Norway is a magnificent country. Thousands of miles of scraggly coastline, epic mountains around every corner and countless waterfalls cascade down rocky faces as glaciers melt in the relative warmth of summer.
Humans have conquered this imposing corner of the globe with marvellous feats of engineering: soaring bridges are commonplace, sections of motorway are taken by boat and miles and miles of road has been carved through rock.
With twisting roads clinging to mountainsides, winding along picturesque fjords, you’d have to be pretty confident in your product to launch a compact SUV here. But that’s exactly what Mazda has done with the recently facelifted CX-3.
It comes with a wide variety of petrol and diesel engines, an all-wheel drive option for those who need extra all-weather grip, and improved refinement.
Over the next two days we’ll be driving a 148bhp petrol variant north from the port town of Stavanger towards Trondheim.
I’d say we’re taking the scenic route, but it’s impossible not to around here.
It’s 6am and the sleepy town is silent so we make good progress out into the wilderness.
A couple of hours of pretty scenery pass by when we’re suddenly struck by the beauty of our surroundings. Rolling hills morph into imposing mountains, piercing the fluffy white clouds clinging to their sides.
It’s easy to become complacent as the road straddles endless fjords before remembering you’re looking at the sea cutting its way through valleys forged in the last ice age.
There’s a definite prehistoric feel to the place, with the juxtaposition of impressive feats of modern engineering and copious service station stops.
One such feat is the Laerdal Tunnel. At 15 miles long, it’s the longest road tunnel in the world and has three small refuge sections to break up the monotony of the overhead lights flickering past.
After many hours on the E39 heading north, we reach our first overnight stop in Loen, a small town located at the head of a fjord.
We take a cable car to the top of a cliff face where the stunning view is tempered only by my crippling vertigo.
The next morning we’re up even earlier and on the road by 5am.
Our first stop is Geiranger, a picturesque tourist stop with a cliff-side road that overdoses on hairpins. At the top is a picture perfect view of yet another fjord flanked by vast mountains.
After a short stop to breathe the crisp mountain air we continue north towards Trollstigen, loosely translated to mean Troll’s Ladder. Sporting 11 hairpin bends, the road performs more U-turns than Theresa May in a wheatfield as it descends into a valley.
Waterfalls crash beside the road leaving a fine mist in the air and a sodden road surface even when the weather is fine. The CX-3 shouldn’t feel as at home here as it does, handling aggressive turns from an over-enthusiastic driver without fuss.
The final landmark on our drive across this epic landscape is the Atlantic Road. Google ‘best driving roads’ and you’ll often spot one of the bridges on this five-mile stretch of tarmac appear in the image results. It curves upwards from a rocky outcrop in the ocean before diving back down into another.
Given its reputation, it’s mildly disappointing.
The bridge is cool to see and the rest of the road looks fantastic from aerial photographs, but it’s fairly underwhelming to drive.
After nearly 20 hours’ driving across two days, we pull into our final stop in Trondheim, an industrial city undergoing renovations to bring it into the 21st Century, with old brickwork buildings transformed into riverside cafes and clubs.
It gives us a quiet moment to mull over this fantastic drive. The Mazda CX-3 has been an excellent companion: quiet, comfortable and capable, it’s handled everything we’ve thrown at it.
Many compact SUVs would have become undone by these roads, which are almost never flat or straight and should be exhausting to drive. New G-Vectoring technology controls the pitch of the car in a corner to reduce body roll, improving the handling and reducing the driver’s workload: it works.
As for the scenery, there really is nowhere quite like Norway. It’s notoriously expensive, but boy, is it worth it for the views alone.
See full story in the County Times