Is it just us or does it seem that lately Top Gear has been growing immensely popular on a worldwide stage? No, we’re not talking about popularity among car guys- that’s existed for quite some time now. Instead, we’re talking about popularity among a demographic who wouldn’t have necessarily opted to watch a television show about cars just a few years ago. Folks like our parents, girlfriends, wives, and children. A weird shift has occurred in which the mental block present two or three years back that said “to watch Top Gear, I need to love cars” has all but evaporated. And it’s true- people don’t have to know anything about cars or even love them to enjoy the show. In a word, Top Gear has gone mainstream.
Because of this mainstream acceptance, however, the show has lost an edge that it once had. Almost as if a weird sense of “sellout-ness” now occupies each broadcast. It could be because of the A-List celebrities like Will.I.Am and Tom Cruise who seem to treat their appearance on Top Gear more as a chance for total self-promotion rather than a chance to drive the reasonably priced car. It could be because of the often scripted segments that feel very rehearsed at points- let’s face it, the news hasn’t been improved in a long while. It could be because the Stig has a name, or the intentionally well-placed attractive girls that always seem to be in the crowd just behind each presenter or for a hundred other reasons.
In appealing to the mainstream, Top Gear has lost a fair amount of what made the show appeal to their original car guy audience who watched it. Sadly, even Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the presenters feel a bit more wooden and rehearsed than they did in back in earlier and far greater seasons like seasons 6,7 and 8.
With this shift in place, it leaves a lot to be desired from the group of viewers that are far more interested in how fast a Caterham R500 goes around a track rather than Ryan Reynold’s perfect hair and automotive history. This is where Drive comes in.
Back in January, Jalopnik announced the creation of a new YouTube channel devoted entirely to performance automobiles featuring excellent cinematography and commentary from a very well chosen selection of hosts. Sounds like a recipe that worked for Top Gear, right? Sort of, but with one big difference. In the fair number of episodes since the channel’s launch, Drive has already proven to be far more focused on elements that would greatly interest the gear head demographic and exclude any elements that wouldn’t- that means you, Ryan Reynold’s hair. In fact, Drive focuses on things like technical aspects, motorsports, bespoke tuning, and off-beat comparisons- things that at one point existed in Top Gear but have taken a back seat to goofy “make your own train from an old car” segments.
You know what we want to see? GT-R vs M5 comparisons. Custom 650 HP Porsche 911s. Or Chris Harris hooning around a racetrack in a Toyota GT-86 for the first time in his life. Thanks to Drive, all of those are now in video form, with that last one being especially brilliant. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Chris Harris has potential to be the next Jeremy Clarkson. And as a Jeremy Clarkson super fan, that’s really saying a lot.