Top Gear — S17, E3

Cue the music and cue Jeremy! Jeremy’s bothering old ladies, Richard’s on a car phone and James is sniffing his own armpit.

With that tasteful opening, Jeremy starts off with the new McLaren MP4-12C, yet another expensive car I will probably never have the honour of riding in. Jeremy ponders “Why is it named after a fax machine and is it as good as a Ferrari 458?” And, while McLaren admits the 458 is a great car, they claim that their new car is better in every way. And they certainly make a compelling case. The McLaren costs 168,000 pounds ($270,829.00 US), which isn’t cheap, but still less expensive than the 458. Jeremy comments on it being lighter weight-wise as well as being slightly more eco-friendly than the Ferrari, but it’s also more powerful. Which is something Clarkson proceeds to prove by chasing down and overtaking a Ferrari on the Top Gear test track.

Better traction, better suspension, better cornering…all in all, it equals a better ride. We then see a montage of the Stig cutting one particular corner of the test track in previous laps and how jarring the bump was when two wheels leave the track. How is it for the McLaren? “More of a jolt if you drove a Rolls-Royce over a Jaffa Cake,” opines Clarkson, which also serves to remind me I really need to indulge in a Jaffa Cake one of these days. Curse you, you squishy orange and chocolate bastards! But back to the McLaren, which, while this particular one is orange, is not what you’d call “squishy”.

It is, however, an exquisite vehicle. A technical marvel with a perfect ride. And yet, Jeremy still thinks this McLaren lacks “zing”. We cut to shots of where the McLaren is manufactured, a sterile and ordered assembly line of quiet white and shining metal. In such a place jokes do not happen, Jeremy sadly comments. And apparently this lack of joy carries over in driving this McLaren. This is something I’m just going to have to take the man’s opinion on as if I were behind the wheel of such a car, I’d be too busy trying not to wet myself or embarrass myself by making vroom-vroom noises. And I’d probably fail miserably on that last bit.

Back to the studio. Richard wants to verify if the McLaren’s ride really is as smooth as Jeremy claims. As Clarkson confirms it, James, still bitter from last week, takes the opportunity for another pot shot at the Nürburgring. Apparently, the McLaren was actually developed at the Top Gear test track, so this means that it theoretically should be able to set a “blisteringly fast” lap time. This means it’s time for the Stig, listening to ABBA in Spanish! Clear track gives the McLaren MP4-12C a time of 1:16.2, making it the second fastest car on the board!

Time for the news. This week’s items of note are a 1920’s car called the “Brutus”, with an engine that would set any steampunk fancier’s heart a-fluttering; Silverstone jumping on the anniversary of the E-Type’s bandwagon with its own celebration; BMW’s new M5 (which will have the evil that is Facebook and Twitter as options on the dashboard, something that the boys justifiably rant about as being a hindrance while driving); and Jeremy griping about bird poo. He’s so worked up that he’s offering the viewers at home the chance to send pictures to the Top Gear studio of horrific examples of avian fecal matter attacking their own cars in order to find the biggest piece of poo. I’m calling it now. When BBC America finally runs this episode here in the States, even if it’s billed as the “extended edition”, Clarkson’s scatalogical plea will be missing. And if in its place, the US decides to make room for a stool softener ad, I will laugh mightily.

Thankfully, the news end there, which then leads us to James May and the new Range Rover Evoque, which was designed in part by Victoria Beckham of all people. He’s heading to Nevada, where he gets the honour of driving to Las Vegas to chauffeur Cher. Of course, in order to test the Evoque’s off-roading capabilities, James has just got to drive through 150 miles of Death Valley without hitting the tarmac first. So far, the Evoque handles the flat plains of gravel without a challenge, soaking up the washboard bumps with no trouble.

James is also impressed by the Evoque’s interior design and stereo as he indulges in a few off-key warblings of “Believe”. Then, the terrain takes a turn for the upward rocky inclines. So far though the Evoque’s terrain response control is able to pull through. Alas, in a narrow canyon, James comes across an obstacle he can’t navigate past, but to be fair, most off-roading vehicles would have trouble getting up a small cliff face. Time to find another route. Things seem to be going swimmingly for James after he re-traces his bearings. Well, at least until he reaches the sand dunes.

The Evoque manages to cope well on sand, even on steep dunes, but now the problem is Captain Sense of Direction’s internal SAT-NAV. Things get even more flustering for James when a couple of locals in souped-up dune buggies buzz by him and blind him in a cloud of sand. Fortunately though, the buggies then helpfully guide May out of the dunes and he’s soon speeding along at a breakneck pace on a dry riverbed. James takes the opportunity to again praise Mrs. Beckham on her car. As the sun sets, James makes it to the road, finally out of Death Valley.

Vegas awaits! Can he make it to Cher in time? More importantly, will his stench put off the multi-award winning diva? The bright lights of the Strip are in full view. I am suddenly reminded of the Vegas trip I took last year, where my hotel eagerly offered to “upgrade” my room to see the Strip at a bit of a cost. I had a gorgeous view of the mountains instead. All things considering, I think I made the better choice. But speaking of hotels, James is approaching his target. Paris, Luxor, Bally’s…he’s passing them all by. He’s pulling into…Imperial Palace? Seems a bit low-end for Cher, but who can say in this economy? Flash bulbs are snapping, fans are screaming, security is keeping the public a safe distance back as the star of the evening enters the Evoque. Sadly for James however, this Cher is just a well-dressed impersonator named Steve, who would now like to go to a burger joint.

Unfortunately, we do not end up at In-n-Out Burgers, but rather back to the studio, where Jeremy questions James’ lack of observation skills before asking about the Evoque’s performance. James once more enthuses about how well the Range Rover did. Jeremy then announces that it’s time for the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car. Tonight, we have Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel, a man I sadly know even less about than last week’s Ross Noble. He does, however, bear a striking resemblance to WWE wrestler Christian. Yes, Mr. Vince McMahon, I use the word “wrestler”. Unlike you. But I’m going to stop this train of thought before I start thinking about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson threatening to stick his foot up the Stig’s roody-poo candy ass.

Vettel has many accomplishments, including being the youngest person to ever win a Grand Prix. We actually see a few photos of Sebastian at age seven right next to the legendary Michael Schumacher. Jeremy, tactful as always, asks the good-humoured Vettel how does he feel now when he laps Schumacher. Vettel’s humour carries over to the rather cheeky names he gives his race cars and he mentions he’s a huge fan of British comedy like “Little Britain”. Clarkson brings up Monty Python, which is the third mention in as many weeks and has me now wondering if there’s some potential foreshadowing for an upcoming episode. John Cleese trading snark with Jeremy Clarkson? I’d pay money to see that!

Sebastian admits to loving Python’s “Life of Brian”, preferring the original English version over the German translation. This then leads him to comment about how Jeremy is dubbed in German: “It just doesn’t work!” But now it’s time for Sebastian’s lap, and, since he’s a professional race car driver, it’s also time for the return of the Suzuki Liana. Clear track and the Liana appears to hold up well, but what sort of time did Vettel make? Vettel’s making jokes about the head wind slowing him down, but his time is 1:44.0! He’s the fastest F1 driver in the Liana! He’s beaten both Rubens Barrichello AND the Stig! Jeremy, however, is quick to point out that the time listed for the Stig is for the old, sacked Stig and tosses the ex-Stig’s time out, adding that the new Stig has yet to take to the track.

Now, it’s over to Richard, who’s standing by the Nissan Pixo. The Pixo is currently the cheapest new car available for sale in Britain at 6,995 pounds ($11,276.40 US). Is it actually worth the price? Not really, as we take it to Jeremy on the road. It’s slow, not very spacious, not very pretty and has minimal features. It even lacks electronic windows, which is something we take for granted in modern cars these days. But if you’re spending so little, should one expect to have that much in a car?

Perhaps then the better option is to buy a used car, as Richard shows up in a twenty-three year old Bentley Turbo R that is the same cost as the Pixo, but is faster, looks much better and has a lot more features. Even Jeremy is impressed, though both men admit that, should the Bentley need repairs, it’s not as economical as the Nissan. But it gets them thinking: what other used cars are available at less than the Pixo’s price? Indeed, the boys are astonished at some of the options they find. Hondas, Mazdas, BMWs, Jags, all with only a few thousand miles on them each. Richard admits that a few are cheap only because they’re rubbish, but most end up being still quite good.

Richard and Jeremy cruise the roads in a Porsche convertible that’s done 88,000 miles. Despite being a quality vehicle, Clarkson is worried about his man-cred. But he perks up at the sound of the Porsche’s roaring engine as it speeds. And then the challenge is set: who could buy the most amazing vehicle for the same price as the Nissan Pixo? A short time later, Clarkson and Hammond have their choices. Jeremy starts matters off with a nine year old Mercedes CL that he got for 6,995 pounds. Richard has a seventeen year old BMW 850CI he got for 6,700 pounds. He’s already claiming it’s better than Jeremy’s Mercedes due to the BMW having pop-up headlights. Cue the trash-talking.

Obviously, it’s time to put these cars through a few tests. Not surprisingly, they start matters off with a drag race. Sadly for the Hamster, his vaunted pop-up headlights prove to be ineffective in helping his aerodynamics and he’s thoroughly trounced by Jeremy. Cut to some more trash talking via car phones and then they send in the mechanics to see just how much horsepower their cars have lost during the years. It’s soon revealed that in those seventeen years, the BMW has lost 27 horsepower. Unsurprisingly, the Mercedes has only lost ten horsepower. Jeremy then indulges in some smugness at Richard’s expense before they summon CSI: London and get their cars’ interiors forensically examined. Clarkson reminds Hammond that the last time Richard had a car examined, blood, mucus and fecal matter was found. Fortunately, this time out, Richard is poo-free, but still has traces of spit, snot and piss. Jeremy, meanwhile, has traces of “white powder”, rhinestones and, as the forensic examiner delicately tries to explain, a substance associated with different cases found on vaginal swabs. What a tasteful combo!

Jeremy Clarkson, card carrying member of the Redundant Department on Redundancy, informs us that it’s time for a road test to see how the cars perform on the road. Richard has far too much fun with his pop-up headlights as he enjoys the ride. Jeremy ponders that his own car isn’t so much a rival for the Pixo, but rather for another Mercedes. Pulling into the town of Market Harborough, the boys decide to ask the locals how much they think their cars are worth. The responses they get clearly show that people believe those cars are worth a lot more than what was paid. And, even at their respective ages, these older cars are a lot better value than the recent Nissan Pixo.

Back to the studio. James snorts in disbelief that the cars Jeremy and Richard chose are actually a better option than the Pixo. He’s even more in shock that his compatriots spent “real money” on the cars as opposed to just borrowing them for the test. Hammond and Clarkson claim that to prove their value, they’ll be running their cars for a while and come back in a later episode with their findings on how reliable they are. James decides to bet all his hair that, in two weeks, one of those cars will be sent back. Is that the foreshadowing fairy I hear? On that bombshell, it’s time to end!

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