Fifth Gear was first broadcast on 8 April 2002 as 5th Gear, and as a continuation of the original incarnation of the BBC show Top Gear, which was cancelled in 2001. Top Gear was relaunched later that year; Channel 5 originally wanted to carry on using the Top Gear name, but the BBC refused as it still operated the Top Gear magazine. Several of Top Gear's ex-presenters, including Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson, were hired by Channel 5 to present the series. The show's name was restyled as Fifth Gear in 2005. Needell announced the show's second cancellation on 24 May 2016. On 14 June 2018, Needell announced on his official Twitter account that he had been doing some filming work for a new series of Fifth Gear which would air in September on the Quest channel.
The first seven series consisted of a 23-minute programme, not including approximately 7 minutes of adverts. The eighth series returned in the autumn of 2005 in a longer format of 45 minutes, and the ninth series (which went to a 13-week run) was increased to a one-hour airtime slot (approximately 46 minutes excluding adverts). For series 17, the show has reverted to the original format of 23 minutes, which including adverts takes the show to half an hour. In Series 21, the show reverted to the previous one-hour airtime slot.
At the start of series 10, the show introduced between-feature links filmed at the Ace Cafe in London. In previous series, these links were filmed at the production company offices in Birmingham. Originally produced by Chrysalis Television, the Birmingham offices were situated on the top floor of the headquarters of 100.7 Heart FM (also, at that time, a Chrysalis Radio company), near Birmingham's Five Ways area. The team moved out when Chrysalis sold its television division to All3Media in September 2003 (the section which later produced Fifth Gear is now known as North One Television, part of the All3Media group).
In series 14, a location change from the Ace Cafe meant link sequences were filmed instead at the Millbrook Proving Ground, along with some of the vehicle testing features.