BBC backs Top Gear despite ratings eclipse by Antiques Roadshow and Soccer Aid
The BBC has defended Top Gear's performance despite viewing figures plummeting in the show's second outing.
Overnight ratings show that the latest instalment of the BBC Two motoring programme drew 2.8 million viewers, losing around a third of the 4.4 million who watched its relaunch on May 29.
The audience grew throughout the episode, peaking at 3.3 million, but failed to match the ratings of Antiques Roadshow and Soccer Aid.
But consolidated figures - which take into account people who have recorded the show and watched it later - have now pushed ratings for the first episode over the six million mark.
The 6.42 million people who tuned in to Evans' debut is higher than the number of people who watched the first episode of the last three series featuring Jeremy Clarkson.
Alan Tyler, acting controller of BBC Entertainment Commissioning, said the new presenting team, including Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, "brilliantly led BBC Two's biggest show of the day, by some margin".
He said the first Evans show had the "highest audience share for an individual transmission (28.8%) since The Great British Bake Off in 2013", adding: "It is clear that there is plenty to celebrate about the return of the nation's favourite motoring show."
Evans has also been quick to defend the revamped series, insisting that overnight ratings are not important.
"Overnight television viewing figures for Top Gear have never been less relevant," he wrote on Twitter.
"Obviously some newspapers prefer to live in the past."
He said in an earlier post: "The way Top Gear is being viewed is repositioning the way television is consumed. Last week nine millions viewers. This week we shall see", he said.
The series has been heavily criticised since it returned with Evans, 50, and former Friends actor LeBlanc, 48, at the wheel.
Viewers have blasted it on social media, with many of the comments referring to Evans' "shouty" hosting style.
After the first instalment Evans said in a series of posts on Twitter that he was satisfied with how the series opener went.
He wrote: "The new Top Gear is a hit. Officially. 23% audience share. 12% more than the opening episode of the last series. These are the facts."
The star's next post said: "Top Gear audience grew throughout the hour. Fact. Won its slot. Fact. Still number one on iPlayer. Fact. These are the facts folks."
He said in a third tweet: "Top Gear series 1 episode 23, catch it again tonight 7pm BBC2. That's when it's on. Fact."
The series is the first after Clarkson was sacked for an "unprovoked physical and verbal attack" on a producer.
Clarkson and his former co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond will be back with a new Amazon Prime motoring show called The Grand Tour, which will make its debut on the streaming service in the autumn.