Driv­ing Mazda cars in the soft, white stuff was a blast that left this “win­ter dancer” want­ing more.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

MAZDA , one of only a hand­ful of in­de­pen­dently owned and op­er­ated car brands left in the world, in­vited Torque for an Asean me­dia tour, which in­cluded a win­ter drive at one of its two prov­ing grounds in Hokkaido, Ja­pan’s north­ern­most is­land.

Kenbuchi Prov­ing Ground, lo­cated in the quaint town of Kenbuchi, is unique in that Mazda doesn’t own the premises but leases it from the town’s govern­ment for 30 to 50 days in a year.

What this means is, apart from the fact that Mazda staff who run the fa­cil­i­ties have be­come close to the towns­folk, the roads which tra­verse the prov­ing ground that oc­cu­pies a land area of 4.7 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres are pub­lic roads for the rest of the year. There­fore, driv­ing on these roads is like driv­ing any­where in the town it­self. As ex­plained by a Mazda staffer: “Driv­ing in Kenbuchi Prov­ing Ground gives a re­al­world feel which is dif­fer­ent from driv­ing on other prov­ing grounds that are pri­vately owned.”

There are 12 ma­jor cour­ses scat­tered through­out the venue. Some of their names, such as Moun­tain Path Up, High-speed Up­hill, Steep-grade and Coun­try Road, gave me an idea of what to ex­pect dur­ing the day-long event. Also, the snow­fall was pretty heavy the day be­fore, re­sult­ing in a thicker blan­ket of snow on the roads.

The morn­ing started with a drive of Mazda’s lat­est prod­ucts. There was a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel CX-8 and two 1.5-litre CX-3s, one of which was the re­cently facelifted model, al­low­ing a com­par­i­son with the older model.

The course used, a 2km-long loop, is well-utilised by mo­torists dur­ing the non-win­ter months and fea­tures a mix­ture of swoopy bends, steep up­hill and down­hill sec­tions, and a long straight.

I had two laps in each car as a driver and an­other two laps as a rear pas­sen­ger. The most in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the drive/ co-drive was how dif­fer­ent the cur­rent and up­dated CX-3s were in their ride com­fort. The newer cross­over felt more sup­ple and pli­ant, yet it han­dled as ca­pa­bly as the cur­rent ver­sion. The way the 2018 CX-3 ab­sorbed the un­seen (i.e. hid­den by the snow) bumps and dips, and not trans­fer the sound and vi­bra­tions to the cabin, was laud­able.

The next item on the driv­ing agenda was a gymkhana com­pe­ti­tion at the skid area, which was a rec­tan­gu­lar field of snow. Two units of the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel Mazda 3 Sport were used, one with front-wheel-drive (FWD) and the other with Mazda’s i-Ac­tive all-wheel-drive (AWD).

Every­one had prac­tice laps

in both cars fol­lowed by timed laps, and the best tim­ing was clocked with the AWD ve­hi­cle. The FWD “chal­lenger” ac­quit­ted it­self ad­mirably de­spite the ex­tremely loose sur­face, but it just didn’t have any an­swer to its AWD sibling’s greater grip and bet­ter trac­tion, not only when ac­cel­er­at­ing from a stand­still but also while cor­ner­ing.

An­other demon­stra­tion of the i-Ac­tive AWD’s prow­ess was dur­ing the “hot laps” up and down a 1.5km stretch of road. We didn’t drive the 2.2-litre tur­bod­iesel CX-5s (one with FWD and the other with AWD), but sat up front as the pas­sen­ger. It was ob­vi­ous that the test driver had an eas­ier time ma­noeu­vring the SUV with AWD – the car steered more pre­dictably and could take cor­ners at higher speeds.

Snow driv­ing is some­thing far from what any mo­torist will ex­pe­ri­ence in trop­i­cal Sin­ga­pore, but cor­rect­ing a slide and keep­ing a car un­der con­trol on a sur­face that’s more slip­pery than ex­tremely wet as­phalt are great skills to have – wher­ever you are and what­ever the pre­vail­ing con­di­tions.

It’s also com­fort­ing to know that Mazda spends a lot of ef­fort (and money) in de­vel­op­ing their cars at a fa­cil­ity as com­pre­hen­sive as Kenbuchi Prov­ing Ground.

I would love to visit again, but next time, please let me do more driv­ing/danc­ing in the snow!


Play­ing in the soft Hokkaido snow was like eat­ing Hokkaido soft cream in Hokkaido – oishi (yummy).

Trop­i­cal journos from South­east Asia trav­elled here to give Mazda’s win­try Kenbuchi Prov­ing Ground a try-out.

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