The Grand Tour review Clarkson and co leave the BBC in their dust

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With their supercars, celebrity slayings and Eboladrome, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond prove they can still make a spectacle and keep the petrolheads happy

Enough of the secrets and rumours, the crass PR stunts, the fracas/non-fracas with an employee at Stuttgart airport; its time for Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond to show us what theyve been up to. Come on then, what you got?

A lot of money, thats abundantly clear from the opening sequence, shot in the California desert. But first weve got to get out of rainy old Blighty. So Jeremy is leaving a building, handing his pass in … got it, its supposed to be the BBC. (A lot of this first episode seems to be aimed at his former employee if not quite winding the window down and giving a raised middle finger, then at least pulling up at the lights and looking over smugly: ha, check out my big budget.) Now hes at the airport, checking in, no fracases this time, he manages to catch the flight to Los Angeles, where he picks up his rental car a muscly Mustang.

On the open road, finally free, hes joined by the other two, James and Hammond (sorry but I dont do first names with him) in similar cars; red, white and blue. Crossing the desert, they hook up with a Mad Max convoy of cars and trucks and bikes, heading to a stage where the Hothouse Flowers are playing I Can See Clearly Now (Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind another dig there). Its like Burning Man; actually they call it Burning Van because there is one, plus a pirate ship, fire and a squadron of jets flying over. It is undeniably, gloriously cinematic, a brilliant beautiful spectacle.

At Burning Van festival it could only be The Grand Tour. Photograph: Amazon Prime

Then they open their mouths, and suddenly its same-old same-old. They introduce each other, and their tent, to the crowd. Were going to be like Gypsies, says Jeremy, referring to the itinerant nature of The Grand Tour. Only the cars we drive are going to be insured. Nought to racist in less than 10 minutes. (Hes already said hes not going to get fired because were on the internet, which means I could pleasure a horse. The other two look faintly embarrassed.)

Inside the tent the audience are seated instead of standing, but theres something familiar about it. And about the montage of what there is to look forward to. Cars of course, more stunts and big bangs: three midlife men messing about. Massively messing about now, because of that Amazon budget.

Theres some banter with the American audience you say tomato, I say gearstick, that sort of thing. And between the three of them: James is a slow driver, ho ho; Hammond is less tall than the others, lol; we got fired, tee hee. Then they have an extended head to head to head between three supercars: a McLaren P1, a Porsche 918 and a Ferrari LaFerrari (or a Ferarri TheFerrari as James calls it, quite amusingly). Its a very extended test, in two parts. This opening episode is certainly putting down a marker that says this is a serious motoring show, and theyre serious car journalists, not say former sitcom actors. And it will appeal to the serious petrolhead.

You can pour something into a different container, but it still tastes the same The Grand Tour. Photograph: Roderick Fountain/Amazon Prime

There is a new track, the same shape as the Ebola virus its known as the Eboladrome with an old ladys house next to it (theres going to be a rush to get the first interview isnt there?). Plus a new, unhelmeted test driver known as The American. Conversation Street, the new chat section, doesnt amount to much, and nor do the celebrities who are all killed off, hilariously, possibly because they US actors Jeremy Renner and Armie Hammer and Carol Vorderman arent the huge names theyd hoped for.

Clarkson, May and Hammond reunite for The Grand Tour – video trailer

In the detail, in the format, The Grand Tour is different: there are loads of new ideas here there had to be, or the BBC legal eagles would swoop. And yet its all utterly familiar. Because more than format, more even than the amount of money you throw at something, what really gives a television show its personality is the personnel. You can pour something into a different container, but it still tastes the same. And, like it or not, this tastes of Clarkson, Hammond and May. Fans of old Top Gear are going to be happy.

Episode one of The Grand Tour is available now on Amazon Prime, with a new episode every Friday.

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