Top Gear, the iconic British celebration of cars and camaraderie, is back for a 27th season, which premieres in the US on BBC America July 14. This season has a somewhat new look, with two new co-hosts, cricketer Freddie Flintoff and comedian Paddy McGuinness, joining Chris Harris, who has been on the show since 2016, but it’s still Top Gear: three presenters bantering, going on automative adventures, and geeking out about cars. “It’s not a complete reinvention,” Harris told TV Guide on the phone from Somerset, England. “But when you watch it, you’ll see that in some quite important areas it has just shifted a bit.”
Harris said that the comedy that happens naturally between himself, Flintoff, and McGuiness during the travel and studio segments frees up his car reviews to be more journalistically rigorous. “In the past, there’s always been the sense that to keep a general audience engaged with a car review you have to throw in something a bit funky, but I don’t think you do now.” Harris said. “I think the rest of the show is so amusing that you don’t need to worry about that.” And Harris’ passionate and polished reviews are a highlight of every episode, like in the season premiere, when he compares the Ferrari 488 Pista and the McLaren 600LT, the latter of which he said is his favorite road car he drove during the season (he also drove a Lotus 79, a Formula One car made legendary by Mario Andretti, but that’s not a car you can commute to work in).
The humor is not as harsh as it was in the Jeremy Clarkson era, but it’s still the British boarding school style of absolutely roasting your best mates. Harris is frequently targeted for his height (or lack thereof). “We’ve become good buddies already and your best buddies are the ones who say the nastiest things about you, aren’t they?” Harris said. “That’s the way it works in the UK. That’s our humor. It’s not quite as brutal as our predecessors, because they really did go at each other, but even so, if I’m the short one, then I’m quite happy to take it. Because I’m also the one who gets to slide all the Ferraris around, so it’s not a bad job, is it?”
Harris’ cohosts will not be familiar to American audiences, but they’re well-known in Great Britain. Harris describes Freddie Flintoff as “a national institution,” a LeBron James-style figure in his sport at his peak in the mid-00s. But you don’t need to be a cricket fan to find Flintoff charming and charismatic. And Paddy McGuinness is a comedian best known for hosting the dating show Take Me Out, and who Harris described as a master of the one-liner. Harris was concerned that American audiences might not be able to understand Flintoff and McGuinness’ Northern English accents, but no subtitles are necessary.
It wouldn’t be Top Gear without trips all over the world, and this season includes visits to Ethiopia, Borneo, and Iceland. In Ethiopia, a drive into the desert left Harris ill from dehydration, and an off-roading excursion across forbidding Icelandic terrain was so thrilling that Harris would never do it again. “In my job, when you test cars and you race cars, your life is really just about managing risk, and I think there’s probably too much risk in that for me,” Harris said.
Top Gear Season 27 premieres Sunday, July 14 at 8/7c on BBC America.