Cars Ireland logo
  1. You are here:
  2. Home

Ireland's No 1 For Used Cars • 1,000+ Dealers • 50,000+ Used Cars • 2,000+ Car Reviews


Epic Drive: How I fared in an urban SUV – a Mazda CX-5 – on a frozen Siberian lake

And so a short while after the Beast came west, we went east – to Siberia – to drive a car on snow, ice and across a frozen inland fresh water lake. Wouldn’t you think I’d be sick of slip-sliding snow at this stage? It’s spring and there are cars to be driven under normal conditions.
But when rare special permission is granted to drive through Siberian forests and across the world’s largest expanse of fresh water (mostly frozen, thankfully), it is hard to resist the mixture of excitement and fear evoked.
It is a drive and a test no other car manufacturer has been able to stage. Mazda somehow managed to do so. And that’s why I’m reporting from Irkutsk, in deep Siberia, just north of Mongolia, west of China, east of Kazakhstan and 7,000kms from Dublin. This is Siberia, for real remote.
Out here are the sort of challenges and environs I’ve always wanted to experience. Russia has had a fascination for me ever since listening to my father telling us fireside stories about the country, its myriad peoples, climates and cultures. His particular favourites were the Cossacks and their wonderful skills with horses.
It was horsepower of a different hue here, with all the driving done in Mazda’s popular compact crossover the CX-5 (recently announced as one of three in the shake-up for World Car of the Year).
What we faced would be a big challenge for your traditional, rugged 4×4 beast at the best of times, but Mazda was confident we’d make it in the mid-sized urban (yes urban) SUV.
Naturally, you need all-wheel drive (AWD) and in -20C temperatures, appropriate tyres too, in our case studded. But nothing extraordinary other than that.
The centrepiece of our adventure was the extraordinary Lake Baikal, near Irkutsk (pop nearly 600,000) a wondrous 25 million years old natural phenomenon. It is 636km long, 20km/80km wide, the deepest lake on Earth (1,700 metres) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two thirds of the 1,700 species of plants and animals here are found nowhere else. The lake holds 20pc of all the unfrozen fresh water in the entire world.
Deep in my stomach, I’d had a chill of fear for days. Yes, there were teams of people checking to make sure the ice was thick enough and all that. But the sheer thought of 1,700m of water beneath an 80cm coating of ice fostered fear and devilment in equal measure. I can’t swim. I have a dread of water. I shiver crossing a river bridge, but bucket lists and all that.
Life is unpredictable everywhere, but more so in areas of extremes, as we were to find out.
The plan was to start in nearby Listvyanka, cross the lake and move through the frozen forest on the Trans Siberian Highway before finishing in Ulan Ude in the Republic of Buryatia. Mother Nature had other ideas.
Mazda was to be justified in calling this an Epic Drive. Not just about them showing what their AWD technology could do in coping with the worst of conditions. It was also about finding out if we, the humans, had the skill, the guts and the nerve.
There has to be a certain amount of Hail Mary, fingers-crossed, blind faith when you have to accelerate to 50/60kmh to burst through snow mounds. And there have to be subtle, tiny adjustments to keep traction on slippy-glass ice. It is a thin line between getting through and bogging down.
Mazda told us there were risks involved, as if we didn’t know. But the safety team, specialists in driving on Lake Baikal, surveyed the ice prior to driving as well as accompanying us, a reassuring presence in a six-wheel monster.
We were told not to wear our seatbelts, not to lock the doors and to leave everything if the car started to sink. They reckon you have two minutes before submersion. And I’d say a few seconds after it to survive the cold. We tried not to think about it.
What was to be a tough enough looking four-hour crossing stretched to near eight hours of diversions and new route trials in the face of deteriorating conditions. With snow getting heavier and a wind shaving in from the east, at one stage it was not looking good at all.
A severe crack in the ice blocked our weary path, necessitating a diversion and a bridge of canvas and wood being thrown down to get us over.
Those Mazda CX-5s took a real hammering, shuddering on impact with massively uneven surfaces beneath the deceptive snow.
But they kept coming back for more as we swung to avoid sharp shocks of re-frozen ice jutting fangs into anything that dared traverse them.
Without a seatbelt it was a matter of hanging onto the steering wheel or, in the case of the passenger, the grab handle, and hoping for the best.
We got out a few times, mindful of warnings about just how slippery the ice could be. A few of those ahead have sore bums this week, I’d say.
In the cabin, waiting for word of our next move, my colleague and I wondered if we’d get off the lake before dark. To divert ourselves we talked about how such an ‘ordinary’ (meant as a compliment) car as the CX-5 could battle so well in those conditions.
The thing about driving a car with AWD is that you take it for granted at home. As you know, AWD gives power to the wheel(s) with most traction to avoid others spinning needlessly. Seldom has it been pushed this hard, I’d say.
It’s only human, but when confronted with adversity, you grow fond of whatever it is you hope can deliver you. We grew really fond of the CX-5.
But we worked hard too. Confronted by the choice of ploughing through formidable terrain or giving up and being swallowed by the virginal snow mounds, I powered every sinew’s worth of steer, acceleration, lift-off and driving sense to keep going – sometimes barely able to see two car lengths ahead.
With no food, no drink, no toilets, this was a little taste of privation. It surely sharpened our sense of fear and adventure. At times our hearts sank; at times other vehicles spun to a sinking halt into embracing snow. Our gritty Russian experts circled, towed, found new pathways.
Inch by inch we ground down 72kms of a route only traversed once previously. Not once did the AWD in our CX-5, with its 2.5-litre petrol engine – yes petrol – ever feel it wasn’t up to the job.
And then, when it seemed forever had come and gone, we sighted land. “Land,” I shouted. “Land”. Thank you God and the saint of frozen lakes.
But wait. We still had a good bit to go and still needed the courage of our convictions that the car would get us there. Shovels dug paths to a bumpy line for the shore. Only an hour earlier, our walkie talkie squadron leader told us there was a kilometre of water beneath the ice where we’d all halted. Gulp!
And then … Adieu Lake Baikal; we will never forget you.
Dry land brought elation, as did being only the second in history to have successfully negotiated that particular route. One backward glance to live with us for ever and we were onto 200kms of the Trans-Siberian Highway, where trucks clung to the umbilical cord connection between Russia east and Russia west. Lengthy trains slid by on the Trans-Siberian railway alongside us. We were, despite our exhaustion, filled with a sense of the region’s vastness and history. It was mystique made real by people and nature.
Hunger, thirst and bladder pangs bade us stop at the first ‘cafe’ we spotted, but even our extreme needs couldn’t persuade us to loiter. Around 50km further, we found a fuel station. Culinary choices were limited, but not life-threatening. I scoffed the longest Kit-Kat I’ve ever seen, a large bag of crisps, a bottle of water and a couple of bars of chocolates.
And then, Asia’s great vista lifted. Ulan-Ude opened its arms to us. Without getting out of snow boots, layers of clothing and the warmest of coats, we headed for dinner. We ate heartily of the ubiquitous Baikal omul fish intrinsic to every meal.
Emboldened, happy, relieved and slightly sad it was over, our need for diversion prompted a late-night visit to the largest sculpted head of Lenin in the world.
We were a little light-headed ourselves, despite the hour. Time and again, I came back to it. A compact SUV had not only whisked us from Europe to true Asia, it showed how technology we take for granted on our tarmac streets could deliver us through a hazardous, heavyweight physical battle with what lies beneath.
It was remarkable, memorable, humbling, euphoric and testament to a marque confident in its car’s ability to overcome the challenge of what will always be, for me anyway, an epic drive.
The CX-5 AWD starts at €28,995 (2.0 petrol); Diesel starts at €31,495; AWD (2.2D 150bhp manual) from €35,995 for mid-grade). Top grade AWD (platinum 2.2D auto 175bhp with additional safety elements) €43,345. The new 2.5-litre petrol on our test cars will not be coming to Ireland in the CX-5, but will be an option in the heavily revised Mazda6 range, which is due in July

[Read more]

Why I had reasons to be ‘tankful’ with Civic diesel

My aunt had an old saying about people who always seemed to have some little thing wrong with them. “A creaking door lasts longest,” she’d proclaim. I came to understand she meant they’d survive longer with their string of minor ailments, attentively tended to, than hitherto healthy folk stricken with serious illnesses. I was reminded of her saying by the current controversy over the state of diesel’s health. Some say it’s dead and the door has closed. Others, who have taken its pulse, reassure us that, while it may have a touch of bad tummy (‘dieselitis’?), it is not on its death bed.
Honda would be one of those figuratively supporting the creaking-door diagnosis. Otherwise, why would they bother going to enormous rounds to produce a healthier-than-ever 1.6-litre diesel for their Civic? In doing so they have reduced emissions while the powertrain has a new NOx Storage Converter (NSC) system. NOx, as you know, is the emission worry for health and a major reason for diesel’s unpopularity in many quarters.
Mind you, the Japanese maker is not bringing in a diesel version of the next CR-V, so make of that what you will, too.
Anyway, in its previous incarnation the Civic 1.6-litre was a headline grabber with 60mpg+ consistently claimed and returned.
With the new one, the claimed figure of 3.5l/100km translates into 80.7mpg. I got 5.7l/100km, which is 50mpg, but let me honest here. With a little bit more, shall we say, ‘patient’ driving, 5l/100km (56mpg) or better is easily attainable. I just drove it hard and heavy (and loaded) because, frankly, it was enjoyable and I could do so legally. Cabin and boot were nearly always occupied, too. At the same time, I clocked some sections at 4.5l/100km (62.7mpg) – which underlines my point about how you drive.
However, there is more (and less) to the Civic than an engine. Let me get some criticisms out of the way first; in the overall scheme of things they are minor.
Unbelievably, I had to get someone to help me find where to connect the phone charger. The slot is the other (back) side of a console, totally out of sight; you’d need a metal detector to find it.
My Premium spec had leather and all that, but the lower down I went, the armrest/cupholder/console felt, looked and sounded cheap. It just lets the cabin down a bit.
And the super-duper damping system (on the test car) wasn’t much to my taste; it added a minor thudding rigidity to the drive over moderately poor roads.
There are better (and better looking) connectivity/interface/touchscreens than the Civic’s too – but the Voice Control worked well.
Such minor hiccups can irritate like a creaking door/gate, but I wouldn’t dismiss the car for its minor ailments.
Real substance lies beneath the skin where there is an admirably reassuring spread of standard safety equipment under the umbrella of what they call ‘Sensing’. And they’ve conjured a healthy colour for the cabin with some nice comfort touches.
Yet, there is an argument it looks a little start-up pricey against its key mainstream rivals (Golf, Focus, Auris, etc).
However, if you take a quick look at the spec sheet (Facts&Figures), you’ll see why that’s not really the case. Rather than tickle interest with a lower-specced ‘entry’ model, they have decided to start higher up the food chain – which can be where some rivals end up anyway once potential buyers start adding bits and pieces. Honda do complicate matters a tad by adding ‘Packs’ of additional equipment as well.
To drive, the car was swift and smooth. The engine was a bit noisier than I expected on start-up – it was so new I’d forgive, but mention, that. At cruising speeds, or in lower gears, the amount of torque (pulling power) was impressive; and there was a lovely, slick gear change (friction is reduced 40pc on previous).
I liked the drive set-up, small steering wheel, excellent seats – that’s what you call taking the pain out of a long drive. There was a ‘sporty’ feel to the car, too but it was nothing to write home about.
Apart from me, the slowest mover in the cabin was the fuel consumption needle. Diesel, regardless of its drawbacks, is still a mighty fuel-sipper.
But is that enough? In the short-term it probably is, albeit on a declining scale. Longer term (whatever that means) who really knows? Technological advances can quickly change perceptions, though electric seems to be the way we’re headed – for now anyway.
However, on the basis of this new Civic 1.6-litre, don’t give up on diesel just yet… creaking doors/gates and all that.
Honda Civic 1.6-litre 5dr diesel, 120bhp, 3.5l/100km, €180 tax. Prices from €23,750 for 1-litre turbo petrol; 1.6-litre diesel costs from €25,550 (entry-level Smart trim). €31,950 for Premium diesel on test.
Standard spec includes collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist/departure warning, road departure mitigation, intelligent speed limiter/adaptive cruise control, etc, climate control, parking sensors, 5ins Monitor audio (AM/FM/DAB), 16ins alloys, 8 speakers.
Premium adds leather interior, heated front/back seats, 11 speakers, adaptive damper system, glass roof.

[Read more]