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I hadn't bought Top Gear for a few years but I remembered it as by far the best and most interesting Car magazine out there. Where other magazines read like a massive indiscriminate advertisement for whatever car they were reviewing and are often bogged down in listing all the facts on the car or displaying a journalists knowledge of "Torque", Top Gear was always more readable and you always got some real opinions on the cars and it was always done in an entertaining way. They had the incomparable Jeremy Clarkson, willing to savage a car like no other man could if wasn't up to scratch. For those who remember what he did to the Vauxhall Vectra, you know what I mean. They had ex racing driver Tiff Needell to give the supercar evaluations from a racing driver's point of view and he really did give a good sense of how good the big boys toys were. And for balance there was Quentin Wilson, with all the nous of a second hand car dealer, to point out the pitfalls of second hand buying and point out the cars to avoid and the ones which were a safe bet, along with dishing out essential haggling lessons.
This was a great little team and they worked just as well on the magazine as they did on the TV show. Unfortunately, due to Jeremy's outspoken nature he was plucked from the show and magazine to host his own chat show. The show and the magazine went downhill as the other main presenters got chopped and changed and the magazine underwent several unnecessary and detrimental revamps. It lost a lot of its readership, including myself and like the TV show was left as a pale imitation of former glories.
Then, a few years ago, when the BBC lost faith in the likes of Jason Barlow who was trying to head up Top Gear and having been challenged by channel 4's Driven as the best car show around, the call was made for Clarkson to return as the programmes figurehead and saviour. The TV show was stretched to an hour long extravaganza, with it incorporating more of a chat show format for Clarkson about cars. Joined by his minions, Richard Hammond and James May as co presenters and the butt of his jokes, this new format really suits Clarkson, more so than his solo chat show did. It retained the same features on new cars but with a bigger budget the camerawork has become absolutely outstanding, almost movie like standards are attained and the cars are shown being taken to their limits with great style. But the show also manages to bring back the tradition of not holding back when a car doesn't cut the mustard. For me it was an unqualified success and I wholly enjoy it and look forward the new series.
So it was with interest that I began looking at the similarly relaunched Top gear Magazine. I have to say I was a little disappointed. It is not the great return to the halcyon days of old I had hoped for. Clarkson is there again and is just as biting as ever; its just he is not there very much. Neither is May nor Hammond, each contributing only a few pages to the magazine. The rest is filled by writers who aren't bad in their own right, but are not the greatest either. The magazine has also started to suffer from a little over styling in places and is creeping towards the aspects that I like least about other publications.
Where it does compare very well still against the competition is that it retains the excellent JD power Survey, which gives readers the chance to supply details on their experiences with their own cars and it is all compiled into the most detailed car customer survey in the world (or at least that's the claim). It is a great resource to those looking at buying a new car and wanting to know what problems a car is likely to give you should you buy it. It's a very comprehensive list and will give you information such as what model is the best to go for in a range, whether it's reliable, as well as what the customer service is like from the manufacturer.
Also like the TV programme, the level of the photography in the magazine has been raised and some of the best car images you'll find will be found inside. A real effort has been taken in this perspective, to improve the photography beyond what you get in rival mags, it's a pity that they haven't followed this through with the writing, where I fell they have got a bit lazy.
Really I have found that though it's a good magazine, it's not one I would subscribe to in a hurry. I find that the Sunday Times Driving Section gives you as much of Jeremy Clarkson's writing as you get with the magazine, and that is probably the main reason most will buy Top Gear. Its worth buying for a long train or plane journey and the survey at the back is always interesting to browse, but as a package it's just not as good as it used to be.