Has there ever been an automotive-based tv show better than Top Gear? This is something I think a lot about during the slow moments in my day (like sitting on the toilet, driving in traffic, or brushing my teeth), and I’m convinced there’s been nothing better. I mean, if my sister (someone who has never had a passing interest in cars) looked forward to new episodes, that says all I need to know. But if it’s so easy to establish this the best car show ever, how easy is it to pick the best Top Gear episodes of all time? Actually, it’s not so difficult:
The best Top Gear episodes of all time are:
- The Vietnam special (season 12, episode 8)
- The Bolivia special (season 14, episode 6)
- Killing a Toyota Helix (season 3, episode 6)
- The US special (yeah, the one where they almost got killed – season 9, episode 3)
- Evading the Apache with the Exige (season 4, episode 1)
- The Africa special (season 19, episode 7)
- Bugatti Veyron races a Cessna 182 (season 7, episode 5)
- Bonus: Season 2 of The Grand Tour, episode 1
If you’re curious, yes – these are listed in a specific order, with the all time best at the top. The ranking process was hardly what I consider to be scientific, but I did take into account things such as viewership, the amount of people I see talking about these episodes online, and of course – my own personal preference. Let’s have a look at what made these specific episodes of Top Gear “the best”.
I declare the Vietnam Special as the best Top Gear episode – ever
As a car guy, im proud of the fact that I’ve seen every episode of Top Gear ever made – and I looked forward to each and every one with child-like excitement. A big reason for this is because of how Jeremy, Richard, and James always bring an overwhelming amount of humor and wit into every episode. And when you combine that on-screen chemistry with an exotic location such as Vietnam, magic happens.
But it wasn’t just the beautiful scenery and humorous moments that made the Vietnam special one of the best Top Gear episodes of all time. It was the struggle they endured along their journey, and the bond that grew between them as they worked through ridiculous mental and physical challenges. That’s what made it THE best.
The episode started in a familiar fashion. The three of them arrived at the start of their journey and were handed instructions which informed them of the objective. They were left alone to figure it all out.
Having to ride from one end of Vietnam to another on incredibly cheap (and poorly maintained) motorbikes was met with incredible resentment from Jeremy – right from the beginning. As a matter of fact, he threatened not to do the episode at all.
However, thanks to the persuaviness of Richard and James, they were able to convince Jeremy to get on that bike and ride – as a team – all the way across Vietnam. It was just the first of many difficult moments which required the three to work as a together to reach the finish line.
As the episode went on, it was easy to get the sense that it was turning into less of a silly Top Gear challenge and more into an epic road trip between three best friends. As a result, the Top Gear franchise was forever changed after this. Back in the studio in the episodes following, it was clear that the chemistry these three had was stronger than it had ever been before.
All the reasons why I think the Bolivia special is one of the best Top Gear episodes
My pick for the second best Top Gear episode of all time is the Bolivia special from 2009. Very similar to what happened in the Vietnam special, Jeremy, Richard, and James worked together as a team to solve difficult problems out in the wilderness all by themselves. And they grew closer to each other as a result of it.
However, the Bolivia special is one of the best Top Gear episodes for the humor alone. In my opinion, it’s the funniest top gear episode ever created. Yes, this is saying a lot considering how hilariously funny the show was from week to week.
This episode starts out with the boys stranded on a river bank as a barge pulls up with three well-worn SUVs strapped to it. Their first mission is to figure out how to get those SUVs off the barge and onto the riverbank.
Considering that there were no ramps and they had no help from any of the camera crew (or the locals), it was one silly attempt after another until they finally figured it out. Unlike other Top Gear specials, the humor keeps flowing at a relentless pace and I was in tears laughing so hard by the end of it.
The best Top Gear episodes are the ones that I like to recommend to first time viewers who have never even heard of the show before (yes, there are still people out there who have never heard of Top Gear). The Bolivia special was so funny and so raw that you didn’t even have to know who these guys were to appreciate the genius of it all. As a matter fact, it was a perfect episode for newbies to learn and understand the personality of each.
The Vietnam special, in contrast, was good because of the fact they grew deeper bonds for one another – more than had ever been done in any other episode. You kind of already had to know a lot about the show in order to appreciate it so much. But the Bolivia special? Pure hilarious fun, all the way through.
Killing a Toyota Helix. Hahahaha!
One of the best Top Gear episodes was when they tested the destructiveness of an 11 year old Toyota Hilux. That poor vehicle is taken through the toughest crash tests these guys could think of, and…it was pure comedic genius.
Jeremy (who handles the whole affair) does everything he can think of – including driving it into a tree, into a wall and through a shed. Without any mechanical alterations, the Hilux is even taken down a stairwell.
It was an absolute riot to watch the car get pounded by a 40 feet tidal wave for 5 hours. The only thing that gave out were the ropes that were meant to tie the truck down – but that tough-as-nails Helix survived like a champ.
Not even dropping an RV on the Hilux could kill it; it only took a wrecking ball to inflict major damage (and a fire to round out the cosmetic disfigurement). Despite all that, that diesel-powered Toyota Hilux was still working. One heck of a ringing endorsement for Toyota, eh?
There were many reasons why the US special was one of the best Top Gear episodes of them all
There are some really good reasons why I think the US special was so dang brilliant. First and foremost was because of the car that Jeremy picked to do the drive in. Yup, that 3rd generation Camaro tugged at my heart strings all the way through, since it’s pretty much one of my favorite cars ever built. I was a child of the 80s, and those 3rd gen Camaros are what tickles my fancy. Yeah, I’m weird like that.
Anyway, I’m not really sure there are going to be many people out there who are going to agree with me on the Camaro and it being the reason to declare this as one of the best Top Gear episodes ever, so let’s look at a couple more:
The cow. Yes, they actually strapped dead cow to the roof of the Camaro at one point during the show, and it was nothing short of tear-inducing funny. It was extremely childish and borderline cruel (even though the cow was already dead when they found it), but it was hilariously good fun and something that I’ve never seen any other automotive television show even try to attempt. Any episode which pushes the limits of a good taste automatically qualifies it for one of the best Top Gear episodes of all time in my opinion.
The offensive cars. Writing offensive things on their cars (such as “country and western is rubbish” and “man love rules ok”) while driving around Alabama was both incredibly brilliant and massively insane. It was also incredibly funny since they had no idea what was written on their cars as they were driving around. They each wrote something on one another’s cars, and then without looking, drove around for a while – making a lot of people angry.
It was this kind of willingness to push the limits which made Top Gear such a brilliant show. Yes, the producers admitted later that they probably went to far with this little stunt, but it made for especially good television. It also catapulted the show into the stratosphere in terms of popularity and viewership. For that reason alone, I confidently declare the US special as one of the best Top Gear episodes of all time.
Evading the Apache with the Exige was just as entertaining as it sounds
This was definitely one of the most insane showdowns in motoring history. The Top Gear’s brutes went all out with this episode, and the face off was well worth it.
On one side, you had a menacing military machine with out-of-this-world performance; the Apache helicopter. On the other side was a rocket of a car known as the Lotus Exige.
The overall challenge was to try and evade the Apache’s missile lock system. But here’s the thing about the Apache wickedly-lethal arsenal; it can clearly pin point up to 256 targets 8 kilometres away, select 16 of the most dangerous threats, and quickly eliminate all of them; in less than 20 seconds.
This is what the Lotus Exige was up against, and definitely what makes the episode one of the best in the Top Gear series. Apparently it was impossible to get the car locked down in the track (we know this because Clarkson is still alive) but it definitely was entertaining to see an extreme example of how fast and manoeuvrable the Exige is.
The Africa special was really good as well (for one really simple – and funny – reason)
When you sit and think about all of the top gear specials over the years, there are a few moments that immediately bubble to the top. The way Jeremy sarcastically pushed and poked at all the plastic panels on the Corvette ZR1 (season 14, episode 2) was one. Another one was the VW bug that followed them all the way across Africa in the Africa special.
For those of you who don’t recall what that episode was about, the guys had to drive a crossed Africa in extremely cheap cars. The joke throughout the entire episode was that there was no way that all three cars were going to make it, and they were going to have to abandon at least one of them along the way. It was inevitable. That’s why the producers chose to have a back up car ready just in case, which, comically made it into the storyline.
Whenever one of their main cars started showing signs of trouble, that little VW bug would appear in the distance inching closer and ready to jump into action. It was hilarious, and for that reason alone, the Africa special is one of the best Top Gear episodes of them all.
Bugatti Veyron races a Cessna 182 – brilliantly entertaining!
When thinking about all of the best Top Gear episodes to choose from, I have to admit that race challenges are what I gravitate towards. I mean, a Bugatti racing a plane is quite something. How can it not be? But this is Top Gear after all, so there was a bit more to it than that.
So how about delivering a truffle (yes a truffle) to London’s Nat West Tower all the way from Northern Italy? The weapon of choice was the 1001PS Bugatti Veyron, which ended up being the perfect car for the job. It was extremely fast, and ridiculously luxurious. Perfect for long distance high-speed driving! And delivering truffles…
While Clarkson took the Bugatti, May chose to take the Cessna 1982. The story went that Captain Slow had no license to fly at night, and had to make a stop at Lille in France – which is precisely why things didn’t quite work out for him.
In the end, it was the Bugatti Veyron that won the race with a proud Clarkson terming it as the greatest car to ever leave the assembly line. It was a thrilling and very tense challenge!
Bonus pick: Season 2 of The Grand Tour, episode 1 (even though it’s not technically part of the Top Gear franchise)
OK. I know what you’re thinking. How can an episode of The Grand Tour be considered one of the best Top Gear episodes of all time? Well, as far as I’m concerned, The Grand Tour is still Top Gear in my mind.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, The Grand Tour was a spin-off from the Top Gear franchise after Jerry Clarkson punched a producer and was ultimately fired from Top Gear. Richard and James refused to continue with Top Gear without Jeremy, so (really long story short), Amazon picked them up and created a new series for them called The Grand Tour. It’s basically just like Top Gear. Same format and all.
Anyway, what made that first episode of season 2 so important was the crash at the end. Richard was driving an all-electric Rimac Concept One at high speed on a closed mountain road and lost control, resulting in very serious injuries. That alone was enough to make the episode memorable. But it was the aftermath which made it so significant.
Richard came dangerously close to losing his life in that accident. And just like what happened in the Vietnam special I mentioned above, Jeremy, Richard, and James grew even closer because of it.
As far as I’m concerned, no other automotive program in the history of television has seen it’s hosts develop such deep bonds that these three have. Sometimes it takes horrific events for that kind of thing to happen, but there’s always a silver lining to every situation. That’s why I consider this episode of The Grand Tour to be one of the best Top Gear episodes ever.
Who am I, and why do I think I know enough to create a list of the best Top Gear episodes?
Before I wrap this up, I believe it’s important to state my credentials as a car guy so that you don’t think I’m an uninformed dolt who watched a few episodes and came up with a weak list with no meaning behind it.
First of all, I’m old. Like, as in 45 years old “old” and I’ve been watching Top Gear since season one. But long before that, I’ve been a car guy. My earliest childhood memories involve a plastic model of a 70’s Oldsmobile Cutlass (it was even brown), and a passion for the automobile runs through my veins.
Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond have perfect chemistry together. Also, they each share a passion for cars that a bonified car guy like me can see as genuine and pure. These guys aren’t fakers. They love what they do, and because of that, I might as well have claimed all episodes as the best Top Gear episodes. They put an incredible amount of passion and energy into each one, and they’ve all been thrilling to watch.
What are your favorite episodes of Top Gear?
Because I’m just one guy with my own opinions, I’d be very curious to know what others consider to be the best Top Gear episodes. Maybe it was the very first one way back in 2002? I’d agree it was an important one – because, without it (and the way it evolved into what it has today), we wouldn’t have been so lucky to be entertained as we have all these years.
Everybody has different way of determining what the best Top Gear episodes are. Do you like the silly gags? Do you enjoy the banter between Jeremy, Richard, and James as they chitchat at the desk? Please let me know in the comments below, along with your your own list of what you consider to be the “best” of Top Gear.