“Come to England. Shit weather. Shit beer.” Yes, The American is back and he’s as unfunny as ever. That feeling of deja vu is in a lot of Episode 9 of The Grand Tour, as it continues to delve into the Top Gear bag of tricks and stuff that bag with more money. Fortunately, though, The Grand Tour touching down in Stuttgart for its ninth outing doesn’t bring all the deja vu you’d expect.
We’ve already had the usual run of German jokes from Jeremy Clarkson, but the presenter is on ebullient, even generous form here, as he seems genuinely excited to be in the home of Porsche and Mercedes. His introductory monologue in the tent is the friendliest yet, praising the country for their automative engineering and, later, even their lane discipline – you almost wonder what it would be like if Clarkson were this sincere and uncontroversial all the time. (Although yes, he does slip in a joke about the Queen being German, deja vu watchers.)
The episode smartly, then, sticks with the least offensive of the trio – James May – for its opening film, as he takes the Honda NSX for a spin. Watching an unabashedly middle-aged man, a man who, lest we forget, currently takes apart things and puts them back together again in a shed for BBC Four, have his sense blown away by the high-tech, high-speed Honda is a harmlessly entertaining sight. Indeed, the majority of this ninth hour is mostly harmless and, yes, mostly entertaining.
The visuals are, of course, top-notch, even after the over-long Namibia two-parter, as Amazon’s production team seem to bulk order tins of paint from the online shop and fire them out of cannons every five seconds. The result looks more like an advert for a colour printer than a piece of motor journalism, but it’s certainly easy on the eye – and a good job too, since the following segment, which sees The American take the Honda for a spin on the official show track, would overshadow anything less stunning. He even drives it on a wet day, which means the results are essentially redundant. Unless you really like his jokes about how rubbish England is.
The rest of the episode is divided into three stunts, each one focusing on a different presenter. There’s Clarkson trying to build his own sport utility vehicle – by literally gluing a Land Rover and a sports car together. There’s May exploring new ways to power cars. And, after last episode’s Mad Max-worthy visuals, there’s Hammond building an apocalypse-proof vehicle.
May, again, proves the most enjoyable to watch, as he hooks up an entire gym to his battery, although Clarkson’s film wins bonus points for a bizarre moment that sees the Chelsea football team giving their verdict on the trio’s attempts at DIY SUVs. Even the Hammondpocalypse section feels relatively restrained, as Clarkson and May get tanks and guns to play with but manage to keep things distinctly lower-key than Episode 2’s dire Call of Duty roleplay. The fact that we get to see Hammond’s sanctuary shot at and blown up certainly helps.
The end product feels very familiar, combining Top Gear’s penchant for tanks and make-your-own vehicles with Amazon’s budget. That means that after watching three stunts in a row, the novelty starts to wear of – where, you wonder, is the next of May’s standout mini-documentaries, like the one on donutting in South Africa or the history of Le Mans? With Stuttgart’s importance in the automotive world so treasured by Clarkson, where’s a film breaking down that for casual viewers? If this is a case of deja vu, though, at least The Grand Tour isn’t repeating all of its worst bits.
The Grand Tour is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or as part of £79 annual Amazon Prime membership. New episodes arrive at 00.01GMT every Friday for 12 weeks, starting 18th November 2016. For more on how to watch The Ground Tour, click here.