The Grand Tour vs Top Gear: how do they compare?

Michael Hogan
Top Gear The Grand Tour - BBC/Amazon

The three amigos left two years ago, following Jeremy Clarkson’s catering-related punch-up. Chris Evans jumped ship after six disastrous episodes last year. Now Top Gear is back for its second rebooted series, with Matt LeBlanc now fronting the bid to salvage the BBC’s long-running motoring stalwart.

So how does Clarkson, Hammond and May’s new vehicle - initials GT, as opposed to TG - compare to their old one? They were, after all, legally obliged to make The Grand Tour sufficiently different, since any elements of Top Gear remain the BBC’s intellectual property. On that bombshell, here’s our lap-by-lap rundown…

Channel

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: Dear old BBC Two, where it’s always been. The latest series runs over the next seven Sundays. 

Grand Tour: New-fangled streaming service Amazon Prime Video. The 13-part debut series arrived in weekly instalments between November and February. The next batch of episodes are expected this autumn.

Opening credits

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: A 20-second split-screen montage of throbbing cars in exotic locations, ending on the familiar gear cog logo.

Grand Tour: The series-opening sequence was TV’s most expensive ever, costing a whopping £2.5m. Thereafter, they settled for retro global travel graphics, followed by shots of them arriving in each episode’s location, as minions erected the GT tent. 

Presenters

 Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid in a recent Top Gear teaser - Credit: BBC

Top Gear: The classic trio have been replaced by Friends alumnus Matt LeBlanc (altogether now: “How YOU doin’?”), automotive journalist Chris Harris and YouTuber Rory Reid. Shouty Chris Evans and his smelly jumper have thankfully reversed back to Radio 2. 

Grand Tour: Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. Remember them? Dad jeans, leather blousons, bad teeth, unkempt hair and hangovers? Bickering and willy-waving their way around the world’s highways? Course you do.

Studio

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: A hangar at Dunsfold Aerodrome, industrially styled with scaffolding poles, floodlights and checkerboard walls.

Grand Tour: To differentiate it, there’s no permanent set. Instead the show travels the globe with a giant marquee, pitched in locations like California, Johannesburg, Lapand, Loch Ness, Dubai and, well, Whitby. The tent is tastefully accessorised with ceiling fans, faded rugs, exposed lightbulbs, wooden furniture and piles of vintage luggage, resembling a hipster airport lounge. 

Audience

The Grand Tour Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: Standing around, laughing at the hosts’ jokes as they banter across car bonnets and sit on chairs converted from green leather Rolls Royce seats.

Grand Tour: Sitting around a small stage, with the hosts seated at a trestle table. There’s more audience interaction here, mainly due to Clarkson baiting the locals.

Regular features

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: Star In A Reasonably Priced Car (later tweaked to Star In A Rally Cross Car), The Cool Wall, Power Laps, The News.

Grand Tour: Instead of The News, it’s Conversation Street, complete with ironically cheesy sting. Instead of Star In Reasonably Priced Car, it’s Celebrity Brain Crash - which tends to “kill” participants en route to the tent.

Celebrity Guests

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: The first rebooted series combined home-grown faces (Paul Hollywood, Damian Lewis, Bear Grylls) with Hollywood names (Jesse Eisenberg, Kevin Hart). The new run promises James McAvoy, Ore Oduba, Frankie Dettori  and David Tennant.

Grand Tour: Jeremy Renner, Carol Vorderman, Simon Pegg, Jimmy Carr, Sir Chris Hoy… But sadly, all died in grisly accidents before they could utter a word. Oh well.

Leaderboard

Top Gear The Grand Tour - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: A lo-fi handwritten one, with strips of cardboard stuck to a wall. 

Grand Tour: A graphic one on a screen. Fancy. 

Test track

Top Gear the Grand Tour - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: Dunsfold Aerodrome in Waverley, Surrey, with sections such as Hammerhead, Chicago and Gambon.

Grand Tour: The “world’s most dangerous track”, the Eboladrome (its shape resembles a virus, you see) aka RAF Wroughton near Swindon. Section names include “The Isn't Straight", "Your Name Here", "Old Lady's House", "Substation" and "Field of Sheep”. Oh, and an unexploded Second World War bomb.

Test driver

Top Gear The Grand Tour - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: “Tame racing driver” The Stig, an anonymous, mute, white-clad, black-visored speed freak played by numerous pro drivers across 14 years.

Grand Tour: In-house driver The American, aka NASCAR’s Mike Skinner. A stubbly, Commie-hating 59-year-old Californian prone to drawling such bon mots as, “This thing couldn’t pull a greasy string out of a dog’s ass.”

Cars

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: Oh yes, cars. That’s what these show are about, right? The last series had an eclectic mix of supercars, SUVs, hot hatches and classics. Delights this time around include Aston Martins and the Ferrari FXX K. 

Grand Tour: Hyper-cars, three-wheeled Reliants, beach buggies, armoured vehicles, self-built monstrosities… As long as they could flip it over or blow it up, it was in.

Banter

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: OK, this is what these shows are really about. New-look TG struggled last series, with a lack of rapport between Evans and LeBlanc - although LeBlanc’s laconic deadpan wit and raised eyebrows were promising. Reid and Harris also had a neat way with words. Can the trio now create some chemistry? 

Grand Tour: This is where GT comes into its own, with the three stooges trading on their long-established, sitcom-esque personas: Clarkson’s offensive, Hammond’s short, May is slow - you know the drill. Freed from terrestrial TV, they were able to trade rude lines and un-PC insults - although Hammond caught some flak for implying that men who eat ice-cream are gay. Mr Whippy, anyone?

Production values

Top Gear (left), The Grand Tour (right) - Credit: BBC/Amazon

Top Gear: High. At £650,000 per episode, it’s a masterclass in editing and photography to make what could be samey material look stunning

Grand Tour: With seven times the budget, an eye-watering £4.5m per episode, it looked spectacular. A lot of that dosh went on the logistics of a roaming location but otherwise you could see every quid on-screen. Cue cinematic panning shots, lots of glorious colour and even more speed. 

Ratings

Top Gear: Figures for last year’s series started at 6.4m but steadily slid to below 3m.

Grand Tour: Amazon doesn’t release ratings but The Grand Tour has apparently broken the streaming service’s records and driven enough new subscriptions to keep bosses happy.

Verdict

The Grand Tour, Top Gear - Credit: Rex

Top Gear: Doom-mongers are already predicting the show’s demise, so it desperately needs to show sparks of improvement over the next seven weeks. 

Grand Tour: Smug in the knowledge that it has left the BBC trailing in their dustcloud. Sadly, a lack of terrestrial exposure means it’s much less talked-about than old Top Gear.  

Clarkson, Angela Rippon, and lots of bad hair: Top Gear through the years

 

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