With a new team handed the keys to the show, Top Gear has found top gear again after years of struggling to get off the grid.
Now in its 27th season, the BBC series’ return on June 16 with hosts Paddy McGuinness, 45, Chris Harris, 44, and Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, 41, was hailed as “brilliant”.
On paper, it sounded like producers were scrambling to find anyone who could hold a microphone or just someone who would take on the job.
While Harris is a motoring journalist, McGuiness is best known for hosting UK dating show Take Me Out and former England cricket captain Flintoff is the host of Australian Ninja Warrior on Nine.
But the new incarnation immediately found traction with fans, who were mostly positive on social media after the premiere episode.
“Thought Top Gear was dead and buried. Whoever had the brainwave to bring this trio together needs a pay rise,” wrote one fan on Twitter.
Said another, “You chaps have done a sterling job of kicking off the new series – great chemistry already, please keep it at this ‘level’ and I shall continue to enjoy.”
“Really impressed. What a winning combination – can’t wait for next episode,” tweeted a third.
The retooled show ran out of gas after original hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond left.
Their replacements Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc – yes, a DJ and Joey Tribbiani – couldn’t get up to speed before they left.
Before the first episode of the new season – in which the trio pits their cars against each other in a drive across Ethiopia and drive blindfolded down an airstrip – fans feared the latest-model Top Gear might also fall flat and perhaps needed to be garaged for good.
Stand down, worriers and naysayers.
The three challenges saw the team drive blindfolded down an airstrip, take a driving test on a rally track and find examples of their first cars on a budget of $7340 to race across Ethiopia.
McGuinness was in a Ford Escort Mark 2, circa 1979, Harris in a 1990 Mini Cooper and former England captain Flintoff in a 1998 Porsche Boxster (with dodgy clutch and sunroof.)
“The BBC programme may very well have found a winning formula, with the presenting trio supplying plenty of laughs. They talk about cars, too,” said Digital Spy.
“Against all the odds, it works. It gives me no particular pleasure to suggest that some of the original magic of Top Gear has been rekindled by this unlikely trio, but, miraculously, it has,” the UK Guardian said.
It noted the “larky, bad-tempered chemistry” between Clarkson, May and Hammond is back “in a slightly sunnier form, and with a fresh energy. The old format has life in it yet.”
But The Independent flayed Top Gear‘s usual “dull, dull, dull” format of three blokes doing stunts.
“I am sorry to say that the adventures of the newish trio … in Ethiopia are, if anything, even more tedious than the countless times Jeremy Clarkson and the other two used to get old cars and drive them around exotic places and break their suspension,” the UK newspaper said.
Only a handful of fans agreed on Twitter with that scathing review, with most racing to heap accolades on Top Gear: