Top Gear — S17, Ep.2


Cue the music and cue Jeremy! Tonight, we’ve got Jeremy pulling a bike out of a river, James annoying a dog, and Richard jumping over a ditch. Fun, fun stuff. But before we can figure out what all that entails, we head to the track, where James May has a bone to pick about Aston Martins. Specifically, the roar the DBS makes when handling one. No comfort, no refinement, just “a racket, a load of smoke, and a bad back”. The noise made by idiots, though Jeremy Clarkson is nowhere to be seen. Why are these cars like this? Because of the Nürburgring, the famous track in Germany that many an auto manufacturer uses for testing. And once a car hits that track, all those manufacturers care about is lap times, resulting in the ruination of the car (or so James grumbles).

James then points out a less sportier option for Astons, the DB9. But that too has problems in the opposite direction. Namely, it’s too dull. Is there a middle ground between performance and comfort for Aston Martin? Possibly, as we are now introduced to the Virage. Does it truly fill the gap between the DB9 and the DBS? Horsepower-wise, the Virage is right in the middle of its two compatriots. In theory, this means the Virage should come in second. This obviously calls for a race and James is right there behind the wheel lampshading the situation. Then again, if you had access to a track and three Aston Martins, wouldn’t you want to run a race?

And, with no real surprise, the Virage does come in second. Handling corners, it’s sharper than the DB9, but not as aggressive as the DBS. As for its price, it’s 150,000 pounds ($239,552 US), putting it again in the middle of its fellow Astons. So far, it’s pleasing James and it looks better both on the inside and out than either the DB9 or the DBS. But James is worried that the Virage is still another “track monster”. How does it handle real roads? This leads to James heading away from the track and taking a drive around the airfield to simulate real road conditions — and to see what the Virage’s ride is actually like.

Sadly, before James can fully indulge in giving the viewers a tour of some of the unseen parts of the Top Gear test track, he admits he’s too cross. Despite its earlier promise, the Virage has too much rattling, jiggling and banging if you’re trying to drive it at a normal speed. We take it back to the studio, where we find Jeremy and a still-cross James with the Virage. In two times in as many shows, we have a Python shout-out with James referencing the classic Argument sketch as he gears up for disagreement from Jeremy. For a change, Jeremy actually agrees with James, but in his mad ranting, James is hearing none of it.

James won’t even listen to the ludicrous things about the Stig before his run with the Virage. Clear day gives the Stig a lap time of 1:24.4, which puts it only a half second behind the DB9 actually. This still causes James to grumble some more, which leads us into the news. Items of note include more speed gushings from Aston Martin, which causes yet another eruption from Mount St. James May and a follow-up on the Jaguar E-Type story from last week with a Swiss company now producing their inspiration of that car. Said company has called their vehicle the “Growler”, which is a bit problematic. Now, here in the States, when I hear “Growler”, I think of those giant glass bottles of beer you get at microbreweries. Odd, but not that far out. Of course, British vernacular being a strange beast, the term “Growler” has a much more risque meaning involving a lady’s nether regions. And the boys, proving that they are actually all secretly twelve years old, have far too much fun making waxing jokes. To which I can only squeak “Ouch!”

Thankfully, that ends the news. And now, time for Top Gear’s never-ending quest to find the best hot hatchback — a sporty car and a practical car all rolled into one. To that end, the producers send our heroes to start matters in Lucca, Italy. Clarkson arrives first in a Citroen DS3 Racing, followed by May in a Renault Clio and Hammond with a Fiat 500 Arbath convertible. Commence the boys trash-talking each other, with both Jeremy and James repeatedly pointing out that Richard’s car is not a hatchback. Mercifully, the producers step in at this point with a challenge. All the boys have to do is drive their way out of Lucca. How hard can that be?

Cue ominous music, as Lucca is filled with labyrinthine, narrow streets, narrow enough that even such smaller cars like the Citroen and Renault have difficulty navigating the turns. And the “one way only” markers aren’t helping. Meanwhile, the Fiat’s size is small enough, but Richard is having his own troubles involving visibility. It’s to the point where Hammond ends up parking his car and tries to go on foot to pick out the best route out of the city. Elsewhere, Jeremy comments about this being James’ idea of hell, since he can get lost in a hotel. And, of course, James ends up right where everyone initially started from.

Hot HatchesRichard seems to have made progress by finding the outside wall of Lucca. However, trying to find his car again is another story entirely. James now has managed to actually end up on top of the wall, which isn’t quite where he needs to be. Eventually, Richard finds his car and the way out, but a smug Jeremy has already beaten him. James has yet to arrive, but this doesn’t stop the producers from showing up with the next challenge. This involves a scavenger hunt on the way to Canelli that would set even Phil Keoghan’s eyebrow a-popping (Amazing Race/Top Gear crossover? Please let this happen one day!) The list involves the branch of a cedar tree, a bicycle, a vine, ice cubes, a photo of as many people the boys can get fitting in their respective cars, a CD from a service station — that they can’t leave their car to get, and a dog.

Still on the wall, James calls down to his colleagues. After filling in James on the details of the next challenge, Richard and Jeremy immediately scarper off and abandon him. Driving to the north, Hammond and Clarkson engage in more trash-talking with each other as they pimp their choice of car. And Captain Sense of Direction finally escapes from Lucca and indulges in some of the finer points of his Renault. Jeremy points out how it’s best to get the ice cube towards the end. James heads for a service station to try to go for the CD. Unfortunately for him, the producers haven’t given the boys any money, so he’s reduced to trying to barter in Italian.

Jeremy and Richard get to work on filling their cars with as many people as they can. James hasn’t made any progress with his bartering. Clarkson fits thirteen in his Citroen. Richard has fourteen, but they’re all standing up through the roof. More hurrying before six PM to get the remaining items! Jeremy has better luck with his bartering, thanks to Royal Wedding trinkets. Richard manages to convince a cop for the loan of his bicycle thanks to some national pride (Fiat being an Italian car, after all) and Jeremy decides to just uproot an entire cedar tree.

Twenty minutes left and a barking mutt doesn’t want to have anything to do with James May. Richard just needs ice, while Jeremy convinces a woman to come in the Citroen with her dog. James, too, has gone the lady with dog route, but his ice cube is being ferried by a plastic bucket of water on his roof. Race to the finish! Who will get their first? Jeremy pulls in and this time it’s the Hamster’s turn to be smug. Sure, his dog is technically plush, but that counts, right? Jeremy’s dog takes quite well to the now-offered chew toy. James finally arrives as the last of his ice melts. Thus ends the first half of this trip.

And now it’s time for the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car. This week, we have a comedian-motorcycle enthusiast by the name of Ross Noble. This is a gentleman that I am sadly unfamiliar with, but a quick peek at Wikipedia tells me he’s made appearances on “Have I Got News For You”, which is a show that I’m both relieved and surprised that the US hasn’t done a version of yet. Noble is proudly clad in his biking leathers as he arrives and is eager to rib Jeremy about Top Gear’s “lady wrangler”, that mysterious staff member whose job is to make sure all the attractive women are standing in front of the audience for the camera shots. Clarkson lists Noble’s various bikes, which is Ross’ cue to wax on about the benefits of motorcycles over cars, even if you can’t have a sandwich on them.

Ross actually was stuck in Australia when it was hit by those wild fires last year and he discusses his experiences there. He talks about buying property now that he’s back in England and installing a motorcyling track on it, much to the dismay of his neighbors. Noble also apparently owns a tank as well, which not only can it be driven upon the roads, but is congestion-tax exempt. This segues into Noble’s lap. Noble’s first attempt was a bit of a mess. However, his final lap ends up being much better and he ends up with a time of 1:43.5, which gives him the second fastest track time!

Back to Italy! But not for very much longer as the boys are instructed to head to Monaco as fast as they can. The boys take to that order with relish, so eager are they to put their feet down on the gas. Finally reaching Monte Carlo, Jeremy is intrigued by the sound of roaring engines. He thinks it might signal the Grand Prix. To his dismay, Richard and James aren’t sharing his enthusiasm. Meanwhile, another challenge is on the horizon. In fact, the challenge IS to run three laps of the Monaco Grand Prix and whoever posts the fastest track times wins. Jeremy marks out like it was Christmas. James and Richard gripe about Jeremy having the advantage. This calls for some expert advice, so it’s time to seeks out some F1 drivers. At least, that’s Jeremy’s plan. James and Richard decide instead to crash a yacht party.

Next morning, it’s time for a test run before the actual laps can take place. The boys each have an F1 figure of some note as their tutors. Needless to say, Richard and James don’t really impress theirs very well, but Jeremy’s preliminary scouting is definitely playing off. Free from the tutors, it’s time for the race to actually start. And I admit, something like this would be absolutely terrifying to me. I had enough trouble with “Pole Position” back in ancient times; I can only imagine how nail-biting and pants-wetting such a track like the Grand Prix would be in real life. As the boys speed, I need to give props to the music the sound editor has in the background as it does this segment justice and helps build the tension. I always appreciate the music cues Top Gear likes to use. It’s something you don’t really think about right away. We cross the finish line and…

…back to the studio. The boys are still in awe about how perfect a track the Monaco Grand Prix is, with one last gripe from James about the Nürburgring. But it’s time to tally the scores! First up, getting out of Lucca, which Jeremy clearly wins. Richard is second, giving him five points and James is last. Unfortunately for Hammond, he’s stripped of his points because he lost his car while on foot. Scavenger hunt — and Richard’s first place victory is wiped from the board as the producers weren’t impressed by the plush dog and, not only did he forget the CD, but his branch was actually from a larch tree. Richard’s points for the people in the car end up not counting as well as they were all standing through the roof. Finally, the lap times! Jeremy’s time was first, so cue the smugness from him. James and Richard’s times were both close, with Richard just squeaking by as second. Alas, poor Hamster though, as the producers claim his Fiat doesn’t count as a hatchback all along and he gets zero! An on that bombshell, it’s time to end.