Great Drives in Hampshire: 4 - Petersfield


- Credit: Archant

This month’s scenic foray in a BMW i8 combines retail therapy in historic surroundings with a tour of picturesque valleys and a spot of lunch before admiring the architecture of a local landmark says Mark Whitchurch

Petersfield was originally established as a market town positioned between two streams and at the intersection of two key routes across the county, the trading route from London to Portsmouth and the pilgrimage path from Winchester to Chichester.

Today this beautiful town is a relaxing place to explore at leisure. The town square marks the epicentre, complete with the focal point of William III on horseback. Grab a coffee and explore the boutique shops residing within the grand Georgian buildings that line the square. If you are interested in gleaning more about the history of the area, the church of St Peters and the Petersfield Museum are also worth a visit.

Leave this charming town on the Winchester Road to pass under the A3 and onwards to Stroud and the A272. Enjoy this sweeping road as it becomes more rural and push on towards Langrish. Leave the A272 by following the signposts for East Meon to pass the pretty village green in Langrish, complete with a traditional BT red phone box!

As the hedgerows rise and the road narrows, we enter a network of lanes with some beautiful rural architecture and vista across the landscape. Pass through East Meon to admire the thatched cottages and its grand church. Out of the village and into the national speed limit areas, you can enjoy some spirited driving with a road that darts and traverses around the natural undulations of the land.

With the Meon river along for the ride, continue to follow the series of lanes and travel towards West Meon and hook up with the A32 in a southerly direction. Now traveling along the Meon Valley, the George & Falcon at Warford can be recommended for an excellent lunch. Their specialty beef burger was a favourite!

Back on the road - continue to flow with the Meon River at your side along the A32 towards Corhampton to Droxford with some lovely stretches of tree-lined avenues to guide you south. At the junction with the A334, skirt the edges of Wickham to the traffic lights with Titchfield Lane, where it’s left, pass the Wickham Park Golf Course and under the A27. Now on Fontley Road, which becomes Mill Lane, look out for Titchfield Abbey on your right hand side with a narrow entrance through an archway in the majestic Abbey walls.

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A free to visit English Heritage managed site, Titchfield Abbey is a tranquil place to end your drive and immerse yourself in more of Hampshire’s rich tapestry of history. Originally the home of a community of Premonstratensian canons in the 13th century, it later became the Tudor mansion of Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.

Today the grand turret gatehouse that was built across the nave of the church guides you into the ruins to explore and imagine the history that played out within these walls. It is said that Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I all visited the Abbey and that William Shakespeare was a friend of the family, with some of the playwright’s famous plays being performed for the first time here.

The car

Looking like a concept car to showcase edgy and exciting automobile styling of the future, the BMW i8 looks ready for the motor show circuit and is far from something you would expect to see on the road! This rocket ship in styling and performance caused a stir wherever we travelled through Hampshire and could be my vision of motoring nirvana!

The sci-fi styling just stops you in your tracks, combining key traditional BMW design cues, such as the kidney grilles, with outlandish design that you would expect from Lamborghini. The rear quarter is a favourite angle from which to admire the i8. The rear flanks taper to a seemingly razor sharp edge, the flying buttress flows from the roofline, forming the upper section of a flamboyant channel that aerodynamically guides air around the i8’s eye catching curves.

Doors that open outward and upwards again add drama to the form, yet facilitates easy access to the cabin. Power is as cutting edge as the design. Whilst a conventional 1.5 litre turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol engine provides power to the rear wheels, an electric motor dramatically boosts performance by powering the front wheels. With a combined 357bhp and 570Nm of torque performance, it is akin to that of a Porsche 911 as well as Audi’s R8 with the 0-62mph dash taking just 4.4 seconds and romping on to a limited 155mph top speed.

However, sheer numbers belie the i8’s performance and driving experience - the surreal feeling of cruising along in pure electric mode which you can do for approximately 16 miles, the linear acceleration in sports mode with both power plants giving you full kinetic thrust or whether it be just cruising along with the synthesised engine note helping to give the impression you are in a traditional sports car with a V8 soundtrack! The experience is like no other in its price bracket.

Making the most of the latest composite carbon and plastic technologies the i8’s tub is supremely light and rigid. Aluminium sub frames cradle the motors front and aft and combined with BMW’s usual obsession with optimum weight distribution and handling performance, the i8 weighs in at just 1560kg. Considering its carrying a weight penalty in terms of a belly full of batteries, it’s incredible to think the i8 remains lighter than both a Porsche 911 and the Jaguar F-Type!

What this translates to on the road is the turbine-like performance of an electric-hybrid with the lightweight response and handling traditionally offered by the Bavarian marque. Light steering always felt communicative, suspension felt supple in urban areas whilst body roll was kept to a minimum when cruising Hampshire’s sweeping B-roads and enjoying the i8’s addictive performance.

Whilst it’s easy to focus on the i8’s sporting and technological credentials, this is a machine of the future you can live with every day today. A superbly appointed cabin features all the creature comforts a BMW usually offers, all laid out with design flair to complement the excitement of the exterior. I particularly liked the blue lighting details as well as the driver’s binnacle that glowed red in sports mode! I was amazed to glance rearward from the driver’s seat to find two small rear seats suitable for little ones or a couple of overnight bags if you wish to do a spot of continental touring with your i8!

With a price tag of £100,000 the i8 isn’t the cheapest option, but for its forward thinking engineering and design, it’s the only one for me. Best get my name on the waiting list and start saving!

More motoring…

Great Drives in Hampshire: 3 - Meon Valley - This month’s Great Drive in a Bentley Flying Spur whisks you between one of the county’s historic market towns and the culinary delights of an inn with an enchanting history says Mark Whitchurch

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