Top Gear is back but the viewing figures fail to get into overdrive

TOP GEAR returned to television with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc at the helm but failed to reach the viewing figures of the last series with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Chris Evans

The show drew 4.4m viewers, with a peak of 4.7m, while the last series bowed out with 5.8m viewers.

However, the BBC Two motoring show was still the most-watched programme in the 8pm time slot, beating Antiques Roadshow on BBC One and the British Soap Awards on ITV.

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It also trumped the last time the show launched in 2002, when it got 3.5m viewers.

The first episode of the new series saw Evans and LeBlanc driving Reliant three-wheelers from London to Blackpool in a UK vs USA competition, with Evans enjoying significantly more luck.

The show also featured the unveiling of new segment Star in a Rallycross Car, which replaced the popular feature Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.

Chef Gordon Ramsay and actor Jesse Eisenberg became the first celebrities on the leaderboard after racing a Mini Cooper around the track.

The new presenting team joined after the old team left following a fracas between lead presenter Jeremy Clarkson and a producer over hot food at the Simonstone Hall Hotel in Hawes in North Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Evans had a light-hearted dig at Clarkson minutes after the revamped show was unveiled.

He introduced a group of people from an Indian restaurant and asked the audience what they thought they were doing there.

One person suggested they were there to prepare the food, and Evans said playfully: “By the way, we don’t talk about catering on this show any more.”

Viewers were quick to slam the show on social media.

One tweeted: “Is it possible to axe a TV show half way through the first episode? #TopGear. We could watch something else for the next 30 minutes.”

Much of the criticism was levelled at Evans’ performance as host, with fans accusing him of shouting and being “too excitable”.