Mazda2: Slip, sliding away

  • Mazda2 encounters some treacherous conditions
  • Proves capable and controllable on snow and ice
  • Anti-lock brakes and traction control work well

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to bring trouble to our roads, it's snow.

As I live down an ungritted and hilly country road, winter conditions can occasionally cause a few problems.

We'd received several inches of snow earlier in the week, but as it was fresh powder it proved no great obstacle.

So, when I looked out of my window on Friday morning and saw yet more snow, I wasn't overly worried. The road was usually free from traffic, so you could easily maintain enough speed to help carry you up over the hills. Stop on them, and you'd find it practically impossible to get any further.

With the Mazda's roof, windows, bonnet and lights cleared of snow, it was time to head out. I quickly found out that the compacted powder from the previous week had frozen into something that resembled a skating rink, cutting traction and grip to a minimum.

Fortunately, the Mazda2 turned out to be more than competent in the inclement conditions. Its well-weighted steering meant that you rarely turned too sharply or quickly, which would unsettle the car. This aided in keeping its nose pointing the right way.

The feel of the Mazda's clutch, brake and accelerator pedals also helped immensely. The pedal action is quite firm, and not overly assisted, making it easier to gauge your inputs appropriately and not lose control.

With its little diesel engine humming away merrily, the Mazda2 cruised through the first series of inclines and sharp corners without any fuss. Descending the next hill, I allowed it to build up speed to help me pass over the next steep slope.

Unfortunately, as I rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill and started to climb again, I came across a BMW parked diagonally across the road, blocking it.

I had no choice but to stop, on the slope. Remarkably, the Mazda managed to find enough traction to allow me to move off again and pull over onto the side of the road, out of the way of any potential traffic. As the gentleman in the BMW had been stuck there for several hours, I spent some time helping free him.

With my Mazda2 out of the way, and with some gentle guidance and pushing, he had a clear run at the slope and got up and over it.

As I walked back to my car, someone coming the other way decided to restyle the front end of their Ford using a conveniently placed fence. Fortunately the damage was minimal and they were again freed with some shoving and scrabbling.

Suddenly, chaos erupted as cars and vans started spinning off in each direction as they came over the crest of each hill and tried to avoid other vehicles that had become stuck.

It was at this point I realised that things were not going to improve. I was starting to get concerned that someone was going to hit the Mazda, and as it was parked at the bottom of a hill it wasn't going to be a gentle impact.

There was no way to get past all the abandoned cars, so I executed a three-point turn, and drove back home. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.

I was impressed at how well the Mazda dealt with the conditions, though. I hadn't felt nervous while driving it, nor had it done anything unexpected. The anti-lock brakes helped bleed off speed safely when necessary, and the traction control stopped the diesel engine from overpowering the front wheels too excessively.

It was even more remarkable when you bear in mind that, in places, it was slippy enough that you could push the Mazda along with the handbrake on. I only noticed that myself after it'd silently relocated itself three feet down the road from where I parked it, on a gentle slope.

Now, obviously a lot of this is extremely dependant on how carefully a car is driven but it does prove that, even in a compact hatchback without winter tyres, you can get around in snowy and icy conditions without too many problems. The key things to remember are to maintain a sensible speed, not to use aggressive control inputs and - most importantly - leave plenty of room.

In other news, the Mazda2's fuel consumption has been increasing slightly. The calculated brim-to-empty economy is now hovering around the 47mpg mark, as opposed to the previously recorded figures that were in the low forties.

That's still some way from the claimed 67mpg average, mind, but some improvement is better than none.

Current mileage: 3,285 miles

Average mpg: 47.41mpg