Mazda meets the

beast in the east

Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, dogs
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, front
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, on ice
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, John Murdoch
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, sunset
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, convoy
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, above Lake Baikal
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, tyre
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, traction control switch
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, badge
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, dog sled
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, sat nav display screen
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, rescue truck
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, making bridge
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, crossing ice hole
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, side
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, side 2
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, rear
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, front 2
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, lake, front 3
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, ice, road
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, front
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, with snow truck
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, front, action
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, rear, action
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, road sign
Mazda CX-5, Siberia, 2018, SKYACTIV-G 2.5 litre engine

MY Mazda CX-5 AWD was up to the challenge when the UK was blitzed by the beast from the East a couple of weeks ago.

It dealt with the snow and ice without any trouble and skipped past other vehicles that just could not cope with the extreme weather.

Its excellent four-wheel-drive system performed perfectly and I never had to postpone any planned journeys.

So when Mazda decided to travel to Siberia to take on the beast in its home territory I did not hesitate to sign-on for this once in a lifetime journey.

Getting a Russian Visa to travel to East Siberia was a task in itself with pages of questions and a visit to a Consulate to be finger printed before being granted permission to travel.

Leaving London at 10 am on a flight to Moscow we then changed to a Russian airline for our onward leg to Siberia arriving at 9am on the Monday morning - which gives you an idea of how vast the country is.

Siberia is further away from Moscow than London is from Moscow and all of the time we were flying over a snow covered landscape.

After a short briefing on road conditions and some breakfast at Irkutsk airport we were on our way to our first destinationListvyankaon the shores of frozen Lake Baikal.

Irkutsk was founded back in 1661 by Cossacks and the road to the lake was 40 miles long and very straight which allowed time to get used to the icy conditions. Regularly plowed the road was fairly clear and theCX-5 equipped with snow studded tires made light work of the journey.

After a couple of hours rest it was back into the cars and into the massive Siberian forest for a trek in deep snow. I was completely at home behind the wheel since I am well used to aCX-5 and this one was even easier to drive as it was fitted with a nice automatic gearbox.

The power was supplied by a new 2.5-litreSKYACTIV-G engine which will make its UK debut this summer in top models of the new Mazda6 saloon and Tourer.

Already available in some global markets it has a cylinder deactivation system which allows the direct-injection four-cylinder engine to seamlessly switch between four and two-cylinder operation to improve real-world economy at no cost to performance. It is a cracking unit and delivers 194ps and I look forward to using that power in better conditions.

A clearing eventually appeared in the forest and the cold immediately numbed you when you stepped out of the warm and comfortable cabin into the snow. Locals provided a warm drink and pancakes made over a blazing log and then it was back toListvyankaover the same route for a night's rest before tackling our real challenge.

Sadly we did not see the main forest residentUrsusArctosor Brown Bear even although some 13,000 of them patrol this region of Siberia. They were all asleep for the duration of the winter and we were warned that they do not take kindly to being disturbed. They stand 9ft tall and are capable of 30mph - so are best left alone.

The next day it was time for the main event - the crossing of frozen Lake Baikal. It is almost impossible to describe the lake which is fed by over 300 rivers and streams. It sits just north of the Mongolian borderand is almost 400 miles long and 50 miles wide.

It is over 25 million years old and contains over 20 per cent of the earth's entire fresh water supply. The water is stunningly clear and the lake is frozen for almost five months of the year.

The ice is at its deepest in March and can be anything between one and three feet deep so it is the best time to attempt a crossing.

After a safety briefing from guide AlexSimakinwe were led onto the lake by a six-wheel vehicle with huge soft tyres called aTrekolprovided and manned byEmercom- the National Russian Safety Team.

The original crossing route was not safe so we had to take a longer 40 mile one and it proved to be tough going. The ice looks flat from a distance but it is littered withhugeblocks of sharp ice and there is always a danger ofhuge cracks and fractures which could swallow a vehicle and plunge you into the icy waters where you would not survive for very long.

As a result we were told to leave seat belts off to make a speedy exit easier but the downside was that we were bounced into the air every time we hit an ice block. Deep snow covered much of the route and at times it was impossible to see the lead safety vehicle which certainly increased my pulse.

The Mazda'sIntelligentAll-Wheel Drive system in combination with the studded snow tyres provided great grip and the right amount of torque was provided to the correct wheel at the right time maximising front and rear traction as required.

Half way across the safety team had to build a makeshift wooden ramp to allow us to make a nervous crossing overa gap in the ice and the estimated four-hour crossing actually took a tense seven and a half hours.

Apparently we were the first team to make the crossing on this route and although it was a once in a lifetime experience I was very happy to get to the other side with the vehicle and myself in one piece.

After the tension of the lake the journey to our last destinationthe city ofUllan-Udewas almost a doddle. The road ran alongside the famous Trans-Siberian railway line which links Moscow to Vladivostok and runs for an astonishing 5,772 miles - the longest in the world.

It was amazing to see the locals cope with the conditions which would have brought the UK to a grinding halt without any fuss and I only came across one accident during my stay.

The locals were very friendly - their vodka excellent - but I don't envy their climate.

I also learned that theCX-5 is much tougher than its goodlooks and premium cabin suggest and that it is strong enough to tackle the Beast from the East in its own back yard.

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