For culinary kings and queens, there’s Top Chef in America and The Great British Bake-Off in the UK. For lovers of sports, there’s ESPN’s Sports Center. And for car drivers and car enthusiasts around the world, there’s Top Gear, a longtime favorite that featured secondhand cars being treated as the newest and the shiniest under the guide of Brits Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
Or, at least, that’s how it was in the old days.
Top Gear returned to both UK and US audiences with a completely new paint job, Variety reports. The former hosts were gone, replaced by Americans Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc (yes, that’s Captain America and Chandler from Friends). The entire format of the show, once fairly rigid from sameness over the years, was brand new as well, including little tweaks to the old Top Gear‘s most popular segment, “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.”
The old skit featured celebrities, guests on the show for the night, zooming around Top Gear‘s dusty racetrack in not a flashy car but instead a secondhand box that any middle-class individual could definitely buy for their own driveway. Now, for the reboot, the segment has transformed into “Star in a Rallycross Car,” which now displays a track riddled with cross-country-like obstacles, ie water-jumps and different terrain to drive on.
It’s the kind of change that needs sleeker models too. The cars have been updated to handle the track better, and while celebrities skidded around the eclectic track, some worried that the point of the original segment had been lost.
“It’s certainly more visually spectacular, but I’m disappointed that we’ve lost the wry juxtaposition of big-name stars in an utterly ordinary car,” says Alex Robbins, Car Consumer Editor for the Telegraph, “and I can’t decide whether the rallycross course works.”
The British hold that’s made Top Gear a UK icon for as many years will not be completely lost, however. Though a pair of Americans will helm the new reboot, they’re immediately followed by the rest of the team of hosts–Eddie Jordan, an Irish Formula 1 vet, Sabine Schmitz, a German BMX driver, and Chris Harris and Rory Reid, two YouTubers. The cast of hosts, then, is a mix of the expert and the novice, the famous and the relatively unknown.
“Perhaps the more natural behind-the-scenes atmosphere instead of the over-produced main show could be a better fit for the relaxed car discussion,” says Robbins. “And a more natural home for banter.”
Much of the style of the show did stay the same as well. A roadtrip to Blackpool, casual discussions about different models, and celebrities nearly driving directly into mud are all kin of the old days, something that comforted a lot of British critics the night of.
According to Top Gear series editor Alex Renton, that’s because the most important figure in the show has never left.
“The whole essence of ‘Top Gear’ has always been that the car is the star. You start with the car and it’s about people’s passion for cars. Everybody drives; everybody has a car that they love; and if you are into cars it is about the relationship with that car, and it is about the relationship with that person in that car with you as well. Once you capture that and you are able to go on a road trip then that really comes to life,” says Renton.
Top Gear will return next Sunday on BBC in the UK and BBC America in the US on Monday.