The beloved trio of Top Gear presenters is long gone, but another pillar of the BBC’s most popular show endures: spectacular stunts in exotic locales, with cars that drill dimples into your cheeks.
That explains why even in the, let’s just say mixed reviews of the new crew’s first episode, no one complained about the American’s star turn. In a 10-minute segment, new host Matt LeBlanc took the dirt-spitting Ariel Nomad for a run through the Moroccan desert, dodging “villains” riding motorcycles, flying drones, and doing whatever it is you do with a paramotor.
The $47,000 Nomad is the off-road sibling to the bonkers Atom, so it obviously struck the Top Gear guys as something “we can have a lot of fun with,” says series producer Alex Renton. He’s been with the show for 11 years and got the top job for this, its 23rd season. Putting LeBlanc behind the wheel brought a dose of comedy to an already silly car and the 30-person “traveling circus” that descended on Northern Africa for three days in February.
The talent may be new, but much of the old Top Gear crew stayed with the BBC when Clarkson left. In other words, they know what they’re doing. In the segment, LeBlanc gives a brief but fun review of the Nomad, noting the power and weight (235 horsepower in a car that weighs “about as much as your mother’s G-string,”); the rally car-style suspension, and the thrill of driving it. His comment “This is not off-roading—this is low-level flight!” sums it up nicely.
Then LeBlanc gets on it, dodging paparazzi—one on a dirtbike, another with a drone, and the third dangling from a paraglider with a motor strapped to his back. There is of course a lot of dirt, a crashed drone (it flies into a cliff), and an epic chase up a mountain road. Given the ease with which it could have ended in blood, flames, or both, the shoot went off with out much drama, Renton says. As for LeBlanc, Renton says “his driving is superb,” though to be fair he did rely upon stunt doubles in “very rare” moments.
The crew used three Sony FS 55 cameras, plus the obligatory GoPros and Osmo kits in the vehicles. They skipped the helicopter, Renton says, because they’re more suited to long tracking shots of fast cars crossing long distances. For this gig, a drone was fine. In fact, it proved surprisingly difficult to make it break up upon hitting that cliff. It took a few takes.
This being Top Gear, you know there’s more spectacle to come. Renton says the crew’s already raced SUVs through South Africa and tested Aston Martin’s $2.3 million Vulcan supercar and Ferrari’s limited edition F12tdf in the south of France. “We’ve been all over the place,” Renton says.
“That’s what people like about the show, that’s integral to the DNA of the brand.” The new hosts may merit the Flop Gear jeers, but at least you know there’s more spectacle to come.