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Feature drive: Mazda CX-3 to the Arctic. Image by Mazda.

Feature drive: Mazda CX-3 to the Arctic
Small crossovers are only any good for in town, right? Someone forgot to tell Mazda...

   



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Mazda CX-3

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Thrown in at the deep, cold end of the Arctic Circle, Mazda's small and supposedly urban crossover proves surprisingly talented at dealing with ice, snow and 71 degrees north.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda CX-3 2.0 SkyActiv-G 150hp AWD Sport Nav
Pricing: 22,495 as tested (starts at 17,595)
Engine: 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated inline four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body style: compact crossover
CO2 emissions: 150g/km (VED Band F, 145)
Combined economy: 44.1mpg
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Power: 150hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 204Nm at 2,800rpm

What's this?

This is, just not right. I'm standing on the freezing cold main drag of Lulea, on the north east coast of Sweden. Appropriately, the Baltic wind is blowing in amid flurries of snow to add to the roughly bajillion tonnes of white stuff already on the ground and the chill factor is enough to penetrate even my heavy Arctic coat, fleece, jumper, gloves, woolly hat, t-shirt and vest (I was taking no chances).

Mazda seemed to be though. Lined up outside the hotel in which we had passed a fitful, freezing night were a phalanx of CX-3s and these would be our steeds for a 500-odd-mile drive across the Arctic Circle to the most northerly point in Europe. Or at least the most northerly point you can reach without resorting to either a boat or a plane - Norway's Nordkapp, the North Cape.

Now, for a journey like this I would normally expect something, er, chunkier. A Land Rover Defender perhaps? A Jeep Wrangler with massive tyres and a winch? Or maybe even a rugged, short-field-capable de Havilland Canada DHC Dash-8, to fly us up over the weather and the moose to reach the Cape in a couple of hours? Nope, the Mazdas it was and it was going to take around ten hours of non-stop driving.

Non-stop Arctic driving in what is, let's face it, a small Japanese hatchback. The CX-3 plays a convincing crossover game, with its handsome, muscular bodywork, piercing lights and stick-on bits of plastic cladding, but in reality it's actually a Mazda2 hatchback with a Millets gift card. A proper off-roader it ain't and I was concerned that this expedition might yet be doomed to spending some time outside...

Mazda attempted to allay my fears by pointing out that all the cars were equipped with the CX-3's all-wheel drive system that can shunt engine power to the rear (as much as 50 per cent of the power in fact) in milliseconds. More importantly, the cars were all fitted with studded winter tyres, picked up by the Mazda crew in Malmo on their long odyssey to bring the cars this far north. Of equal import were the hand-held radios (to alert others to moose attack, surely) and a couple of jerry-cans of petrol, which was handy as this was a petrol CX-3, possibly the lesser-seen of the species, but, with its smooth 2.0-litre 150hp unit, actually preferable to the 1.5 diesel.

How does it drive?

Bloody brilliantly. When we set out, it would be best to describe the conditions as 'brisk.' A steady, powdery snowfall saw us out of Lulea and within less than an hour's drive, we had crossed the line demarcating entry into the Arctic Circle (having stopped for the de rigueur cheesy selfies with the sign that points this out). We were driving in conditions that would cause apoplexy if they were to hit the southern reaches of Britain. Trains and planes would be cancelled, roads closed, the cabinet would be recalled and it wouldn't be long before people started eyeing up slower-moving relatives, wondering how much cooking time to the pound they'd take.

In the far north, it's just another working day, and the fleets of briskly driven local cars weaving around my Mazda in the early miles indicated that I was probably falling into Soft Southern Nancy mode and allowing the snowy conditions to slow me down a bit too much. Just as the right clothes eradicate any concerns of bad weather, so too do the right tyres and it was soon obvious that our studded winter tyres were capable of finding grip and traction no matter the conditions.

Thus realised, it was quickly easy to revel in the handling characteristics of the CX-3, which are dominated by its quick, accurate steering and a well-judged ride that's just the right side of firm. Trusting in the tiny aluminium studs to find bite, the CX-3 could basically be driven as fast and as hard as visibility and bravery would allow. Away from the closer confines of the Swedish countryside and across the border into the wider, wilder spaces of Finland, it was just us, the apparently suicidal truckers (flat-out and on the crown of the road to stay out of the roadside snow drifts) and the reindeer herds padding swiftly between the birch trees to our left and right. Actually, a reindeer was responsible for the grimmest 'war story' of the drive - our accompanying camera crew had stopped to check out a reindeer, dead (clipped by a truck most likely) at the side of the road. While doing so they were startled by a local, who drove up, produced an evil-looking knife and quickly decapitated the former reindeer. In a payoff line worthy of the opening ten minutes of a Scandi horror film, his only rejoinder was a passing "I have a use for this..."

Thankfully, dead reindeer and blade-wielding yokels were rapidly falling behind us as we pressed on across Finland and eventually over the Norwegian border. The CX-3 was unfailing, unflappable. Even the petrol engine proved to be the best choice. Its utterly linear power delivery made it easier to handle on the trickier, icier sections than would have been the turbocharged diesel, while its better refinement meant there was one less noise to compete with the awful drumming thrum of the tyre studs when we found stretches of clear, dry tarmac. It was even exceptionally frugal. In spite of being driven hard, across poor roads and in sub-zero temperatures, with the cabin temperatures turned way up and the toasty seat heaters ablaze, the CX-3 averaged 39mpg all the way up to the Nordkapp - within 5mpg of its quoted combined fuel economy figure.

As we got closer and closer to the northern coastline, the landscape changed quite dramatically. Northern Sweden and Finland are relatively low and rolling - coastal Norway is not. It rises in perpendicular crags and drops in vertiginous fjords. It is, coated in its Christmas-cake-icing snow blanket, quite astonishing to behold. The CX-3 loved it - easily climbing up to the towering, flat-topped plain behind the coasts (keeping up near-motorway pace on the fast, open roads up there) before plunging down to the coast, its grey-blue waters beautiful but clearly hypothermic. Closer and closer to the cape we drew, pausing only to dive into the network of tunnels, one of them five miles long, that bring you under the mountains and eventually the sea to the Cape itself.

We had one final haul now, escorted through the gathering dusk to the very edge of the Cape itself by a snow plough whose driver seemed set on becoming the new Stig Blomqvist. He belted along the winding, narrow road that crests the final summits before the Cape station itself. His massive plough would occasionally plunge headlong into standing drifts of snow, blown by the near-constant wind, shooting huge geysers of white powder into the air in his wake, into which our CX-3s would plunge, at 50mph, blind for seconds at a time, trusting in the flashing orange lights on his roof to guide us through. A scary but exhilarating way to arrive at what is, if not quite the roof of the world, then certainly its loft conversion.

And there we stood. Looking out, amongst the dying rays of sunset and the first hints of Aurora, at the frigid polar sea, the distant line of the pack ice and, 1,300 miles away, the Pole itself. The little CX-3 had proved a point - you don't need a big, heavy, wasteful off-roader to yomp your away across Europe's great, frozen wilderness to find the loneliest edge of our continent.

Verdict

We had driven the CX-3 in both petrol and AWD forms before, but here was a chance to stretch a small, supposedly urbanite car to its maximum. Yes, its passage was eased by the fact that Sweden, Norway and Finland maintain a road network at this high latitude that would be the envy of any southern nation, and by the fact that, although there was plenty of snow and ice, temperatures were generally no lower than a chilly day in Yorkshire for our visit. But the CX-3 still came through with aplomb, helped by its tyres, but only triggering its stability control once in the while 500-mile trip, as we came fast back down the icy hill from the Cape, concentrating more on finding dinner and a bed than on executing a perfect cornering line. A small Japanese hatchback? One occasionally hobbled by a lack of rear seat and boot space, and some major tyre-road issues? Yes, but a small Japanese hatchback that proved itself to have the heart of an Amundsen, Scott or Fiennes at its core.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 11 Mar 2016



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2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.



2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 

2016 Mazda CX-3 AWD. Image by Mazda.
 






 

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