When I started to avidly watch Velocity channel, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect home for a motoring show with the word ‘Gear’ in its title. Lo and behold they premiered Fifth Gear in October 2012, and car nerds rejoiced. Okay, I rejoiced but I’m sure there are other happy viewers who have been waiting for a British car-series that’s not only entertaining but actually educational. At first some may take it to be a rip-off of BBC’s Top Gear. However, it may be more apt to describe them as cousins because both programmes have the same pedigree. You see Tiff Needell and Vicki Butler-Henderson were actually co-hosts of Top Gear until it was cancelled in 2001. They went over to Fifth Gear along with Quentin Willson, just as the BBC and Jeremy Clarkson helmed a reboot of Top Gear to its current format. Tiff and Vicki continue to host the show in addition to Jason Plato and Jonny Smith.
Fifth Gear looks a lot like what Top Gear used to: a magazine show that’s chock full of scrupulous car reviews, topics pertinent to (mainly UK) drivers like fuel quality, technological advancement, bargain used cars and even driving tips. Of course, they never fail to spend a fair amount of time on racing and have a habit of bringing professional drivers on as guest wheelmen. As a matter of fact, three out of the four hosts are race car drivers so you can only imagine that their competitions are fierce. Fifth Gear also gets exclusive behind-the-scenes access to races, manufacture facilities and events. On last week’s episode, Jonny Smith and Tiff Needell went to the Isle of Man TT. Jonny interviewed champion racer, John McGuinness; while Tiff was allowed to take a brand-new Subaru BRZ for a lap of the race route between races. In an earlier episode, Tiff actually competed in a Lamborghini Super Trofeo and had a podium finish. Jason Plato also went to Iceland to try his hand at Formula Off-Road racing. Can you call that racing? Well, it definitely falls under the motorsports classification.
Each week they have a feature called the Team Test. All four cast members will go over a new car to prove that it delivers the goods whether it’s promised fuel economy, manoeuvrability or fun. They are all hard judges to please and the bar is very high indeed. However, if you’re interested in a new car purchase or just want to brush up on your knowledge, this is a great segment to look out for. Sometimes the tests can get a bit out of hand but such is life when you give petrolheads a free car to thrash. You should expect it to turn into some sort of contest. Rather, you should anticipate it because that’s usually a blast to watch. I do recall they tried to see who could make a Volkswagen Beetle fly over an incline the farthest. Yes, fly. However, if you’re looking for challenges with cars ‘modified’ to be limos, caravans or boats, then you’re looking in the wrong place. This show doesn’t have time for that kind of thing. They’re in it for the cars.
Fifth Gear wouldn’t be much of a motoring show without high performance and exotic cars either. They not only review them but put these gems of the automotive industry through their paces on test tracks and proving grounds. I’ve become quite fond of their two-car shoot outs to see which one truly is the cream of the crop. However, I must admit to an almost dirty thrill to realise that without fail, they always try to make a supercar ‘go sideways’ and/or order new tires before lunchtime. These are definitely my kind of people. Although it has constantly been in Top Gear’s shadow, Fifth Gear is a slick, well-packaged television series shown in glorious HD with an exciting soundtrack and lots of shameless car porn. It’s the kind of show that grabs your attention and occasionally makes you rewind a bit to re-watch some fancy driving. The hosts are amiable and more than qualified to share their opinions with the rest of us. There’s no love lost between the rival programmes as Tiff Needell and Vicki Butler-Henderson not only appeared at a Top Gear Live show this year; but there was a grudge match race between Tiff and The Stig. I’m a fan of both series and enjoy having the best of both worlds. However, I sincerely hope that Fifth Gear continues to grace our small screens for many years to come.