Top Gear Versus Fifth Gear: Which British Car Show Is Better?

by Ed Lau on April 9, 2007

I thought I would take a moment today to answer the question that really is on the minds of everyone across the nation: which British car show is better? By now, everyone probably knows that I’m a huge fan of BBC’s Top Gear but I also watch Channel Five’s Fifth Gear…usually when TG is off the air, which seems to be more often than not in recent years because of Clarkson’s bad back and Richard Hammond crashing at almost 300MPH. It’s not that I don’t like Fifth Gear because I do but I simply prefer Top Gear. Every car enthusiast watches one of the two or both. There are those that believe Fifth Gear is the superior show in many ways so I thought I would look closer at both and give everyone an in-depth breakdown. We’ll split up the categories into two…categories: production (the show itself) and presenters (the hosts).


1. Production – Location: Top Gear is filmed at Dunsfold Park, an old airfield that has been converted into a racing circuit and the news/random rambling segments are held in a converted aircraft hanger. I don’t know about you but I think that’s just absolutely perfect. It’s a setting synonymous with speed and while it does look like a bit of a sparse soundstage at times, the hangar is well decorated with Top Gear historic memorabilia such as the indestructible Toyota truck. A couple seasons ago, Fifth Gear adjusted their format a bit to compete with Top Gear since the inane conversations between the hosts make them incredibly popular. Most recently, they have moved their home-based to a cafe on a race track. They’re both very cool locations since the Fifth Gear set is very homey and colorful while the Top Gear hangar just has all kinds of awesome stuff lying around. Unfortunately, Top Gear will not be back at Dunsfold Park next year as their lease is up but it is quite exciting to see a whole new set. Verdict: Tie


2. Production – Segments: Fifth Gear is a much more grounded show, with fewer supercars and more sensible econoboxes. What they don’t have is a Bugatti Veyron racing a plane from Italy to London or idiots seeing if they can buy a car for less than a 100 quid. This isn’t to say that Fifth Gear doesn’t have interesting films. Oh, by no means since I found stuff like the visit to the Maybach dealership and the world’s most expensive car wash interesting but they don’t feel epic in scale like the films on Top Gear, which most recently threw the three hosts into downtown Miami, told them to buy cars for $1000 and then complete a series of challenges while they drive from Miami to New Orleans. Both shows have a good deal of celebrities but Top Gear attracts more star power with their weekly Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment. Verdict: Top Gear.


3. Production – Information: With that being said, Fifth Gear, being the more sensible show, does provide more useful information, especially for living in Europe. They review more cheap cars and film more segments with actual news. Top Gear on the other hand, answers questions such as how many bouncy castles you can jump in an ice cream van. No, I’m serious. Verdict: Fifth Gear

4. Production – Film Style: While both shows use fancy filters and such to emphasize the cars, Top Gear obviously has a higher budget and a better film crew. The photography on the show is often absolutely stunning, especially on their cross-continent races. Oh, and the camera keeps moving around during Fifth Gear‘s news segments which is really annoying. Verdict: Top Gear.

5. Production – Entertainment: The first thing you’ll notice about Fifth Gear when you watch is that it seems so much more stiff and scripted. While there are some genuinely exciting and funny moments, they are few and far between compared to Top Gear, which is about entertainment first, information second. Top Gear is easily one of the most entertaining hours of television you can find today. Everything is far more ridiculous and there’s just a sense of grandure to the whole thing. Verdict: Top Gear.


6. Presenters – Charisma: Fifth Gear just isn’t funny, which is a shame because the British have a fantastic, ironic sense of humor, something that Top Gear takes full advantage of. Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have a great chemistry, like three regular guys talking cars. Their personalities off-set each other well with May being sensible and old-fashioned, Clarkson being obsessed with power and…kind of an idiot and Hammond as a sort of everyman that most young people can identify with compared to the two oldies. While Tiff Needell is definitely a cool guy and Vicki Butler-Henderson…well, it’s hot when a girl can powerslide better than me…they don’t have the same appeal as the hosts of Top Gear. Everyone else on Fifth Gear is kind of like a pylon, especially the new guy: Tim Lovejoy, who is just plain boring. Oh…and Top Gear has a cute dog…named Top Gear Dog. Verdict: Top Gear…by a lot.


7. Presenters – Credibility: No one on either show is really an expert when it comes to cars. Most of them are journalists with a great love for cars but that’s like me saying I have a great love for surgery. You wouldn’t really want me to give you a new heart valve. However, Tiff and Vicki were once professional racers which gives them the slight edge, especially since Clarkson usually just gives his incredibly biased opinions on everything anyways. He’s got star power going for him but I think most people would rather have Tiff’s opinion. Verdict: Fifth Gear.


8. Presenters – Driving Skill: Again, Tiff and Vicki were pros and drive better than Clarkson. James May is nicknamed Captain Slow (although he has shown an affinity for speed at appropriate times such as maxing out the Bugatti Veyron) and Richard Hammond isn’t spectacular either, although he is above average. Jason Plato, who was a presenter on Fifth Gear until last season was also once a pro racing driver. The only person with possible racing credentials on Top Gear is The Stig but since we don’t know who he is or if he is just one person (he might even be Tiff…), we can’t seriously factor that in. Verdict: Fifth Gear.


The tally gives Top Gear a 4-3-1 edge over their Channel Five rival but personally, the race wasn’t that close. As with everything, there are intangibles involved. Fifth Gear is wildly inconsistent with their programming as one episode might be good but two others might be snorefests. There are entire segments of Fifth Gear that you just don’t want to watch while the boys of Top Gear can make paving a road entertaining (which they do in the season premier for season 9). There’s rarely a dull moment on the BBC show. Top Gear is also much more…believable. While the show is probably scripted, you never think it is since Clarkson, May and Hammond have such a great rhythm and they have a serious passion for cars. I have no doubt that Tiff loves driving and Vicki giggles affectionately every time she finds a great car but they don’t convey it as well.

So say what you want about how they promote irresponsible driving or hurt the environment by running over moss or melting polar bears but as a television show, Top Gear wins by a mile. And on that bombshell, it’s time to end. We’ll be back tomorrow.

in Cars,Entertainment

{ 148 comments… read them below or add one }

stig April 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

…………………. (What do you think I think)

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Benolds April 20, 2011 at 3:13 am

I think The Stig would probably spell his name “The Stig”
Not just… “stig”

I agree though, Top Gear gets the trophy easy :)

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mike May 12, 2011 at 3:56 am

driving skill of the presenters should include the stig. If thats the case the likes of perry mccarthy and ben collins are infinetely more skilled than tiff and vicky

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Andy May 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Fith Gear gives more of an oblective view on cars and I think is based more at reviewing cars that are more likely to be used by the general public.

Top Gear is by far the best programme in terms of entertainment. Admitedly most of the cars reviewed are out of most peoples price range but even my wife who has no interest in cars finds the programme entertaining.

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John March 26, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Yeah that’s what they say when they advertise the show. They say you don’t have to love cars, you just have to love fun and they do a Damn good job at it.

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Teo June 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Well I believe Top Gear is the more entertaining one. Fifth Gear is for people who only like cars and want to only talk about cars, while Top Gear get the fun side of cars and show it on TV. I really enjoy top gear and what they do is they present cars in an entertaining fasion.

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Wicker July 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Top Gear is *probably* scripted?

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rose July 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Top Gear is way better. I watch TG not for buying some cars, but for entertainment and a slight knowledge about cars only. TG’s presenters are more entertaining and remarkable to watch too.

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Chicawazza July 25, 2011 at 3:04 am

Mate, who is the stig???!!!!! THE STIG is michael schumacher!!!!! hows THAT for racing credentials! TOP GEAR FOR LIFE!!!!

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Luke January 6, 2012 at 3:18 am

The Stig is not Schumacher.

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Josh January 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Michael Schumacher is not The Stig. It’s only when Ferrari don’t trust the real Stig to test their car, like the Ferrari Enzo FXX.

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kiran khatpe August 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

TOP GEAR is a much better show.

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dzafer September 30, 2011 at 12:01 am

top gear is the best hehehe no seriosly top gear is more more more more fun emision on tv.pozz dzafer

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Stewart October 31, 2011 at 2:38 am

I for many years was a big fan of Top Gear, enjoying Clarkson literary talent and Hammond’s book following his crash. Shame about what’s him name, the other one. But unfortunately it’s deteriorated into a programme for 5 year olds, embarrassingly pathetic and zero content if you want intelligent information about cars. In fact the comment above says it all, “entertaining”, yep like Coronation Street. If that’s want you want, good for you but I think the intelligent amongst us want an awful lot more.

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peter December 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm

how can you say that ooh i like cars cars are boring get over it 5th gear can kiss my ass no one likes you 5th gear well no self respecting person would subject them selves to boring shit

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mo October 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Fifth Gear is the best !!!

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chase berecin December 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Top gear for life. Love bbca

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Zakk January 16, 2012 at 12:25 am

Can’t factor in the Stig??? Blasphemy!!! Don’t know who he is?? Balderdash!! The black stick was Perry McCarthy. The first white Stig was Ben Collins. For 7 years. I think both of their credentials are sufficient to trump Fifth Gear by a mile.

And Tiff the Stig?? No. He was Emergency Stig once. (In the USA Road Trip (aired 21 December 2010), Tiff Needell was brought in as an ‘Emergency Stig’ to train Danny Boyle on the track.http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/tv/2010/12/17/top-gear-s-new-stig-is-tiff-needell-115875-22788744/)

Please.

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Dave Bertelo August 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Zakk… Keep in mind while your blasting the writer about not knowing Ben Collins was the Stig, he is writing this article in 2007. The first major artical published with the rumor of Ben Collins as Stig was August of 2010. Over three years after he wrote this. You even quote a specific episode from 2010! You should go back and read how high and mighty you came off proclaiming your “superior intelgence”.

You more words like “balderdash”… you idiot

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jason February 18, 2012 at 3:25 am

i think top gear is awesome, funny, entertaining, fast and overall the better show, however being a biker and a driver i like the fact fifth gear reviews both, the presenters simply are better drivers and riders on fifth gear also, fifth gear is more factual and gives a better opinion on cars overall rather than top gear’s tendancy to favour the faster motor. but i watch t.v as a form of entertainment and top gear does entertain alot more. if top gear reviewed bikes as well as cars it would me simply amazing. but they fob this off by claiming to hate bikes, so are you a motoring show? no your a car show.

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used tires March 1, 2012 at 4:11 am

I think Top Gear is better if you are not specifically for info about cars you can afford since it seems to be all about testing supercars mostly that few can afford and the rest of it is filled with some sort of scripted adventure whereas Fifth Gear is more of a true car review show. No question which one gets the best ratings though.

-Jean

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PattayaSource March 3, 2012 at 5:43 am

They’re two completely different types of shows, but in my opinion Top Gear is the best. Fifth Gear is a great show too, but it’s not as much fun as watching Top Gear.

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LJ May 2, 2012 at 6:31 am

Real gear heads watch fifth gear…….period.

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Schopenhauer June 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Jason Plato drives circles around Ben Collins in real life, so even factoring in the Stig as a cast member, he’s still trumped

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lesleyann July 15, 2012 at 9:04 am

TOP GEAR

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Czech July 25, 2012 at 7:15 am

Top Gear je nejlepší !!!!!!

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BookIt.com Reviews September 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

I would have to go with Top Gear! That show is awesome.

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Mzansi Boy September 16, 2012 at 9:12 am

I don’t care what everyone says, Top Gear is the best. PERIOD!!!
I can’t finish watching even a 1-minute promo video of that shit show called Fifth Gear…Sies!

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Khizzzy September 19, 2012 at 8:22 am

Top gear!!! Is the best

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Daniel October 8, 2012 at 6:01 am

I Love Top Gear!!!(When i seen a Fifth Gear episode i was really bored,and fifth gear is only about cars and nothing fun i love top gear more)! (Top Gear is my favorite)!

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BookIt.com Reviews October 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Top gear is by far the best Car show. Hands down.

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Timmy December 16, 2012 at 5:24 am

Top gear is just brilliant, basically because all three presenters have a great sense of humour. Simple as that. I hate fifth gear. Presenters are boring, has been racing drivers, who think they are brilliant. And that twat Jonny, they must have found him on the dole cue.

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Dyne der August 17, 2013 at 2:07 am

Top gear does have a script, but it’s used as a guide as the presenters go off script a lot of the time. To say the presenters know more about cars is another way of saying that the presenters how top gear are told nothing about what they are about to drive and are told to just drive, this obviously isn’t true. Top gear has a vast aray of vehicles (mainly cars ) that they review. Although its entertaining they say as much maybe even more information on the cars than fith gear, they just make it fun, exiting and memorable.

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Benw October 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

Fifth gear aren’t really good drivers and info all they do is compliment cars and they never say the bad shit about the cars I am sorry but it is just 7-1-1 to top gear fifth gear has no fun in it

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