IF you ever wondered what driving an electric car is like, you can give it a go next week.

As part of this year’s Low Carbon Oxford Week there will be an electric vehicle test-driving day at Cutteslowe Park on Saturday, June 20.

To give our readers a sneak preview, reporter Pete Hughes took out two cars from BMW North Oxford for a spin – the fully-electric BMW i3 and the advanced hybrid BMW i8

THE first thing I am told, as I climb into my first ever electric car, the i3, on a rainy day at BMW North Oxford, is to forget I have a left leg.

The i3 has just two gears – forwards and backwards – which you control with a switch, and the i8 is automatic, so the only pedals I need to put my foot on are accelerate and brake.

The second thing I notice as I press the start button like I’m powering up a laptop, is that the lights come on but there’s no sound: no engine purr, nothing.

Even as I pull away from the showroom, there remains an eerie silence – it’s like driving a toy car.

But as soon as we get out on to the road and I put my foot down – woosh! – it’s like the carpet has been pulled from beneath my feet.

As my driving instructor for the day – BMW’s Luke Abbott – says, it is nothing like the milk float that most people imagine an electric car to be.

Mr Abbott, whose job title is BMW i Genius, said: “People think of electric cars as being low-power, but that’s what I want to change.

“They can be really good fun.”

And that’s just the i3.

The £100,000 i8 has an electric motor and a traditional petrol combustion engine.

When you press the start key, just like the i3, it is quiet as a mouse, but when you get out onto the open road and put your foot down, the car automatically detects you want more power, the petrol engine kicks in, and it starts to purr.

If you really want to hear it roar, push the lever into “sport mode” and the car uses both electric motor and petrol engine, giving 362 horse power (by way of comparison I am told my 1.4 litre Ford Fiesta probably has just under 100).

The i3, being a purely electric car, has zero emissions, while the i8 has roughly half the emissions of a standard BMW.

The i8’s top electronically-controlled speed is 160mph, while the i3 peaks at 93mph.

In Oxford you can charge an electric car absolutely free, for now at least, at every park-and-ride in Oxford and several other city centre car park.

There are 20 more coming soon at the new Westgate Centre car park.

With that electric motor, you can drive up to 80 miles before you have to charge it, which you can do with any domestic plug socket.

With their eye constantly on energy-efficiency, engineers at BMW equipped both cars with a “brake energy regeneration” system,.

That means that, as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator, a device not unlike a dynamo on a bike starts capturing spare energy from the spinning wheels, which helps slow them down.

Despite the raw power at my finger tips in the i8, I have to say I preferred driving the i3: it is plenty powerful enough, and it feels like driving a normal car.

The i8, by comparison, felt a bit like driving an electric Fabergé egg – and I have to admit I was slightly terrified the whole time I was behind the wheel.


BMW i3
Made in Germany
Cost: £26,000
Acceleration: 0-60 in 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 93mph
Distance before recharging: 80 miles
BMW i8
Made in Germany
Cost: £100,000
Acceleration: 0-60 in 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 160mph
Distance before recharging: 23 miles


The second annual Low Carbon Oxford Week will feature more than 80 events from Saturday, June 13, to Sunday, June 21. 

The idea of the Oxford City Council event is to inspire residents to take local action against global climate change and help them save money along the way.

The week will launch with the Big Green Day out on Broad Street on Saturday, June 13, from 10am to 5.30pm, where visitors will be able to make their own solar panel, pick up some bike maintenance tips and look at (but not drive) some electric cars.

Then at Cutteslowe Park on Saturday, June 20, there will be a chance to test-drive a BMW i3, Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi PHEV or a Renault Zoe from 10am to 4pm.