- Jeremy roadtests the new Volvo XC90.
- Richard and Jason strip out a Jaguar XJS to see how much faster they can make it.
- Richard roadtests the Subaru Forester.
- Jason Dawe presents Insider Dealing.
- Jeremy tests the Volkswagen R32 against the Ford Focus RS.
- The lightweight Radical SR3 races an aerobatics plane around the Top Gear Test Track.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Gordon Ramsay.
The show opens with Jeremy talking about how school runs used to be when he was a lad – which usually involved hammering as many children as possible into a car even if it means they didn’t have a seatbelt each. However in this day and age parents wouldn’t dare do such a thing, insisting that all children should be safely secured and with their own airbag – this is where the Renault Espace comes in. The original Espace was responsible for starting the people carrier trend at least in the UK, and the latest model features more of the weird angular styling that all Renault’s seem to share. It may be pricey, but Jeremy says it is the perfect family car… however on the Cool Wall remains deeply entrenched in the “Uncool” section, along with all the other people movers.
Richard offers a solution – off roaders. Cars that still offer 7 seats, have cool looks and are generally safer than normal cars due to their size and weight. The £36,000 Toyota LandCruiser is suggested as one of the better 4×4’s, however comes across as being overkill for the school run – what with it’s low range gearbox, height adjustable suspension and locking differentials. You’re paying for equipment that you’ll never end up using unless you decided to cross the Kalahari Desert. Then there is the BMW X5 and Audi Allroad – cars that haven’t got all the hardcore offroad features, but also only have 5 seats… meaning it’s no better than a regular saloon. The new Volvo XC90 then appears to be the perfect vehicle for the job. It offers four wheel drive and a high driving position, but without all the burdens the Landcruiser had with it. Jeremy admits it would be useless off road, and since it was designed in America, it’s massive. The XC90 being tested has a 2.9L twin-turbo V6 that returns a poor 15mpg – Jeremy concedes that you’d have to go for the diesel engine. Despite its flaws, Jeremy maintains it’s still the perfect family car – with a split-folding tailgate and massive boot, plus clever rear folding seats that also slide forward and back. At £30,000 for the diesel it’s £12,000 less than a BMW X5 which makes it great value. Jeremy concludes the XC90 is fantastically practical, however is not a brilliant car to drive.
Richard moves on to the fact that cars are generally getting heavier – excess weight in a car slows down acceleration, ruins handling and severely affects fuel economy. In a practical experiment, Richard and Jason purchase a £500 1985 Jaguar XJS to find out just how much they could improve the car by removing everything you didn’t need to drive. Despite the XJS having a 5.3L V12 with 300bhp, it can only manage a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds. A bunch of guys from Cornwall proceed to strip literally every unnecessary item from the car – including passenger & rear seats, electric window motors, trim, spare wheel, bumpers and soundproofing. In all, a total of 223kg was stripped out of the car. Out on the track, the Stig manages a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds – a 1.2 second gain. Even more surprisingly, the 0-100 time came down by 5 seconds.
In the news, Richard introduces the new Morgan Le Mans racing car. Jeremy believes he has found the perfect house – it’s in the south of France and features its own private racetrack. Jeremy also mentions a motorcyclist called Leon Humphries who has been taken to court by the DVLA because he forgot to inform them his bike was off the road. He has claimed that under medieval law (which is still in effect) he is entitled to settle the dispute in a Trial by Combat. This involves fighting a champion nominated by the licensing agency – however they ought to remember that it’s a fight to the death! Jeremy finishes the news and then introduces the MG SV – the first car from MG Rover since BMW left them alone. Jeremy continues “If Oliver Reed and Russell Crowe made mad man love on the set of Gladiator, in an angry brawl… this would be the result”. The car will be on sale the following year, priced at £60,000 – or more if you want the 1000bhp nitrous kit.
Richard road tests the Subaru Forester. The Forester is an offroader based on the Impreza – sharing its chassis, engine & drivetrain… however it offers many real world advantages over the Impreza. It has more space in the back seat, a larger boot and the extra height makes it more practical. The car wins out as a good all-rounder – smooth and comfortable on sealed roads or motorways, without losing any offroad abilities. Against the Honda CRV, Land Rover Freelander or the Toyota RAV4, the Forester is easily the best pick. Back in the studio, Jeremy agrees with Richard’s opinion and sticks the Forester in “Cool” on the Cool Wall. The TVR Tuscan goes in “Uncool” and the Volkswagen Polo is “Cool” – as with most small European cars. Richard notices the BMW M3 in “Uncool” and suggests to Jeremy that it should be moved up the board. The audience votes Yes, however Jeremy says “But this isn’t a democracy, this is Top Gear” and moves it back to “Uncool”.
Jeremy introduces Gordon Ramsay as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. As a surprise for Gordon, earlier on Jeremy organised a 3-course meal to be cooked for him… on the engines of 3 cars. Jeremy proclaims this is a viable alternative to eating the horrible food from Motorway Services. Out on the track, the Subaru Forester from earlier has a “Succulent Turkey breast in a reduction of porcini mushrooms and red wine garnished with winter sprouts” strapped to the top of the engine. The Lada from earlier in the series is back, with a “Baby rack of Lamb with Market vegetables” sitting atop of its engine, while the Suzuki Liana will be cooking a “Wild Salmon on a bed of lemon tine”. Jeremy recommends 3000rpm for about 2hours to sufficiently cook the food. The Stig brings the food into the studio so Gordon can sample it – the results were poor and when asked if it matches Motorway Services cooking, Gordon replies, “It definitely matches it, yes!”. Gordon did a lap of the track in the dry, managing a 1:50.00.
Jason Dawe presents Insider Dealing, with some great deals on new cars.
Jeremy talks about all that’s new and exciting in the world of the hot hatchback. Jeremy has always been a fan of them, because they are cheap, simple, and you get 2 cars for the price of one. He continues, “On the one hand they were as practical as a normal hatchback, you could use them for taking the children to school. But then thanks to their big engines, you could drive home like your trousers were on fire”. The Volkswagen Golf R32 has always been one of the best, however with all the new luxury & safety features, it weighs twice as much as the original Golf GTI from 25 years ago. To move all the extra weight, it needs twice the engine, twice the power and twice the grip of the original car too – which it has. 1.6L vs 3.2, 110bhp vs 240bhp, front-wheel drive vs four-wheel drive. While the R32 may be a better car, Jeremy thinks it doesn’t have the spirit of the original Golf – that it’s less fun somehow. It’s also going up against the Ford Focus RS, the Honda Civic Type-R and the SEAT León Cupra R. Against these cars the Golf comes off as looking more sedate and boring. For a more definitive comparison, the Focus RS and VW R32 are both given to the Stig – the R32 manages a 1:33.00, 1 second slower than the Focus RS.
Richard returns to the subject of lightness with the superlight Westfield XTR still at the top of the Power Lap Board – however it’s now under threat. The new Radical SR3 has a good chance at putting in a faster time, as does a man called Tom who pilots an aerobatics plane – so a little race was in order. Tom in the plane will be flying directly over the track, however to keep roughly within the lines on the corners it will need to climb vertically while turning in order to slow down the horizontal speed, all while the Stig is driving the SR3 down on the track. During the race, the plane catches the SR3 in the straights however loses out on the turns. The plane pips the Stig right at the finish line to take out the race. The Radical SR3 lapped a 1:19 and goes to the top of the board – being 4 seconds faster than the Westfield.
Stig Power Laps
Ford Focus RS
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car