After Top Gear’s triumphant return commenced with a strong start to the series, it was time to settle down to episode 2 where the boys embarked on another of their three car road trips across the US.
As they pulled up at Nevada, the obligatory bickering between each presenter making a case for their car of choice ensued. James was allotted with the new alluring Aston Martin Vanquish, whereas Hammond, being Top Gear’s resident American wannabe, rolled up in a savage SRT Viper.
Jeremy, on the other hand, arrived in a lavish Lexus LFA, a car that initially seemed like an odd match for Jezza. After all, this is a man renowned for his taste in big brutish cars like the Mercedes SLS and the Ford GT, and yet the Lexus, which Hammond declared as a “nerd-fest”, might as well be a PlayStation Vita – technically accomplished, yes, but a machine that appeals to a limited audience, is unjustifiably overpriced and unprofitable. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone in need of an esoteric Japanese supercar would buy an LFA over a Nissan GT-R. Apparently, Jeremy was originally scheduled to drive the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, which made his last-minute misplacement all the more apparent.
At this point, you would expect to see quick-fire shots of each car getting a traditional tyre-squealing, tail-sliding thrashing, but this wasn’t the case. Because, much to their dismay, Nevada’s desolate and relentlessly straight roads have a 55mph speed limit enforcement, which became a running gag throughout the trip. Not that they obeyed it for very long, of course.
To induce some much-needed speed into the film, Clarkson and his cronies entered the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which, as Hammond helpfully pointed out, is home to NASCAR oval racing and Ferrari driving experiences. In what therefore should have been a golden opportunity for them to test each other’s cars on the track, they instead chose to pointlessly race against some youths in modified Mitsubishis and Hondas on a drag strip. As amusing as it was to see a £340,000 supercar get annihilated by a modified pickup truck, it felt like a missed opportunity to see how the cars fared on a race track.
Thankfully, this week’s news segment was markedly better than the last episode thanks to the infectious banter between the trio. Clarkson was on top form, inciting a mandatory rant on parking restrictions and spraying a fire extinguisher whilst sat on an office chair to demonstrate his ideal way to propel a car in light of Citroen’s plan to run cars on compressed air. Got to love Clarkson’s infantile logic.
Continuing on with the main feature, which took up the bulk of the episode, the trip moved on to the Willow Springs race track. Again, another opportunity to thoroughly test each car was sadly missed – instead they played an elaborate game of laser quest with two Italian Marchetti aircraft.
While it was fun to watch, it was a daft, pointless and overlong exercise that felt like an excuse to show off the camera crew’s proficiency. Indeed, the cinematography was electrifying, containing some of Top Gear's most accomplished camerawork to date, but it was very much a case of style over substance. Wouldn’t it have been beneficial to at least get the Stig to record some lap times for comparison?
Back to the studio, this week’s guest was the legendary Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac in what was one of the more engaging interviews seen on the show in recent memory. You could tell Clarkson had an avid interest in the guest having grown up with their music, and it showed. His enthusiasm to dig deep into the band’s history uncovered some of the tensions between the members, and it was interesting to see Mick reflect on this. Too bad he can’t drive as well as he can drum.
A final stop at Los Angeles with some larking about in storm trains concluded the US trip, culminating with a competition to see who could leave the longest tyre trails. It was all a setup for another cheap penis gag – a juvenile joke, yes, but it was hard not to laugh out loud when Jeremy called the courteous Lexus sat nav lady for advice on what to do after he had “accidentally drawn a gentleman sausage on a storm drain.” “Oh my”, she said, clearly speechless.
The final race was something of an anti-climax. In what should have been a mad dash to the Mexican border, in which the loser would have to review the Mastretta, a car manufactured in Mexico that created controversy after their racist remarks, for a future films as punishment, it lacked the drama and tension you would expect from the premise. The fact it was confined to straight highways probably didn't help.
While the road trip had its moments, it somehow lacked the usual spark that makes these films so endearing and enjoyable on repeated viewings. Suffice to say, I have no desire to watch it again.
Perhaps it’s because we normally see the presenters bond with their cars along the journey. By contrast, I just didn’t feel any sense of emotional attachment between thema nd their cars. It’s for this reason I wasn’t convinced when Jeremy declared the LFA as the best car he had ever driven, and I’m fully expecting him to say exactly the same thing about another swanky supercar next series. For such a tall statement, it really needed a more thorough explanation. Indeed, the same could be said about the road trip as a whole – there was no concrete conclusion deciding which car was best.
Episode 2 was by no means Top Gear's worst episode, but it was hardly one of the best, either, especially when compared to previous road trips of the same ilk that were as hilarious as they were informative. On the plus side, the scripted comedy was toned down for the most part, aside from the predictible sabbotaging of Richard's Viper to make him lose the race, but they spent too much time trying to be spontaneous. You could say it added to the sense of adventure with all of their random discoveries, but darting off to random events made the film feel unfocused and disjointed. Ultimately, the cars should have been the stars of the show – a lesson that Top Gear still doesn't seem to have learnt.
On that bombshell, if you’ll excuse me I have a sudden urge to drive a yellow Lexus LFA through the sweeping canyon roads of Forza Horizon…