Review of Top Gear USA’s Fully Charged

Review of Top Gear USA’s Fully Charged

On this episode of Top Gear USA, Fully Charged, they set out to decide who had chosen America’s best entry-level electric vehicle (EV), and I can’t believe it took them this long.  Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood arrived at Rocky’s Pit Stop at Milan, Michigan to find the EV’s waiting for them.  Rutledge opted for the Nissan Leaf, Tanner took the Ford Focus Electric (surprise, surprise); and Adam was once again making his ancestors proud with the Fiat 500e.  Along their road trip to Lansing, the EV’s would be tested and the victor would get to test drive the Tesla Model S Performance Plus.  The first of these was at the Milan Dragway, twenty miles away.

Personally, I love the idea of electric cars.  I grew up in a city and my commutes were hardly ever more than twenty minutes from home, with most of my delays from traffic.  So the idea of a small vehicle with disgustingly good fuel mileage and zero emissions makes me giddy.  However, the guys did highlight one of the main problems that our generation has with the EV’s: no engine noise.  It’s unnervingly quiet, and will take us a while to get used to it.  There’s also range anxiety, which would be solved if more charging stations were available.

“Oh God, when he laughs like that it freaks me out.” – Tanner Foust

At the Milan Dragway, the expected challenge would be a drag racing the petite EV’s but no!  Top Gear did something much more interesting than that.  A supercharged LS Chevy Camaro ZL1 set a time, and the boys were required to match or beat it.  However, they were given custom built electric race cars from Lawless EV Racing: 1994 Chevy S10, Porsche 944 and the 1X3X dragster.  It’s well established that the technology in our daily drivers were tested on the race track.  So these beasts were a fantastic way to introduce an audience to the power of EV racing.

“In case God forbid anything, come here (hugs Tanner) I just want to say goodbye now.” – Adam Ferrara

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Adam with the 1994 Chevy S10 electric racer from Lawless EV Racing (Photo Credit: Adam Ferrara)

Back in their production models, the guys convened a few miles away for a reverse speed test.  This was a test of not just their EV’s ability to reverse at speed, but of the drivers’ skills.  Thankfully nobody went off the course, but it looked sketchy for a moment.  However, can we just appreciate how much fun speed guns are…and cheating.  Top Gear is the only TV show where cheating is an acceptable form of entertainment and soap operas.

“Oh, it’s making me sweat.  That’s so fast!” – Rutledge Wood

The next challenge was to drive their EV’s through the Eastland Center shopping mall in Harper Woods, all the while avoiding security on a Segway.  It was funny if not one of the most manufactured segments ever on this show.  There were many elements to it and when potential property damage is taken into consideration, the only genuine bits seemed to be some of the cast’s reactions while driving.  Afterwards, they demonstrated the EV’s quietness by sneaking out of a house in a serene suburban neighbourhood.  Each exited through a second story carrying a decibel meter, which was then attached to the car’s rear bumper.  They had to do one lap of the cul-de-sac in the quickest time but making the least amount of noise.  Their methods of leaving the house were indicative of each guy’s personality.  Tanner was physically good at getting out without making much noise…until he got in the car and couldn’t slow it down.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Rutledge fell out the window, then again it would have been less noisy.  Adam went for the teen-movie method of getting out of the house, but surprisingly it worked really well and will be considered for my own future shenanigans.  This was one of the more hilarious premises Top Gear has dreamed up for these three.  The soundtrack was perfect suited for their inevitable failures, and very well done overall.

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Rutledge take a drive through the Eastland Center’s food court. (Photo Credit: BBC Worldwide)

“Performance Plus takes one of the world’s best sedans into supercar handling territory, while also improving ride quality and range. After hundreds of iterations affecting every detail of the suspension, our vehicle dynamics team was able to achieve the rare outcome of simultaneously improving performance, comfort and efficiency. In addition to upgraded dampers, bushings, stabilizer bars and tires (Michelin Pilot Sport PS2), the rear tires are 20 mm wider and staggered for improved acceleration on low grip surfaces.” – Company Website

To the victor went the spoils, which in this case was a date with the Tesla Model S Performance Plus at Rosamond Skypark.  Unlike the small EV’s that were featured in this episode, this sedan was quite a different creature.  The Tesla proved that it certainly has the kilowatts to outdo a 580hp Camaro ZL1’s combustion engine.  However, it was time to tango with the Mercedes Benz S550 on a one-mile road course.  The Stig did what he does best, which is set lap times.

“.. / …. — .–. . / -.-. .-. .- ..-. – / … . .-. …- .. -.-. . … / …. .- … / -.-. …. . . … . .-.-.-” – The Stig saying “I hope craft services has fresh cheese.”

Top Gear did their very best to make electric vehicles look attractive and fun.  However, I would have loved to see a longer road trip, more like the Men’s Health Electric Car Challenge in 2012 which went from New York to Los Angeles.  It was a lot of fun to read about and would have been even more fun to watch.  However, it was entertaining and actually managed to teach audiences about the history of electric cars in America.  How nice for one of the History Channels top shows to talk focus on history albeit briefly.  Hat tip goes to the cast members who chatted with fans on social media and shared behind-the-scenes info about the show.  The next episode was American Supercars which aired on November 12, 2013.