Notwithstanding the whole ‘crumbling of the global political and social order’ thing, it’s a fine time to be alive. The weather is fine, the days are long, and Top Gear is returning to your tellies with a shiny new presenter line-up. Yes, TGTV is back! Series 27 sees Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris tackling the fastest, hottest, toughest Top Gear challenges to date: pushing their cars, and themselves, to the very limits of endurance. All because no one takes testing cars as seriously as Top Gear. And also because they really should have checked the small print of their contracts more closely before signing. From the brutal heat of the Ethiopian desert to the sweltering Borneo rainforest, from the wilds of Iceland to, um, the pedestrianised shopping district of downtown Mansfield, TG is going bigger than ever before. Catch it on Sunday nights on BBC Two. Or on the iPlayer on the internet. Or both. Best make it both.
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Top Gear series 27: here's your full preview
It's your guide to this summer's Top Gear telly
First cars to the birthplace of humankind
Everyone remembers their first car, no matter how rubbish. The new-found independence. The glorious freedom. The terrible brakes. The terrible smells. Keen to delve into the new presenting team’s motoring history, the producers told Paddy, Freddie and Chris to each go out and buy a fine example of their own first car, for just four thousand pounds. And, if a fine example of their own first car didn’t exist for just four thousand pounds, to buy a less-than-fine example that hopefully worked at least a bit.
Purchases secured, the presenters were told to report for a trip down Memory Lane in quite frankly the only logical place to test a trio of battered first cars: Ethiopia. The birthplace of humankind. A land of vast mountains, jaw-dropping world heritage sites, and the Danakil Depression, the hottest year-round place on Earth…
Tesla Model 3 vs Everything
If you follow Elon Musk on Twitter, you’ll know the Tesla boss spouts quite a few outlandish claims. And when Musk boasted his new car, the Model 3, was faster than “anything in its class”, well, that was a claim we couldn’t allow to pass unchecked. So Chris assembled the class, and set about putting Mr Musk’s boasts to the test.
Pista vs Longtail
As part of his ongoing bid to keep Europe’s tyre manufacturers in healthy business, Chris Harris takes to the Top Gear track in the Ferrari 488 Pista and McLaren 600LT, to find out if the, um, ‘budget’, £180k Macca can really go toe-to-toe with the £250k Fezza. That’s our Chris. Always on hand to tackle the big consumer issues of the day.
A Dallara-lara laughs
The Dallara Stradale is a car that raises many questions. Is a 2.3-litre four-cylinder Ford engine appropriate propulsion for a car costing 200 thousand pounds? Why, exactly, did they forget the doors? And, most importantly: can it pull more g-force in the corners than a Lotus 3-Eleven driven by Freddie Flintoff?
Harris meets the 79
The Lotus 79. Black Beauty. Unquestionably the most stunning F1 car of all time, and, according to Chris Harris, the most important of the bunch. So Top Gear’s answer to Mary Beard dusted off the racing history books, and headed to Lotus’s Norfolk HQ to discover the incredible history of the 79. A story of genius and innovation, of heroism and subterfuge, of victory and tragedy. A story of true racing legends. A story of the most beautiful racecar of them all. And then Lotus asked if Chris would like to have a little drive of it…
Paddy McGuinness, being a chap of unquestionable taste and judgement, is quite the fan of the old A80 Toyota Supra. So, with a new Supra out, what better excuse to get a nice quiet drive of the Nineties icon? Y’know, one of those nice quiet drives that escalates into a convoy of many, many modified old Supras. And an old 911 Turbo. And a DB7. And a Ferrari 512 TR. One of those nice quiet drives that ends with a thrash around the track in the new Supra, and a good argument with Chris Harris, who is something of a sceptic when it comes to Japan’s newest sports car…
That’s why Freddie goes to Iceland
Freddie Flintoff. Sporting legend, annoyingly competent at everything he turns his hand to, all-round nice bloke. But, on early impressions at least, an all-round nice bloke with literally no sense of fear. Properly, genuinely concerning lack of self-preservation.
Now, obviously there were two possible ways to discover if Freddie had any function left in his fear gland. One, some sort of extensive medical test, probably involving CAT scanners and the like. Two, packing him off to compete in Iceland’s Formula Off Road – the maddest, smashiest motorsport on the planet, in which thousand-horsepower trucks race to the top of vertical cliffs – to see if he’d flinch at any point. Obviously, we went for Option Two.
According to Paddy McGuinness, the perfect secondhand family car is not a spacious Volvo 840 estate, or a hardy Land Rover Discovery. No, the perfect second-hand family car is… an old hearse. In fairness, there’s at least some logic behind this apparently deranged proclamation. Hearses, after all, are a) spacious b) carefully driven, and c) really very cheap, on account of no sane human wanting to buy something that’s spent a decade ferrying corpses about.
To prove his genius, Paddy bought himself an old Daimler hearse, and invited Chris and Freddie to the Top Gear test track to experience its magnificence. Magnificence that was, for some reason, best proved by loading the hearse with vegetables, lawnmowers and grandmothers. Convinced, somehow, of Paddy’s genius, Chris and Freddie took it upon themselves to lightly upgrade Paddy’s Daimler, transforming it from hearse into… the Overtaker, Britain’s ultimate family car. Which the Top Gear producers then challenged to a series of sensible, family-car tests. Including a beach assault course, a hill climb, and a no-holds-barred banger race. Some crashing may have occurred.
The Borneo Ultimatum
If you want a truly rare car, you don’t need to spend millions on a Ferrari 250 California Spyder or Aston DB4. Because, if you’re prepared to spend a long time trawling the most harrowing corners of the classifieds, you’ll discover cars that are very rare and very cheap. Cars, in some cases, with just a couple of examples left on the road. The most endangered of species. But are super-rare, super-cheap classics a good idea? To find out, Paddy got himself a Matra Bagheera, France’s forgotten Seventies sports car, while Freddie went truly exotic with… an Austin Allegro estate. Whereupon they were dispatched to Borneo, the vast rainforest island that’s home to many rare beasts of its own. And, on account of being somewhat jungly, a challenging environment for a pair of knackered old cars. But an even more challenging environment for Paddy, a man who, by his own admission, isn’t a confident traveller. And also isn’t a fan of eating still-squirming sago worms.
The 24 minutes of Le Mansfield
The future of cars, we’re told, is electric. Problem is, most electric cars out there at the moment are a) very expensive or b) very boring, or c) both. The TG presenters reckon that for the world to get really excited about EVs, what we need is a budget electric sports car. Something cheap, battery-powered and, most importantly, fun. With no such cars forthcoming on the market, Paddy, Freddie and Chris each set out to build their own electric sports cars for a very small amount of money, which they then set about testing with a tour of some of the Midlands’ finest industrial locations, a tour culminating in Top Gear’s inaugural urban electric endurance race: the 24 Minutes of Le Mansfield. Just like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but shorter. And battery-powered. And in Mansfield. Cue several minutes of zero-octane, wheel-to-wheel endurance racing, one unscheduled crash test of a market stall (Flintoff, naturally), and a small amount of actual electrocution.