- Richard heads to Japan to test the future of Human transportation, the Toyota i-Real.
- James gets taught how to drive fast by Mika Häkkinen.
- Jeremy shows off his V8 food blender.
- How hard could it be? The boys modify a Renault Avantime to go as fast as a Mitsubishi Evo 10.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Mark Wahlberg.
Jeremy and Richard tell us that every year, Toyota let their engineers have a few weeks to be as creative as they like. Whilst I’m sure it doesn’t happen the exact way Jeremy describes it, Richard has gone to Toyota City in Japan to show us their latest invention, yes, Toyota do have their very own City with a population of around 400,000.
Hammond headed to Toyota’s Headquarters to get a sneak preview at the i-Real, which Toyota describes as the future of Human transportation. Toyota had emptied a large room and allowed Richard to test drive what would technically be called a ‘chair’ rather than a car or bike. Before being allowed to drive the i-Real, Hammond was first briefed by the creator and then allowed to ask questions… his only question was if Toyota would make a larger version, “for fat people”. After he was shown the controls, Hammond was finally on the move, and when nobody was looking, he snuck out the back door and out onto the street for a real road test. The i-Real moves at a walking pace, but when distance is a concern, the push of a button will allow the machine to lower and extend itself, giving the driver a top speed of 20mph.
Richard explains that most devices like the i-Real are only produced as a concept to gain coverage at major motor shows. Toyota however, is planning on putting the i-Real on sale for £2,000 sometime in 2010. He then pulls back in the office to demonstrate the tech features of the device, showing us, for example, if you wanted to go for a coffee you would tell the machine and it would give you the location of the nearest coffee place, a further option will allow you to notify nearby i-Real users that you have invited them to join you. Richard concludes the film by calling the i-Real “The future of motoring, unless your fat” and then telling Clarkson that he’ll never fit in one either.
Straight into the news and Clarkson says that he isn’t interested in the Toyota i-Real because Honda has made something even better, a device that straps to your backside and helps you to operate your legs. Despite that, its aimed at the able bodied, not the disabled or the aged. James however was more concerned whether or not you could actually “kick yourself in the nuts” with the device. Jeremy gives us another one of his so called ‘fixes’ for traffic issues. Richard shows us pictures of Aston Martin’s new car, the 177. Clarkson announces an off-road version of the Dacia Sandero. Jeremy also complains about the colour range offered by Land Rover and compares it to the enormous range Audi has on offer.
Jeremy then announces that James will be doing his first ever supercar review on the track in a few weeks and that to prepare him for it, he should go and get some practice driving fast. James ends up in Finland, a country that has had more rally champions than any other country in the world, seven in fact. The reason Fin’s are so good at driving, James explains, is that right from day one, young drivers are taught how to handle a car properly. In total, six lessons on a skid pan are required as part of the license process, which takes no less than three years! James shows that a typical road in Finland has many sudden crests and that each driver needs to be fully aware of when to power on and when to power off, every day driving is slowly turning ordinary drivers in to racing drivers.
James then gets down to business and starts by taking a drive with one of the locals, Mika Häkkinen, a retired Formula 1 driver with 2 World Championship’s under his belt. James then mentions that the Top Gear Producer’s have entered him in a local amateur rally and that Mika would be the one to train him for the race. The first manoeuvre James would learn is the ‘Scandinavian flick’, a move which requires steering the opposite way to the corner first, and then oversteering into the corner. This causes the weight to shift and allows the car to slide without too much understeer. The Scandinavian flick has featured in 2 previous episodes of Top Gear, most popularly during the ‘Van Challenge’, where Richard rolled his van in the process, and many years ago in the old version of Top Gear in 1990. After a few attempts, James was successful with the flick and moved on to a proper rally course where eventually Captain Slow would find himself driving like you’ve never seen before.
The next day, James was ready to participate in a local Folk Race, which consists of part tarmac and part gravel and occurs every weekend all around Finland. James had been given a 200hp 1967 Volvo Amazon for the race, a typical Folk race car. Folk racing is designed to keep motorsport cheap, it does this by separating classes based on a certain value. Each competitor must have a car that is worth no more than a specified price, and at the end of each race a fellow racer may wish to buy your car from you, which you must oblige. It’s all a little confusing, but what this does is even up the field of competitors. If you were to tune your car to gain an advantage over another competitor, everybody else would be interested in your car after the race, thus having to sell it and start again with a new car. So each race comes down to skill and how aggressive you’re driving is, as it’s obviously not a case of how much money has been spent on the car or how it’s tuned.
Meanwhile, James was checking out his opponents and was beginning to feel good about the race. A few pensioners, a couple of Housewives, a child, a teenager, and a bloke that James thought had a striking resemblance to Bill Oddie made up the field. By the first corner, James realised that the race wasn’t going to be an easy one, nor was it going to be very comfortable. Folk races are notorious for racers bumping and shunting opponents out of the way to get past and James soon got the hang of it and started to fight back, getting all excited after passing a 12 year old girl in a BMW. The girl fought back however and managed to take May off the track and lose a lot of time. James made up for it and managed to get back in the middle of the pack by the time he crossed the finish line, which he described as being “exactly average”. “But that was average in Finland, anywhere else and I’d have been brilliant”.
Jeremy voices his concern over V8 engines and that their popularity is declining due to high fuel prices and the low economy. “If your not going to use V8’s to power cars, how about using them to power something else”. Jeremy unveils his 6.2L Corvette V8 food blender and demonstrates it by making a man’s V8 drink. He places beef pieces – bones and all, a few handfuls of chilli’s, a jug of Bovril – a product much like beef stock used to flavour soups, a dash of Tabasco sauce, and a brick. Jeremy fires it up and hits the throttle with a huge smile on his face. Jeremy serves up a glass of the drink to Richard and James and says that it should be given a name. Hammond comes up with “Desperate shag in a skip”. James quickly downs a mouthful and pauses for a while with a sour look on his face before coming up with his own name for it, “the bloody awful”.
Jeremy moves on and welcomes the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, Mark Wahlberg. Mark manages a 1:48.70
Richard and James tell how after a few beers at the pub a few nights ago, they’d argues that they could take any car and make it as fast as a Mitsubishi Evo 10 at a fraction of the cost. The producers then set the boys a challenge, they would have 2 days to modify a Renault Avantime van to go faster around the Top Gear test track than an Evo 10. The Avantime was introduced in 2002 and was a huge failure, only 435 were sold in Britain over 18 months before being dropped altogether. Strangely enough, its one of the few cars that Jeremy, James and Richard all actually like. The boys go through a list of things they liked about the car, mostly the amount of space inside, and the pillar-less doors meant larger windows, making the space seem even larger. Richard shows us that the Avantime was only a 2 door, which was strange for a people carrier, although the doors on the car were quite long, they were fitted with a double hinge mechanism that allowed the door to somehow open wider in tight parking places. The Avantime came with a 3.0L V6 that had a measly 0-60mph time of 9 seconds, which wasn’t good considering the Evo’s 0-60mph is about 4.5 seconds.
The car is handed to The Stig for a power lap so the boys could benchmark the Avantime. The time they had to beat was the Evo’s time of 1:28.20, the Avantime only managed a 1:42.50. After the lap, the boys were given a budget of £15,000, though that was quickly reduced to £9,800 because of the cost of the car itself. They took the car straight to the garage and began discussing what should be done to the car first. James made the suggestion of upgrading the brakes from the standard discs to vented and slotted discs at a cost of £3,000. James and Richard soon realised their mistake when they couldn’t fit the standard wheels back on over the new and larger callipers. Jeremy came to the rescue with a new set of wheels and tires for £600, reducing the budget to £6,200. Hoping for improvement, the boys sent The Stig back out in the Avantime for another power lap with disappointing results, the final time being 2.10 seconds slower than their original lap. James had come to the conclusion that the tires were the cause, £600 later, they had some new road legal slick tires. Another lap by The Stig produced a time of 1:42.70, better than their last attempt, but still 0.2 seconds slower than their first lap. Not to be defeated, the boys decided to spend another £2,000 on the suspension. Whilst James and the boffins went to work fitting the new suspension, Hammond and Clarkson decided to shed some weight, starting with the seats. The old electric heated seats came out and in went the 2 racing buckets from the 24hr Britcar BMW, while the rear was kitted with some borrowed seats from Hammond’s stretched MG from the limo challenge a number of seasons ago. In search of more weight saving ideas, the heavy glass sun roofs came out also, and in its place, Clarkson and Hammond fitted some clear plastic perspex.
With less weight, new suspension, new brakes, new wheels and new tires, The Stig got around the track in 1:38.20, leaving them 10 seconds shy of the Evo 10 lap time. Jeremy and Richard then have to persuade James that more power is needed and they promise to help him do an all-nighter in the garage to do some engine work. James agrees on the condition that Jeremy and Richard stay well away and don’t bother him at all, without hesitating, they agree. Before James got to work, they loaded the Avantime on a dyno to see just how much power it actually had. The dyno read 157.4hp, well shy of the 210hp it had when it rolled out the factory 6 years ago, James however had hopes that a service alone may very well bring the power back closer to 210hp.
Richard and Jeremy had left James to his thing and upon their return in the morning, the car had a new air filter, new injectors and a new inlet manifold. He’d also stiffened the chassis with some good old fashion engineering. They threw the car back on the dyno and managed 206hp, almost 50hp more than the previous day. The good news was, The Stig managed to knock a further 2 seconds off the time. The bad news was they only had £300 left to gain 8 more seconds. Scavenging what they could, they fitted an F1 spoiler that Richard had bought at a charity auction and gave The Stig the order to go around the track again and bad results, 1:37.03. The whole spoiler thing did however give Jeremy an idea, which he justified by pointing out that during the 24 hours Britcar challenge, they were 2 seconds a lap slower after they had lost the front splitter. A good splitter is designed to lower understeer, unfortunately for them, Jeremy would be the one to make the front splitter for the Avantime… out of wood. Lining up for one last lap, The Stig was about to set off when smoke was spotted coming from underneath the vehicle, Jeremy’s carpentry work had caught fire, ending the session and the challenge with a best lap time of 1:36.2, 8 seconds shy of the 1:28.20 target.
Back in the studio and the boys tell us that they never gave up on the Avantime. They continued to work on it, fine tuning what ever they could and gave it to The Stig for one more lap. Final time, 1:35.40
Stig Power Laps
Renault Avantime – Tuned by TopGear
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car