Season 27 of “Top Gear” kicked off Sunday night, and we were there on our couches for the premiere to see everything Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness had to offer. With only five episodes in this season, this new group of characters doesn’t have much time to get it right.
They started with a bang, on a massive road trip through Ethiopia in cars identical to their first vehicle purchases. Before that, though, the hosts recognized the rebirths and numerous changes “Top Gear” has gone through since Clarkson, Hammond and May left the premises. Good on “Top Gear” for not brushing over any sort of controversy and unrest, then getting on with the show as it’s meant to be.
As is typical for “Top Gear,” the adventure/story portion of the show was definitely the most entertaining. We wholeheartedly approve of all the vehicles these guys bought as their first transportation — watching Chris Harris toss his little Mini around the sand and rocks was especially joyful. The boys get on rather well together for just starting off, and while the interludes for challenges didn’t feel totally natural, the challenges themselves were still fun to watch. Being in Ethiopia with such a vast array of alien-to-us shooting locations definitely helped keep us entertained from a visual standpoint.
We weren’t surprised to see Chris Harris handling the “serious car review” portion of the show where he pitted a Ferrari 488 Pista against a McLaren 600LT — the others aren’t traditional automotive journalists. We won’t give away who won, but the Ferrari did manage to surprise us in one particular area.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole episode is how the three hosts got on with each other (Sabine Schmitz was nowhere to be seen). There’s no Captain Slow or American car maniac amongst the group, but a comedian (Paddy) and cricketer (Freddie) certainly do bring fresh voices and perspectives. We’ll give them time to warm up to each other as the season goes on, with a new episode this coming Sunday. One thing we know for sure after this first go: Chris Harris really does not like the hot desert as much as he loves hot, burning rubber.