Russian Despatches: The longest drive


Russian Despatches: The longest drive

Our challenge to drive one of the first Mazda 3 hatchbacks off the production line across some of the most challenging wilderness in the world entered its longest leg today.

We're currently in Siberia, the far eastern side of Russia, just 50 or so kilometres from the Chinese border, taking part in Mazda's 15,000km drive from Hiroshima to Frankfurt.

Yesterday we survived dodging crazy Russian drivers, but today's mileage has been very different indeed. Our tour guide explained the route, which runs parallel with the Trans Siberian Highway and bisects some of the most densely forested and sparsely populated areas of Russia.

Fuel stops have been hundreds of miles apart and signs of life few and far between. We've ventured so deep into what's dubbed 'Christmas Tree Country' that should any of us have an unfortunate encounter with a bear or stub our toe, an ambulance is more than two hours away.

The roads are long, narrow and although less potholed than before, they're rippled like waves lapping a shore. This is testing the new Mazda 3's suspension – and my typing – to the limits as it kangaroos us into the air.

The route also seems to be devoid of wildlife. We've been travelling through vast swathes of forest, but the fauna is noticeable by its absence. Even the birds seem to have deserted this part of the world, which wouldn't look out of place in a Hobbit sequel.

We've also learnt Russians have a healthy disregard for health and safety. Never-ending miles of cones or concrete barriers separating road workers from passing traffic are nowhere to be seen. In fact you're lucky if you see a sign anywhere near construction workers before you come face to face with a JCB.

We've managed to master the art of overtaking, too. The main arterial roads are mostly single file, but the locals are used to cars nipping by – there are no angry flashes of headlights as you might experience from self-righteous Polo Bluemotion drivers in the UK – in fact some drivers even pull onto the grass verge to let you pass.

Russian Despatches: The longest drive

Russian Despatches: The longest drive

The Russians have also perfected the art of phone signal. Even in the most desolate areas we've managed to get a signal – despite the fact the nearest settlement could be 50 miles away. It makes you wonder why Wales is still a dead spot...

Fuel fill-ups have been tricky, though. We had to double-back 25 miles at one stage to find petrol for fear of running dry (with 200 miles range left on the dash) and when we found it there wasn't a Ginsters or lukewarm Costa Express coffee in sight – it was simply two pumps (one serving up 80 RON) sticking out of the back of a shipping container.

I'm blown away with our Mazda 3. It's soaking up the punishing roads extremely well, coping with terrain far out of its comfort zone. The 2.0-litre petrol engine needs working hard to get the most out of it, especially on hills which require a lot of six-speed box stirring, but altogether it's an impressive companion.

Our stop last night was in Skovorodino, a collection of ramshackle huts centred around a bog-cum-marsh that appeared to be the breeding ground for the world's population of mosquitoes. You'll be pleased to hear we've murdered at least a quarter of a million of them on the Mazda's nose, but unfortunately our ethnic cleansing hasn't made a dent in their population and the winged vampires continue to eat us alive.

The hotel – and I use that term in the loosest possible sense – made a Blackpool Stag and Hen Do £25-a-night job look palatial. I shared my room with three flies – all of which seemed extremely perturbed I'd moved in.

I've learnt Russians seem to have a very interesting take on what passes for food. Last night's dinner could only be described as baby sick-covered chicken sat on a plate of mouldy rice. Appetising, it was not.

Tonight we're staying in Chit – some 570 miles from where we set off this morning. I'm hoping the distance will have improved our dinner and sleeping arrangements. However, it does say a lot for the Mazda 3's comfort that the only thing I'm worried about is my stomach...

Russian Despatches Day One: The crazy drivers