Top Gear telly returns tonight with a Christmas special that promises to be ground-breaking in at least two regards. First, because it is actually screened some time around Christmas. Second, because it genuinely, properly tackles a major motoring issue of our time. The issue of urban transportation.
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Top Gear TV's 2019 Christmas special: the £5k city car
Paddy, Freddie and Chris head to Nepal to test their future-proofed 'city cars'
See, scientist-types predict that, by 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population – some seven billion people – will live in cities. Which means that, in the future, the world won’t need SUVs or supercars. What the world will need… is city cars. Specifically, city cars that are tough enough to withstand anything the mega-cities of the future can throw at them.
So, as a service to humankind, Paddy, Freddie and Chris were ordered to go out and buy, for less than five grand, their ultimate future-proof city car.
Chris, predictably, went for an old, slow French car: a Renault 4 painted in a shade known as ‘budget toothpaste’.
Paddy, marginally less predictably, went for a classic hot hatch in the shape of a Peugeot 106 Rallye.
And Freddie… well, Freddie didn’t buy anything at all. His logic? These big Top Gear adventures always involve the producers instructing the presenters to buy small, cheap cars in the UK, and then shipping them somewhere far-flung and exotic where they’re completely out of their depth. Flintoff’s strategy? To wait to see where they’d be sent, then buy a local car more appropriate for the job.
This, clearly, was an utterly cynical strategy, unfortunately somewhat vindicated when the producers revealed that the venue for this city car test would be… Nepal. So off they headed to Kathmandu, the three presenters and their two cars, whereupon Freddie bought himself something called a Hulas Mustang, which is apparently Nepal’s first-ever locally built car, not that anyone in Nepal seemed to have much idea what it was.
So how would these city cars – sorry, ‘city cars’ – be put to the test? Well, obviously, with a ‘commute’ from Kathmandu to the Forbidden City of Lo Manthang, a secretive kingdom on the far side of the Himalayas. The Himalayas, it turns out, are (a) really quite large, and (b) not served by a road network you’d describe as ‘well-surfaced’ or, in many parts, ‘existent’.
Cue a week-long expedition through the highest mountains, deepest gorges and toughest terrain on the planet, a mission that would test even the toughest 4x4s to the limit. As for a couple of knackered old French city cars and a lump of Nepalese pig-iron, well, let’s just say the survival rate was less than 100 per cent…
Top Gear’s Christmas special hits UK screens on 29 December at 9pm, BBC Two.