- Jeremy drives the new Smart Roadster.
- Richard uses a jet-powered dragster to burn a Nissan Sunny, and later, a Caravan.
- James May is introduced, showing us the pitfalls of owning an old Bentley.
- Richard drives the Bowler Wildcat.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Vinnie Jones.
Jeremy opens the show with a video of what we can expect in Series 2. Afterwards he gets straight into small, affordable fun cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet and Ford Street Ka. Both cars are lacking in style however the Smart Roadster may just do the trick – Jeremy takes it out for a road test.
Predominantly an accessory for people getting around the most fashionable areas of London, the Smart has to be able to prove it’s a proper sports car once you take it outside of the city limits. Powered by a 700cc 3-cylinder turbocharged engine, the Smart only produces 80bhp; Jeremy describes it as “Having exactly the same top speed of Henry the Eighth”. The Smart also has a 6 speed sequential gearbox – which sounds great in theory, however in execution the gearbox shifts between gears extremely slowly, as if it has several other tasks it had to do first before considering swapping cogs. As a sports car then, the Smart seems to miss the mark. On the plus side, it does feature a semi-soft top roof which slides back into a recess behind the seats, after which the side rails can be removed. Jeremy also maintains that the Smart feels much more alive than many more expensive cars, “I wanted to hate it, I wanted to laugh at it’s pathetic performance and call it a wet fraud, but it’s so responsive and such a giggle that it just puts an enormous smile on your face. It’s fantastic”. Smart cars are also made by Mercedes Benz so there should be no problems with the build quality. Back in the studio, Jeremy admits he wouldn’t buy one – mainly because the Smart Roadster lacks any decent boot space, and also because the right-hand drive model costs 1.5x more than the left-hand drive model available in Germany.
Moving on to the Cool Wall, the Volkswagen Beetle & Ford Street Ka are both put in “Cool”. The Smart Roadster ended up being “Sub Zero” despite it’s problems. Richard questions the Renault Avantime which has been “Sub Zero” since the last series – which didn’t help it’s dismal sales figures, selling just 263 cars since it was released. It has since gone out of production so Jeremy removes it from the wall. Jeremy then moves onto a new “Love & Hate” board. Under “Love” is Kristin Scott Thomas and Terry Thomas, and under “Hate” was listed; stereos which have a chummy greeting when you turn them on, paddle shift gearboxes and personalised registration plates. Richard also came up with his own “Top five worst cars ever” list –5. AMC Paeso; 4. Peel P50; 3. Vauxhall Vectra; 2. Suzuki X-90; and in first place, the Nissan Sunny. Out on the track, Richard strolls up to a Nissan Sunny, a car which committed the worst crime of all – being bland. Richard continues, “God gave us, probably celery as the benchmark of nothingness. And then amazingly mankind improved on that, with this… thing”. Richard sends the Sunny to hell, with a little help from a jet-powered dragster. The dragster is reversed up beside the car and proceeds to blast it using the afterburner flame from the back of its engine.
Jeremy introduces ex-footballer come actor, Vinnie Jones as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. Vinnie laps a respectable 1:53 on a dry track.
Jeremy then introduces James May as a new presenter for Top Gear (replacing Jason Dawe from Series 1). James is at the seaside, leafing through the small ads at the back of a Classic Car magazine. He discusses the amount of interesting cars which are available for “Mondeo money”, such as Jaguar Mark II’s, Porsche 911’s and old Bentley’s. As he’s walking back to his car, James continues, “Mind you, you’d have to be a complete idiot to buy one of those” just before his own personal Bentley T2 comes into shot. The T2 is essentially the cheapest Bentley available – a good one can be had for under £14,000. James loves the wood grain dashboard, the chrome and the “winged b” bonnet mascot. He also runs through some of the dash controls which are laid out in a very strange manner – something else he loves. The 6.75L V8 up front does not like to be rushed and the steering is vague, but James suggests the allure of owning your own Bentley more than makes up for it. While the Bentley may not depreciate in value like a new Mondeo would, what money you save there will be quickly eaten away at the pump. At the time of recording, it cost James £80 to fill the tank, quite steep for a car which only manages 15mpg when driven sedately. Back in the studio, Jeremy thinks James could have made the film much shorter. James agrees and says; “Yes, it’s um… For the money you spend on a basic Mondeo, you could buy an old Bentley like I did. Don’t!” James also mentions he has to rent a garage to store the car, which is several miles from his house.
Moving on to the news, the Peugeot 206GTI & 206 GTI Estate are both introduced. The Renault Kangoo, Saab 93 convertible and Lamborghini Gallardo are also announced. James also shows us a mystery fax which Top Gear received – showing several line drawings of a car which is easily identifiable as a Lotus Esprit. It’s revealed that Lotus sends the fax out to people, encouraging them to reply with what car they think it is. It’s all part of an attempt to prove that this is their car shape and copyright it. James encourages people to send back bogus answers to prevent them from doing so.
Richard moves on to the next segment – to find a car for not much money. After introducing the £50,000 Bowler Wildcat, it becomes apparent he clearly failed. The Wildcat is built by two brothers in Derbyshire, and features a full space frame chassis, fiberglass body panels and utilises a 5.0L 300bhp Land Rover / TVR hybrid V8. It has fully adjustable suspension and some of the options available include an FIA spec fuel tank, integrated fire extinguisher and an onboard water supply for desert racing. Richard bashes around an old quarry for a while and gets caught up in the emotion of it all, proclaiming “I am a Driving God!”. Afterwards, he pulls over and lets race driver Jim Weaver take the wheel – Richard straps a helmet on and gets into the passenger seat. Jim drives the car around the quarry several times faster than what Richard could manage. Back in the studio, Jeremy requests to see the “Driving God” segment of the film again, much to Richard’s embarrassment. Luckily, a real Driving God is on hand – with the Stig taking the Bowler around the track in 1:39.40 seconds, a time which is very respectable for a car designed primarily for off road work.
Just before the show finishes, Richard reminds us of the Nissan Sunny he burnt to a crisp earlier in the show. It seemed like a waste to burn only one thing, so he organised a caravan to be lined up for a roasting too. The caravan takes the full force of the afterburner and completely rolls over, in a crumpled burning mess.
Stig Power Laps
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car