It is a road-tested mix of zany car stunts presented by three overgrown schoolboys. But the politically incorrect humour has been toned down.
China is to get its own Top Gear after the BBC sold its hit format to a superpower which has gone "car crazy". The show, starring Jeremy Clarkson, is the BBC's most lucrative export, with a global audience of 350 million.
It is also the most illegally-downloaded programme on the planet. BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial wing, aims to license the format to selected countries. A 15-minute pilot for the Chinese Top Gear, which is expected to air on the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), has leaked on to YouTube.
Titled Zui Gao Dang, or Highest Gear, it has three male presenters, filling the roles of Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. The lead host is Cao Yunjin, a Beijing comedian.
Yunjin admitted that his team will not be free to upset Mexicans, or cause mayhem like the UK presenters "The boys [Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May] go crazy... like pushing a Maserati off the top of a three-story building and smashing it. It may be too much violence for a fun programme in China. We'll do more localised fun stuff."
Highest Gear is being considered for a late-night slot amid fears it may be too racy for prime-time Chinese TV. But it will retain the show's irreverence. "Top Gear has been successful because the way the UK hosts present it is entertaining," said Yunjin. The pilot episode includes test drives as well as typical Top Gear stunts like one host racing a Cadillac with a donkey to test who can pull millstones faster.
The BBC has high hopes for a Chinese version of the show. China overtook the US to become the world's largest car market in 2009.
Joyce Yeung, BBC Worldwide Senior Vice President for Global Sales in Asia, said: "We are very excited about developing a Top Gear format for China and also in South Korea."