Episode 2 of The Grand Tour Wasn’t Great, Jeremy Clarkson Doesn’t Care

Plus the one massive error the trio made.

bySean Evans|
Culture photo

The second episode of The Grand Tour wasn’t that great. Now, before we get into why I think that, know I’m aware this may be an unpopular opinion and, accordingly, am ready for a solid chunk of comments from people who disagree, think I’m only being contrarian for the clicks or want to attack me personally. That’s all fine and good, because the second episode really wasn’t.

Aptly named "Operation Desert Stumble," it did have some bright spots, like the Aston Martin Vulcan segment, which was a proper Top Gear-style film that sees Jeremy Clarkson actually turn down the power(!) because the 800 horses aren’t fully needed. And seeing Mike “The American” Skinner set the new track record with the Vulcan was interesting, whether or not you care for Skinner’s sub-par banter or the whole already-tired schtick of “The American,” in general.

That’s about it, though. The short film on South African spinning was decent tire-destroying porn, though it lacked any real depth or substance. Sending James May to cover something Richard Hammond and Clarkson know he’ll hate is a neat conceit, but where’s the insight that makes these shorts so great? May introduces us to Stacy, a 17-year-old driver who is reportedly one of the best, but then moves right along so that we can see more smoke and stunting. Why not take us inside Stacy’s backstory a bit, see how she got involved in this, where her car comes from, how she sets it up? Where's May arguing with her about tire management priorities? There was not a single mention of powertrains for any of the demonstrating cars, nor anything technical about them whatsoever. That’s an oversight I’d expect from the likes of Chris Evans’ Top Gear, not from our beloved trio of presenters.

Ditto for the replica of the Sauber-Mercedes C9 that Clarkson, Hammond and May liked so much they brought into the studio along with its creator. That this man built this stunning replicar completely off a 1:32 model is incredible. But instead of showing us the detail of the build, or even asking what powerplant he’s running, they ask if he’s got a wife. C’mon, guys. Skipping the low-hanging laugh in favor of the prized stuff that made you the preeminent motoring show.

We don’t need four minutes of vamping about how South African President Jacob Zuma isn’t good with math and numbers. We need more nitty gritty car talk. We get some, in the conversation about the Red Bull and Aston Martin, the AM-RB 001...until, of course, a glaring error so massive, our office couldn’t believe our ears.

Clarkson explains that Red Bull and Aston Martin teamed up to produce this natty-asp V12 powered beast that has 900 horsepower and only weighs 900 kilos. The audience gasps and James May continues. “That’s a magic figure,” May says. “That means it has 1 horsepower per kilogram and no other car gets close to that.” Uh, how about the Koenigsegg One:1, so named for its equal power and weight?

(For the inevitable nitpickers, yes, technically the One:1 ratio is putting 1,361 PS, or metric horsepower, against 1,361 kilograms, but even if you convert it to imperial horsepower it’s 1,341, which is damn close, Mr. May.)

The real problem of the episode was the 24 minute film set in the Jordan special ops training facility. Of the 24 minutes of film, the Audi S8, the only featured car in the piece, was only discussed for a total of three minutes. That’s just downright sad. I love the trio’s scripted bits of humor, the blow-y up-y set pieces and watching these grown men fail as much as the next guy, but I love it wrapped within context of cars. This had a passable chase scene, but the whole review process felt to contrived and forced and too shallow to bring any real meaning to the piece. It’s like they sat around in the planning meeting and said, “Oh yes, this all sounds lovely. Oh wait, we’re missing a car,” and then shoehorned the Audi super saloon in there.

Clarkson and the boys are aware of the lackluster reception the second episode had and Jezza has issued a response on their newly launched social platform, Drive Tribe: “Hello everyone. Show two of The Grand Tour is very car light. And that happens again in the Barbados film later in the series. We do this on purpose to entertain the countless people who invariably say, when I sit next to them at a party, ‘I like your show but why do you put cars on it?’”

...Seriously? Go to different parties, stop going to dull parties attended by dull people, or let’s just ditch these glib, flippant replies altogether and remember that there’s a legion of your fans out there who are looking for you to continue to set a benchmark when it comes to an automotive television program.

You’ve done it before, I know you’ll do it again. Episode one was great and very car-y, and if someone at Amazon is giving you notes to make the program more approachable to non-gearheads, I pray you’ll exhibit some classic Clarkson behavior, dig your heels in and continue to make fantastic car films that are at once enlightening and entertaining. Here’s looking forward to episode three.


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