“Gentler, kinder and all the better for it.”
The Guardian’s Tim Dowling is among the critics welcoming the return of Top Gear with its new hosts – racing driver Chris Harris, retired cricketer Freddie Flintoff and comic Paddy McGuinness.
“There was likeability as the hosts opened the show,” reported Digital Spy’s Alistair McGeorge.
The Telegraph’s Michael Hogan said the presenters’ “chemistry was immediate, their camaraderie warm”.
Overnight viewing figures showed an average of 2.54 million viewers which represented a 12.7% share of the audience, making it BBC Two’s most watched programme of the day.
By comparison, the launch of the previous series of Top Gear drew an overnight average audience of 1.97 million in February.
The second-highest rating for BBC Two on Sunday was The Ranganation, with an average of 1.1m.
“The larky, bad-tempered chemistry that existed between [Jeremy] Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond has been replicated in a slightly sunnier form,” added the Guardian’s review.
The show has gone through several line-up changes since Clarkson was dropped and May and Hammond left with him in 2015.
Former Radio 2 host Chris Evans tried and failed to impress viewers while former Friends star Matt LeBlanc came on board for a couple of seasons, announcing his departure in 2018.
“When people saw the names, they probably went, ‘hang on, a cricketer and a comedian?'” Harris told the BBC this month.
“But why not? If you had three people like me, people would fall asleep. I think we’re a good, broad team, we cover lots of bases.”
“Clarkson-era Top Gear was already passing its sell by date by the time Jeremy lost his temper with his producer,” said Ed Power in the Irish Times. “So the introduction of younger and frankly less offensive presenters was probably going to happen sooner rather than later anyway.”
The first episode, broadcast on Sunday night, saw the new trio pit their first cars against each other across Ethiopia.
In a scene which symbolised the new show’s apparent attempts to become more relatable, Flintoff admitted selling his original Porsche Boxster because he was getting too carried away with fame as a star sportsman and it was having a negative impact on his cricket career.
“The beauty of Ethiopia was frequently extolled, whereas before it might have served as a backdrop for a borderline racist prank,” commented Dowling in his review.
In an upcoming episode, still to be broadcast, the show will show support for LGBT rights, spraying two cars used in filming in Brunei in rainbow colours in opposition to the country’s threat to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
Praise for the new format has, however, not been universal.
“Three male presenters, the usual stunts, the usual format: dull, dull, dull,” said The Independent.
“Like the average punter taking on a used Nissan Almera diesel, I wasn’t hoping for much from series 27 of Top Gear. I was right.”
And some fans noted the lack of a female presenter.