First a warning; spoilers abound in this review so escape quickly if you want to watch the new episode without any foreknowledge.
Episode two of The Grand Tour began with an almost sedate introduction compared to the launch video. For me, that made sense. Clarkson had promised less automotive involvement than the launch episode. In fact his post on DRIVETRIBE said exactly that. As a proper petrolhead, I was slightly disappointed when he said it but to my surprise, the team didn’t really deliver on that promise. There was more shenanigans and banter than usual that didn’t really involve cars but it was the car stuff was there and it was the typically droll, yet naughty sort.
Jezza began the show by making fun of the location, Johannesburg, South Africa. In his usual off-hand manner, he mocked the well-known corrupt President of South Africa for being unable to count and was joined by May and Hammond in making fun of the number of cars and types of cars stolen in the city. The banter with the audience about local issues is a brilliant step, highlighting that The Grand Tour is a truly global franchise rather than a UK-based Top Gear that is inherently focused on happenings there.
Clarkson then introduced the Aston Martin Vulcan, the 820bhp track-only hypercar (again, hate the term) at The Grand Tour test track, controversially named the Eboladrome. He prefaced it by saying the Vulcan (named after the Cold War era nuclear-armed British bomber and the Roman god of fire) went 9 seconds faster around Fiat’s famous Nardò test track than the McLaren P1. Mike “The American” Skinner put this ballistic beast on four wheels to the test on the track with its whimsical and hilarious names. The Vulcan posted a lap time two seconds faster than the previous fastest car around the track, McLaren’s 650S.
Some have complained that the track is too narrow and small to properly show what the Vulcan can do. Considering its boast of lapping Nardò 9 seconds quicker than a P1, posting a lap time just two seconds faster than a 650S isn’t all that impressive. However, we need to remember that Fiat’s test track is a 7.8 miles (12.5km) oval while the Eboladrome is approximately 1.25 miles (2km) long and has technical and complex sections as well. Two seconds is a significant difference between the two cars.
Next was the two-part video named Operation Desert Stumble. This bit was less car-based and followed the antics of the three musketeers as they tried to save the Queen (not the real one) from a hijacking situation at a training facility in Jordan. Whether it was an effort to engage to gun-wielding audiences or just display the show’s American backers’ POVs, they should probably have a disclaimer reading, “May cause people suffering from PTSD to have flashbacks.” The premise of the video was borrowed from the 2014 Tom Cruise-starrer, Edge of Tomorrow, and it was goddamn funny. The best bit was when making their escape to the embassy, May and Clarkson start reviewing their getaway car, the Audi S8, even asking the ‘Queen’ for her opinion.
The break between Operation Desert Stumble featured a new segment called “Making James May Do Something He Doesn’t Want To Do.” May went to check out the native car scene in the form of doing donuts in old BMWs until the tires explode. Of course the segment had him freaking out and swearing as he sat in the passenger seat and experienced it for himself. As I said above, this incorporation of local car culture is a brilliant addition to The Grand Tour marking the show as a worldwide phenomenon and creating greater awareness of native car culture.
While the episode was good, I did feel that some bits were too staged. Looking back at the older Top Gear, the shows that really stand out are the ones that seem less rehearsed and more fluid. I guess they’re still finding their feet.
We don’t know where the team will land up for the next episode, however Clarkson did reveal on DRIVETRIBE (as if you needed another reason to join) that the one of the locations The Grand Tour will visit is Barbados. Whether the country will host the show or they’ll just travel to it as they did with Jordan is yet unknown.