Top Gear returned to television with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc at the helm but failed to reach the viewing figures of the last series with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.
The show drew 4.4 million viewers, with a peak of 4.7 million, while the last series bowed out with 5.8 million viewers.
However, the BBC Two motoring show was still the most-watched programme in the 8pm time slot, beating Antiques Roadshow on BBC One and the British Soap Awards on ITV.
It also trumped the last time the show launched in 2002, when it got 3.5 million viewers.
The first episode of the new series saw Chris and Matt driving Reliant three-wheelers from London to Blackpool in a UK vs US competition, with Chris enjoying significantly more luck.
The show also featured the unveiling of new segment Star In A Rallycross Car, which replaced the popular feature Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.
Chef Gordon Ramsay and actor Jesse Eisenberg became the first celebrities on the leaderboard after racing a Mini Cooper around the track.
The new presenting team joined after the old team left following a fracas between lead presenter Jeremy Clarkson and a producer over hot food.