. And due to the show’s gigantic ratings, these aren’t any old Z-list ‘stars’. Top Gear has the power to pull in Hollywood’s biggest names with Cameron Diaz, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Cruise all making appearances.
The featured guest will usually offer some opinion on the car that was driven, but again the combination of review and entertainment is a very effective combination for the audience. And of course, you can’t fail to mention the freakishly good driving skills of the erstwhile anonymous Stig – whose identity being revealed was scandalous and was plastered over the British media for days.
Aside from this section, it’s the mammoth reviews stunts that the show is best known for. Often shot in an exotic location (think Lamborghini’s at top speed on arrow-straight highways in Arabian desert or Bughatti Veyron’s taking on a Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighter), these are simply outrageous and have to be seen to be believed. The two examples I mentioned above aren’t fictitious – this is the sort of thing Clarkson & Co. regularly get up to.
So, huge ratings around the world, Hollywood actors fawning over each other just to race in a standard family car, with outlandish stunts thrown in. It’s a TV executive’s panacea for slipping viewer ratings. But is it worthwhile actually listening to what these guys have to say about cars?
Well, here’s the deal – how many family cars do you actually see on the show (apart from in the aforementioned ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’)? The answer to that, quite predictably, is very few. Very, very few. You’re more likely to see an incredibly expensive supercar racing another inaffordable supercar or a Toyoto pickup being blasted by the wash from a jumbo 747’s engine.
At the end of each season the series presents a car of the year award. Here are the winners from the previous 10 years:
2002 Land Rover Range Rover
2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom
2004 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2005 Bugatti Veyron
2006 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
2007 Subaru Legacy Outback/Ford Mondeo
2008 Caterham Seven R500
2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni
2010 Citroën DS3
2011 Range Rover Evoque
When I look at this list, I don’t see many affordable cars. Why? Well, when TV executives expect high numbers, they can’t take many chances. What’s more entertaining? A high octance race between an Audi R8 and a Porsche 911, or a Mitsubishi Lancer review?This plays into an almost snobbish attitude at Top Gear that anything that isn’t Italian or German and drives very fast around a test track should be dismissed as average. The truth is that the show is a production – and a very good one at that. The quality of their filming and editing is to be seen to be believed. It’s entertaining and compelling, aspirational even. But in my opinion, its focus on expensive cars makes it difficult to trust their advice when it comes to buying something more realistic. On the other hand, if you have a spare million and an empty garage, there’s few other places I’d listen to.