Having said he would never accept the gig, Harris is now the main man at TG.
Ahead of Top Gear 28 airing in the US this month, we chatted with Chris Harris about how his influence on the show has evolved since joining the BBC and what it's like being one of the most recognizable faces in the automotive business.
Back in 2015, we pegged Harris as the ideal candidate to replace Jeremy Clarkson as Top Gear's lead. At the time, Harris believed the idea was absurd, saying he would never take the job. "I never saw any of this coming," Harris explained. "I wrote an article, when the other guys left the show, how it would be futile for anyone to try to replace them, and I certainly wouldn't be that person. I pined at length about how I would never take the job. It's a bit like when [Wendelin] Wiedeking said Porsche would never make a diesel."
"I think Jeremy was the mainstay of the show because he has an enormous personality. Whereas I'm the mainstay because I'm cheaper than everyone else, so they just keep renewing my contract," Harris joked. "I'm really privileged to be a part of [Top Gear], and I think that's reassuring for people who like cars. The one constant that the BBC wanted was to make sure that there was a car person who remained on it. Because my priority is the motor vehicle, I am obsessed with the things."
On replacing the iconic trio of presenters, Harris said: "I didn't view it as 'this is going to be life-changing.' Who would want to take on that role? To replace national treasures on television is the most difficult thing I've ever done because you are always going to end up with people giving your grief."
Starting as the sidekick to Chris Evans and then Matt LeBlanc, Harris is now the backbone of the show. We asked how he has brought his unique presenting style to make Top Gear his own. "The advantage I have over my predecessors is that I can drive to a higher standard than them." This helps when driving the high-speed supercars because it doesn't require as much editing with a stunt driver.
Harris explained that he has certain, unnamed individuals in the industry who he trusts to read car reviews from, but he never lets the opinions of others dictate his view. "I don't give a monkey's what anyone has to say about a fast car. I have a very fixed view of how I review things. I'm not good at many things, but I'm quite good at driving a car fast, thinking about it, then explaining it to an audience. And I'm very stubborn."
Much like Clarkson, Harris has now reached a position where his opinions about a particular car may seriously influence how enthusiasts think about it. While he feels that no one person will ever have the power of Clarkson, simply because of the sheer number of voices out there now, Harris knows that his opinion matters and isn't scared to go against the grain; influencers be damned.
While "everyone is going absolutely loopy" over the new BMW M2 CS, for example, his M2 Competition is nearly as good for far less money. "I've got an M2 Competition with a few bits and bobs done to it, and I'm very pleased with it," he said. "I drove them back-to-back, and I can not understand how this is $40,000 more than the stock car for a carbon roof and a stronger front axle."
It is this type of honest journalism, combined with his unique abilities behind the wheel of a car, that makes Harris unlike anyone else in the industry, and deserving of his position as the lead on a legendary show like Top Gear. You can catch Harris sliding around some fast cars including a McLaren Speedtail and the record-breaking Volkswagen ID.R, along with cohosts comedian Paddy McGuinness, and former cricketer Freddie Flintoff in season 28 of Top Gear when it airs on BBC America on Sunday, August 30 at 8 pm ET/PT.