You might think such a journey would require a rugged, focused, hardcore off-roader, but instead Mazda has provided us with its little CX-3 crossover, boldly claiming that the compact SUV is more than up to the job. All of my pre-trip research suggests most of Scandinavia’s wildlife and weather will either try to eat or freeze me, so you’ll hopefully forgive the fact that I’m a little apprehensive as we head north behind the wheel of a vehicle that, let’s face it, falls into a category of cars generally more concerned with the weekly shop than escaping from packs of wolves.
Maybe I’m wrong to doubt it. Before we set off on our journey, Mazda’s people explained how the CX-3’s four-wheel drive system was more advanced than conventional electronically controlled drivelines. It makes use of a pool of data, they said, not just information from the wheels themselves. The system’s brain examines air temperatures via the car’s external thermometer, rainfall via the automatic wipers and gradient via more sensors, and then continuously alters the amount of torque being sent to each wheel, accounting for steering angle, throttle application and brake pressure. The results, so Mazda says, are seamlessly optimised levels of grip and traction.
That’s all well and good, but I’ve seen in the movies what a bear can do to a car and I don’t fancy facing one in a Ford Fiesta-sized crossover. At least we’ve got a set of proper studded snow tyres and, more important, an emergency supply of sandwiches.
Setting off at 6am, we head due north along the dual carriageway that leads out of Luleå. I’m thankful that the snowploughs have cleared the roads of thick powder, so there’s only a thin layer of compacted snow to contend with. Although we’re driving in conditions that would cripple the UK motorway network in seconds, for the first 100 miles or so the CX-3 feels perfectly comfortable cruising at 70mph. I take the time to assess what’s beneath us.
Despite its raised ride height, the car feels no bigger than a hatchback, and in these early miles it drives like one, too. I love the manual gearbox, which has short, direct throws, and the steering is satisfyingly alert, if lacking in feel. I put the system to good use on multiple occasions, as we’re blown sideways towards the 3ft-high snowbanks when lorries fly by in the other direction at seemingly unbelievable speed, clouds of snow blasting out behind them. Since our car is a UK-registered right-hooker, I’m safe on the opposite side of the cabin. Luc doesn’t look so happy.
Our car is fitted with a 103bhp 1.5-litre Skyactiv diesel engine, which is claimed to be good for 70.6mpg combined. In all honesty, fuel economy is largely irrelevant here, because the slippery, cold conditions mean the car is running in four-wheel drive mode permanently, but it’s still impressive to note that we’re averaging about 47mpg, according to the trip computer. It’s not particularly powerful, but work the engine’s mid-range and there’s enough grunt to make overtaking easy enough – if only the lorry drivers would play ball.