Shock horror: episode four of Top Gear’s nineteenth series was an episode predominately about cars! Well, almost.
Case in point: episode four kicked off with a thorough three-car comparison test, the likes of which we haven’t seen in recent series, between three hot hatches: the new Vauxhall VXR, Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane 265. Despite his long-running disdain for Vauxhall, even Jeremy had to admit the VXR is a stylish and deceptively powerful car brought to you by the same manufacturer that made the uninspiring Vectra.
Surprisingly, the Focus fared less well despite Clarkson being an avid Ford fan thanks to its woolly handling and bland styling, although it at least redeemed itself out on the track by being the fastest of the trio. All in all, a surprisingly factual, entertaining and concise comparison test for modern-day Top Gear review.
By contrast, the news was business as usual, frankly: some talking about relevant car news before going off-topic and running a juvenile joke firmly into the ground. In this case, the central topic was seducing women with handbrake turns which led to adolescent anecdotes as each presenter reflected on their attempts to attract women.
It was then time for the new Kia Cee’d to be subjected to another of Clarkson’s ridiculously comprehensive car tests that answers questions such as “can a Ford Fiesta outrun baddies in a Corvette through a shopping mall?” and “can you land a helicopter on a Skoda Yeti?” all in the name of ‘consumer advice’.
While nothing has since topped the Ford Fiesta shopping mall extravaganza, the Kia test was much more understated, resorting to amusingly fleeting celebrity cameos from the likes of Matt LeBlanc, Eric Clapton and Bruce Willis rather than gratuitous stunts – with the exception of an exploding Vauxhall Vectra (what else?) to demonstrate the life of an Eel salesman. They even managed to fit in some practical advice, as Jeremy demonstrated the wonders of the Kia’s smart self-parking system.
Kia’s reputation has soared in recent years thanks to its better-built cars and 7 year warranty scheme, and Clarkson’s test perfectly testified that – flash back to nearly 10 years ago and the verdict would have been very different indeed. In fact, Top Gear did an entire segment on the Korean car market in an episode that aired in 2005, which makes for an interesting comparison.
Lewis Hamilton made his second appearance as a celebrity guest on the show following his recent departure from McLaren, which of course meant that, like every other F1 driver, the Suzuki Liana was brought out for another outing. And sure enough, the young F1 star managed to blitz the leaderboard, surely wiping the smug smirk off previous lap record holder Sebastian Vettel’s face.
Of course, you would expect a lap from an experienced F1 driver to be poised, but it’s amazing to see just how effortlessly easy Lewis makes it look, tapping the wheel and casually humming a tune. It was an interesting interview, too, particularly when Lewis opened up about the PR pressures he was under with McLaren.
Next up was yet another road test, but this one was quite different. In response to the show’s recent racial controversy, in which the team were criticised for mocking Mexicans, Richard Hammond endeavoured to redeem the situation by road testing the Mastretta MXT, i.e. the first ever Mexican-built sports car.
Thankfully, they didn’t overdo the inevitable “Mexico hates Top Gear” gags. Instead, this was an informative review on an unusual car in a sublime setting. Hammond even compared the handling to a Lotus Elise at one point which is quite a compliment, although I was surprised to see it didn’t get more of a bashing for its abysmal build quality.
The final part of the Kia C’eed review concluded with a game of car rugby, which saw Clarkson and May tear up Twickenham’s turf in squads of Kias. While entertaining, this segment suffered from two core problems that have plagued this series: it’s been done before in a similar vein and was significantly overstretched.
It was really no different from the games of car football that have featured on the show in multiple series, and would have worked much better as a short 5 minute segment in conjunction with other challenges like in the first half – It really didn’t warrant a full 15 minute show finale. They could have easily added some extra time to pad out the hot hatch review instead.
Then again, that’s no bad thing, as again this meant the cars were the stars. As a result, this was a solid, car-centric episode that was light on laughs but felt suitably packed with more segments than usual.