Clear from beginning that the petrolhead prima donnas have retained their charm.

The Grand Tour

, the new motoring show starring the former

Top Gear

presenting team, was always going to prove spectacular.


Amazon has lavished a reported 160 million ($280m) on its highest-profile television venture yet and, in the long-awaited first episode, every penny could be seen on screen.

A blockbuster opening sequence featured fighter jets, flame-belching cars straight out of Mad Max and an air-conditioned tented studio in the Californian desert. Later, movie star Jeremy Renner was persuaded to jump out of a plane for a blink-and-it's-over comedy skit. Even the usually sceptical Jeremy Clarkson seemed impressed. But the real question was whether Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May had brought with them the buccaneering chemistry that was so crucial to their 12 years on Top Gear.

It was clear from the very beginning of The Grand Tour that the petrolhead prima donnas had indeed retained their grumpy-bloke charm.

It was equally obvious just how foolish the BBC had been in attempting to replace them with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc when it rebooted Top Gear over the northern summer. There isn't much to the repartee between Clarkson and chums - their chat isn't especially witty and, often, they appear to be simply talking over one another.

But they are comfortable in each other's company - a quality Evans and LeBlanc couldn't replicate (their faux friendship was like a blind date destined to end badly). Indeed, if there was a lesson from the first instalment of the new series, which went live on Amazon's on-demand video service on Friday, it was that the BBC needs Clarkson and co a lot more than they need the BBC.

Amazon has lofty ambitions for The Grand Tour, of which there will be 12 episodes in 2016, with another 24 to follow across the next two years. The travelling-studio concept will see the boys trading banter with audiences around the globe, with next week's outing shot in Johannesburg and later dispatches filmed in Lapland, Stuttgart, Dubai and the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby.

The BBC, however, was somewhat less enthusiastic in its assessment of the programme. The debut episode, widely applauded elsewhere, was branded "uncomfortably hubristic" by Will Gompertz, the BBC's arts editor, who also dismissed it as a television "wanting to be a movie".

It is true The Grand Tour was not an unqualified triumph, though; you do miss such proprietary Top Gear totems as The Stig, and BBC lawyers are bound to be watching for copyright infringements.

Petrolheads will rejoice that the old gang has swaggered back into town. The BBC will wonder if they did the right thing in letting their most lucrative talent walk out the door and into Amazon's welcoming embrace.