Paul Barker's blog - 31 March: Snow joke as Mazda shows off its 4x4 prowess in extreme conditions
31 March 2016
Mazda has always been a brand known best for cars that are fun to drive, most obviously with the MX-5 roadster though others such as the RX-7 and RX-8 also tell the same story and the regular range of road cars are certainly among the better-driving fraternity.
But it's not really known for off-road and four-wheel-drive ability, and the company wants to change that. Now with two 4x4 models in its line-up in the form of the compact crossover CX-3 and its bigger brother CX-5, the company decided to emphasis how capable these vehicles are in four-wheel drive configuration (though to be honest the vast majority in the UK are sold as front-wheel drive models). And BusinessCar was invited.
Normally, these press trips are carefully controlled and, even when snow and ice are involved it's also closely monitored and involves little more than a frozen lake with nothing more solid to hit than a snow bank. I'm pretty sure this was the first event I've been on where the welcome letter included the following: "If you do have an accident or breakdown the advice is, where possible, stay in the vehicle. Being out of the vehicle for any length of time could prove fatal." Which kind of focuses the mind.
Which is how I ended up taking five separate flights across three days (one of which was basically a bus, making three stops before our airport), with the little matter of a 500-mile three-country drive across snow and ice in the middle.
Flying from Heathrow to Oslo then onto Alta to catch the hopper that stopped at such renowned towns as Vadso, Barsfjord and Mehamn (me neither), the trek to the start point ended with disembarkation at Honningsvag. An overnight stop later, and at 6am we were up and about ready to duck a dozen miles north up the icy roads to the most northerly point in mainland Europe at Nordkapp. Funnily enough, it's pretty cold and exposed.
Our CX-3s were standard save for some very necessary studded tyres, because the roads we would be covering offered a combination of snow, sheet ice, slush and everything in between as we pointed south for a trip that would take in Norway, Finland and eventually Sweden through 504.8 miles of mainly stunningly baron landscape.
As confidence in the car increased, as did the speed, and the combination of tyres and Mazda's clever four-wheel drive system meant the CX-3 was as sure-footed as it would have been on Tarmac, with the exception of one little moment of black ice/overconfidence that required the help of a snow bank to just ease the car round at a junction.
Mazda's four-wheel drive system monitors 200 movements per minute including readings for the steering lock, gradient, external temperature, wipers and wheel movement, and these help the 4x4 system understand what demands are being placed on it and sending more power to the front or rear wheels as a result. Torque to the rear wheels is split by between 1-50%, so there's an efficiency benefit in not sending unnecessary power to the rear.
The most impressive thing was that, unless deliberately provoked, the system didn't require the intervention of traction control or other on-board safety systems once in over 500 miles of the most arduous conditions Europe can offer.
Virtually all the drive was on single-lane-each-way roads, where trucks are a particular joy. They aren't keen to lift for anyone, and the Mazda's sure-footedness was appreciated in trying to keep the car between snow banks as we plunged through the plumes of snow. And also during the blizzard that Sweden chose to greet us with as we crossed the border.
The biggest compliment I could give the CX-3 is that this epic drive maybe didn't feel as epic as it should have done. The car was comfortable, refined and relaxing to drive through some of the world's most stunning scenery, while remembering that the roads themselves had the ability to bite like almost nothing else on the continent.
It was a pretty brave move for Mazda to let us leave our comfort zone and head off into the wilderness with nothing more than a flask of coffee, but as I settled into the first of the two flights back to a rainy Heathrow, it was safe to say the CX-3's depth and variety of talents that we have already experienced in the less extreme conditions of southern England during our ongoing long-term CX3 test, left me impressed.