Top Gear finally breaks free from Jeremy Clarkson with Tesla film

Rory Reid's piece on Tesla's revolutionary electric car in episode four shows the BBC2 programme is at least trying to head in a new direction

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“This car might just be on the cusp of changing everything.” Matt LeBlanc’s Top Gear intro last night didn’t just herald a brave new world in electric cars. It also suggested that the new show had finally turned a corner. 

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Chris Evans has been accused of simply trying to copy what Jeremy Clarkson did first and best. But last night at least hinted that the show is trying to put some distance between it and old Top Gear, thanks to some smart handling from occasional presenter Rory Reid.

Reid was in New York City to drive new electric car the Tesla Model X.

Now, both electric in general and Tesla in particular have been dirty words round Dunsfold Aerodrome for years, ever since Clarkson eviscerated the company’s Roadster sports car in a film in 2008.

Back then Clarkson, shock horror, actually enjoyed his time in the electric car – until he realised how much it cost and how quickly it would run out of charge. “What we have here is an astonishing technical achievement: the first electric car that you might actually want to buy,” he said. “It’s just a shame that in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work.”

Tesla were so angry with the film that they attempted to sue Top Gear, but their appeal case was eventually dismissed by the court of appeal in 2013.

Fast forward to Clarkson-free Top Gear 2016 and Tesla were back with their new car, the Model X, which it is claimed will do 250 miles and charge in as little as 30 minutes.

Rory Reid was completely won over by the new motor and its ‘Ludicrous Mode’, which apparently turns it from family SUV into a drag racer that’s more than a match for even the biggest gas guzzlers. 

“Everything changes right now,” Rory said pointedly. “The Model X pushes the reset button.”

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Now, the question you have to ask yourself is this: was this an example of new Top Gear embracing new technology in a way that its previous incumbents never would have? Or did it prove how the show has lost its bite, celebrating something new without scrutinising it?

Reid is an easy man to trust. He cares about his cars and he wants to prove his place on Top Gear. Because of the way the new presenting line-up works, he’s also sufficiently distanced from Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc to speak his mind. If he could live with the Tesla and its family unfriendly price tag of £90,000, then you’re inclined to believe him.

“The future is here, and it’s electric,” he said at the end of the ride. Old Top Gear never would have been so forthright over the future of fuel, even with James May tinkering away at the undercarriage.

Does this mean that Top Gear is actually evolving under its new presenters? Certainly. Can you discount the fact that it was the lowest-rated episode yet, with fewer than 2.4 million people tuning in? Certainly not.

Top Gear is shedding its old audience, whether Evans likes it or not. But at least that means it can also shed some of its old preconceptions too. 

Top Gear road tests aren’t what they were in 2008 – most of the audience are far more interested in watching cross-continental races.

But the show still needs to deliver proper motoring knowledge, which is why people like Reid and fellow journalist Chris Harris were given jobs in the first place – to let us know what’s coming round the corner and whether we should be excited.

Sunday’s Tesla road test did just that. The electric future is bright – and it’s good to know Top Gear can finally see the light.

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Top Gear continues Sundays at 8pm on BBC2