However, the BBC Two motoring programme was up against the penultimate episode of BBC One’s popular period drama Call The Midwife in the Sunday 8pm timeslot.
Top Gear, which has been revamped with Matt Le Blanc at the helm alongside co-hosts Chris Harris and Rory Reid, was watched by an average of 2.8 million people, according to overnight data, while Call The Midwife was seen by an average of 8.9 million.
These initial figures do not account for those watching on catch-up at a later time.
Top Gear’s series launch in 2016 – with Chris Evans and Le Blanc as new presenters following the departure of long-running hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – had scored 4.4 million viewers overnight.
Fans praised the new-look show on social media, with former Friends actor Le Blanc as Top Gear’s leading man.
Sunday’s instalment, which featured a trip to Kazakhstan and an interview with Scottish actor James McAvoy, prompted viewers to describe the new series as a “massive improvement” and that it had made “a promising start”.
“Top Gear is back how it should be!” enthused one viewer on Twitter, while another joked the show “was so sweet I could have licked it”.
LeBlanc, 49, was called “a natural” as a presenter and several people said the programme was better without Evans, who quit after the last series, saying he gave it his best shot but that it was “not enough”.
Last year’s series opener was largely savaged by viewers, mainly due to Evans’s hosting style.
The decline in audience numbers follows a pattern in recent years, as the motoring magazine show scored higher viewers on average for its series openers with Clarkson, Hammond and May in the driving seat.