Ewen Page (James May), Steve Pizzati (Richard Hammond) & Shane Jacobsen (Jeremy Clarkson)

When Channel 9 delivered their first (and the franchise’s third) series of Top Gear Australia to our screens last year, there was a lot of consternation. The hosts alone polarised people, and their interaction with each other would have made the Trojan Horse cry “wooden!”.

Hosts Shane Jacobsen, Ewen Page & Steve Pizzati are affable enough, and having one season working together under their collective (and in Jacobsen’s case, shrinking) belt is a positive thing in that their on-screen relationship is much better. They bounce of each other more easily and the outrage is less forced and more genuine.

The fourth season currently airing on the network has improved – marginally – however the comparisons with the parent UK series are far too obvious, and they leave the Australian version lacking in almost every area. The AU hosts are not a patch on the UK hosts. The AU challenges, while reflective of our wide, brown land, lack imagination and cash support. We don’t really have access to a wide range of manufacturers or fast roads (other than tracks) to run them on, and with a 110 kmh speed limit in all states and most territories… there’s not a lot of speed/location work to be done with any of them. Everything seems a little underdone, a little half-arsed.

There is a sincere attempt at making the set pieces and reviews look good, however again the UK series with it’s vastly larger budget wins out again. Even the film stock used by the UK series shows that they one-up the AU imitation. The “star in a reasonably priced car” has our stars – well, Ch9 “stars” – in a ute. That works, but the track they race on has too many barricades and markers, which detracts from the urgency and race feel (at least the UK’s tyre stacks add authenticity).

We have a rich racing heritage in Australia that could be exploited further. If only the V8 Supercars weren’t on another Network. There’s only so much Holden vs Ford vitriol we can wear and thankfully that seems to be put to bed for this Australian remake. What is missing is more creative challenges – especially the ones that take over an entire episode – and more location work to feature the cars. Get them off the track. Or that other track they go to. Or the third track they use. It’s also a little overly-parochial, as if by pointing out that “this is Australian” or “Australia rocks” we’ll forget that it’s a pale facsimile of an incredible UK television institution.

For fans of the franchise, a lot is expected of anything with the words “Top Gear” splashed across it. This is no Krusty the Clown pregnancy test debacle, it has to be good because the parent program is so consistently good. The Ch9 AU series has struggled and while it offers so much, it’s still left lacking. It doesn’t help that the Network isn’t exactly supporting the show by shafting it to 9:30pm on Tuesday nights. At least it moves it away from Packed To The Rafters – that show will kill anything.

Top Gear Australia has the capacity to be something quite special. Through no fault of the hosts, what we’re seeing is a show that lacks budget and this is reflected in the quality of the content. That, and less Bugatti Veyrons.

Top Gear Australia – Tue 9:30pm, Ch9.