Digger fights, Fiat feuds, and Matt LeBlanc's 007 impression: the 10 best moments from Top Gear 2017 

Top Gear hosts Rory Reid, Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris
Top Gear hosts Rory Reid, Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris

A year is a long time in factual television about automobiles. When the Chris Evans-fronted reboot of Top Gear sputtered across the finish line in 2016, the consensus was we had just witnessed a catastrophe of burning oil-field proportions. The scrap-heap surely beckoned for this once indestructible franchise.

Second time around, however, the BBC has got it more or less right (although with ratings plunging to 1.6 million it’s clear not everyone is convinced). The re-jigged presenting team of Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid bow out Sunday night having done a respectable job filling the Jeremy Clarkson-shaped void at the heart of the corporation’s light entertainment schedule. 

No, their Top Gear isn’t perfect. LeBlanc has a tendency to lapse into plastic movie star stiffness when he thinks nobody is watching (you’re on telly Matt – everyone’s watching). Harris’s pretend anger management issues may conceal actual anger management issues. The suspicion lingers that Reid is too sweet and cuddly for a cut-throat television career. But the trio share an unforced mateyness and when things click the show roars like a V-8 engine. Ahead of this weekend’s final episode, here is our countdown of the best moments so far. 

1: The race across Kazakhstan

Poppycock to the idea that it was the host’s “special chemistry” alone that made Clarkson-era Top Gear so beloved. The gorgeous road trips also played a part, with their groundbreaking mix of David Attenborough-worthy cinematography and down-the-pub chuckles. The formula was replicated with a flourish in the opening episode of the new season, as LeBlanc, Harris and Reid raced across the moonscape plains of deepest Central Asia. There were lots of obligatory giggles and elbow nudges – yet it was the stunning, unearthly vistas that stayed with you. 

2: Chris Harris has a David Tennant-fueled meltdown

Toe-curlingly awkward in the moment, only in hindsight was it possible to appreciate the sulky exchange between Harris and the former Dr Who for the passive aggressive epic that it was. Clearly out of sorts – who wouldn’t be grumpy after shooting their third season of Broadchurch? – Tennant was grudgingly trudging through a motoring anecdote when he let slip that he drove an eco-friendly Prius.

Quicker than you could say “burn the hippies”, Harris was off on one. A Prius! What would married-father-of-four Tennant possibly want with a sensible family hybrid? To one side, LeBlanc sat frozen on the couch. He hadn’t witnessed such a tetchy exchange since his agent asked for a second season of Joey. 

3: LeBlanc pretends to be James Bond

Not even the ritziest BBC cinematography could make Jeremy Clarkson look like an international super-spy. The dashing LeBlanc, however, effortlessly donned the 007 mantle for a piece in which he and Harris zoomed around Montenegro in an Aston Martin and Mercedes. Breathless camerawork, goofy repartee, fast cars – it was quintessential Top Gear (minus the old-school gags about Mexicans/Americans/people in lycra).

4: Tamsin Greig kills the tension

LeBlanc’s inability to speak fluent blokey banter posed an existential threat early in the season. What, after all, is Top Gear without the irreverent chat? So kudos to his Episodes co-star Greig for putting him at ease when she guested on week three. She isn’t especially famous and didn’t have anything noteworthy to plug – but she coaxed Matt out of his man-shell and he hasn’t looked back since (see Tine Tempah love-in below). 

5: Matt disses the new Fiat Spider

Ouch… LeBlanc didn’t much like Fiat’s reboot of its classic Sixties sports car. Top Gear may be nominally a motoring show but it is fair to say that, to date, nobody has ever paid the slightest attention to its reviews. However LeBlanc appeared to smell critical blood when he found the Fiat falling short of expectations and not a punch was pulled in his one-star assessment. 

6: The team take a dash across Dubai 

The episode four centrepiece found Harris crossing the desert in a Bugatti Chiron while high above LeBlanc traveled by jet. Actually the presenter was taking a wacky races approach, having also been conveyed by motorbike, chauffeur-driven car and private yacht. Silly – yet rescued by top level production values. 

7: Matt LeBlanc and Tinie Tempah go public with their bromance

One is a Nineties sit-com star, the other a London rapper famous for his dapper dickie bows. But when Matt ’n Tinie squeezed up on the couch together it was a man crush on steroids. They’d met filming a TG road trip to South Africa last season (Tinie performed for the winning team in a hill-top bar). One gathers they got on famously because their reunion was a brotherly chinwag for the ages. In a perfect world, the BBC would give the duo their own Thelma and Louise-style road movie. 

8: Eddie Jordan goes mad

Even with a rotating cast of almost a dozen presenters (that’s what it felt like anyway) the ex-Formula One supremo stood out last year for sheer barking bonkerdom. Recalled for a segment on the King of the Hammers off-road race in Southern California he picked up exactly where he had left off. The idea was that he and LeBlanc were overseeing Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz as they pegged it across a mountain range in super-charged dune buggies.

But Jordan was mostly interested in unloading on LeBlanc, whom he described as a “scumbag”. He was presumably attempting to embellish his “crazy uncle” routine, though it is possible he’d merely just sat through one Friends repeat to many. We’ve all been there Eddie.

9: Matt LeBlanc and Ross Noble have a digger fight

Under the bland leading man exterior, LeBlanc is showing promising glimmers of middle age eccentricity. Rather than pottering in his shed or rounding his mates up for a quick game of Dungeons and Dragons, his secret passion is highly destructive heavy machinery. Strewn through the series, were segments in which he dismembered old cars using power-hoses / muck spreaders etc. The pièce de résistance came last week as he and comedian Ross Noble – a JCB enthusiast in his spare time – clambered into Godzilla-scale cranes and went on a rampage. What a hoot it was. 

10: Rory Reid and Chris Harris visit Cuba

Hurrah – Rory’s permission slip had come through and he was finally allowed leave the office. It was off to dazzling, if conspicuously crumbly, Havana with Harris. They were following the route of the long-defunct Cuban Grand Prix – a history lesson topped off with epic camera-work. 

The final episode of Top Gear will be shown at 8pm on BBC2, Sunday April 23