The United States of America is a huge country. It takes up 3.794 million sq miles (9.827 million km²) and has multiple climates. This episode of Top Gear on History focuses on part of the country that’s famous for its blistering cold, and the types of vehicles the folks there use during the brutal cold season: winter beaters. These are cheap cars that people use, abuse and often refuse when spring comes. Each host had a $2,000.00 budget to buy a vehicle to bash around in the snow in Baudette, Minnesota. Unlike past episodes, actually any episode I can think of, their cars were buried under snow on a frozen lake. Their first task was to dig their cars out of the snow and head down the road to the official location of their first challenge. Naturally, it became a race.
“It’s ugly, but it works.” – Adam Ferrara
Adam Ferrara wisely chose a 1998 Chevy S-10 Blazer with 4WD. He’s obviously learned a thing or two after three seasons of this show. Rutledge Wood stayed true to form with a 1998 Subaru Legacy GT wagon with AWD. I would have put a couple dollars on Tanner Foust, until I saw his choice: a 1991 RWD Nissan 300ZX. (Once a drifter, always a drifter) At least its bright yellow colour contrasted against the bleak, white landscape. During the thirty-mile drive, they were all basking in the honeymoon phase with their cars, until they arrived at AET Automotive Enviro Testing where their winter beaters were going the get the beating of their lives.
“I would love to beat Tanner at this. I would love to beat Tanner at anything, but especially, especially this.” – Rutledge Wood
The first test was of braking and handling on an off-road/on-snow course. Rutledge volunteered to go first, in order to exemplify Subaru dominance. I’m not sure if he was more inspired because it was a Subaru or because it was a station wagon. Nevertheless, Papa Bear was going to show them how to get it done. He over-steered his way through the course, and didn’t die. Hurrah. I have this theory that Tanner’s an amazing driver and despite making questionable vehicle choices, if there’s anybody who can pull off a win, it’s him. His résumé is the dictionary definition of overachievement. So you can imagine my surprise when he crawled off the start line. Crawled. This careful approach didn’t really help since he finished the course, without the car. NASCAR’s Carl Edwards would be proud. You thought I was going to say Ricky Bobby, huh? No. Adam’s Blazer proved to be as relevant as a drop of water in the ocean. Not at all. Oh, before I forget, here’s the link to Bridgestone Winter Driving School. You’re welcome.
“When’s the last time you shaved your back?” – Tanner Foust
Their next stop was Cold Cell 203B. Does that sound scary or what? Their cars would be locked in a chamber to freeze them at temperatures that would make the icy outside seem tropical by comparison, to test their heaters and build quality. To add insult to future injury, the guys would only be wearing t-shirts, short pants, fluffy hats, boots and (hopefully) thermal underoos. I think the standby EMT’s presence started to give the cast pause for what they were about to do. We witnessed a completely different type of cabin fever, as each tried to get and/or stay warm. Tanner was writing messages on his windshield, Rutledge resorted to exercise; and Adam drew upon his knowledge of fires from his days on Rescue Me. One by one, good sense prevailed and unfortunately, the EMT’s were put to work. Thanks to live tweeting and Facebook updates, we know that all the hosts escaped with their digits intact. It was still scary to watch.
The final challenge was set for the next day. They had to complete five laps of a frozen course against each other and some of the state’s best ice drivers. For some reason, they decided to make it winner-takes-all; and one of them found out that trying to be a cheater in a beater comes with a heavy price. Top Gear hosts are hilariously talkative, especially when they’re racing…sliding…and crashing. It was an excellent race because for once, the icy surface, snow banks and choice of vehicles levelled the playing field. I think this was one of the wildest races we’ve ever seen on this show to date, and possibly my favourite to watch. For the finale, Top Gear on History did something that made me so proud that I want to send them tasty, baked goods.
They dropped the ridiculous pretense that Tanner would get the “prize” of testing a new car because he won the challenges. This is worsened by the fact that they glaringly tweak the challenge rules after filming, to make him the winner via voiceover. Not this time. In the ultra-exclusive town of Breckenridge, Colorado, he drove a 2013 Bentley Continental GT. If you have a $5 million estate and your daily driver is a super-duper car, then this could be your winter beater. Tanner didn’t look like he was enjoying the Bentley. I’d even go so far as to say that he seemed to be a little bit bored with it; that is of course, until he started throwing it around corners. By the way, feel free to giggle if you’ve seen Tiff Needell testing this car on Fifth Gear. Could you imagine if those two guys got together?Anyway, since this is Top Gear, in order to test a car, you’ve got to race the car. Henceforth this film should be called Tanner in the Snow 2: The Wrath of Benji. A Copper Mountain snowboard terrain park would be the starting point for a downhill race against Olympic snowboarder, Benji Farrow. There were a copious number of slow motion shots, but that was understandable as Farrow was giving it everything he had, pulling off some cool tricks. The Bentley was also swerving wildly along the course, and they know how much we love shots of cars swerving wildly in slow motion. This was a solid episode with many, many enjoyable moments. If this isn’t a new fan favourite, then it absolutely should be. The next episode is the season finale, Viking Trucks.