Nobody asked me, but . . .
Mention the snow word to most enthusiasts and the first thing out of their mouth is likely to be: “I’ll drive the beater.”
But I grew up in Queens where ice and snow are as common as NY pizza . . . and I enjoy both. My first forays into the world of cold, low-coefficient driving came behind the wheel of a 1963 Chevy Biscayne 6-cylinder. The family car. I snuck out one night when my parents weren’t watching and drove to a large, vacant parking lot. There, on that expanse of asphalt, covered with about three inches of virgin snow, I discovered the exhilaration that led me into a life of living on the edge . . . and beyond.
That otherwise nose-heavy, underpowered Biscayne transformed from Jekyll to Hyde when the virtually traction-less rear wheels were prompted into action with even small doses of throttle. Round and round we’d go. But then I added a bit of steering to the mix. Actually a lot of steering because that Biscayne required more than four turns of twisting to get from lock-to-lock. As the Chevy assumed an attitude akin to a dirt tracking Sprint car, I discovered the fine line between over and understeer, which in the Biscayne was neither fine nor a line, but rather gross and broad. But great for a beginner.
All this fun came to an almost tragic ending, when I noticed a round dark object looming larger and larger in the weak light given off by the Chevy’s headlights and reflecting off the snow being thrown up by the front tires. The brakes were virtually useless, and it was only the great good fortune of snow build up on the two sliding front tires, which were cranked fully starboard, that prevented the Chevy from crashing. As the snow settled, the outline of a rotund security guard, frantically waving his arms filled my windshield.
“Are you (gasp) crazy? You (gasp, gasp) trying to kill yourself? This is (pause, gasp, pause) private property.”
As the overweight and out-of-shape rent-a-cop bent over to catch his breath, I attempted to explain that I was neither crazy nor attempting suicide. Rather, I was teaching myself how to control a 3500 lb dangerous weapon under conditions in which neither the car nor I were in any danger of hitting anything except a security guard with a death wish if he believed he could stop my sliding steed by simply waving his arms. This logic served only to heighten his irritation, and I was directed—with appropriate obscenities—to leave the premises immediately before he called the real cops and had me arrested.
So much for driver education.
Spool forward a few years. I’m in New York in December and, guess what, it’s snowing. For most New Yorkers that would mean either getting out the snow blower or putting another log on the fire. But not for me. I prefer playing cars. In this case I’ve been dealt a MazdaSpeed3. Now if you’ve ever experienced the kick-in the-butt, turbocharged torque and G-whiz grip of a Speed3 on dry asphalt, you know why enthusiasts consider it one of the best sport compact bangs for the buck on the planet. But ice and snow? Wouldn’t that be North poles apart from the MazdaSpeed3’s raison d’etre?
Not if you think WRC. It all comes down to sensibility and sensitivity. If the driver is sensitive to the lower traction and sensibly applies the throttle, steering and brakes, the Speed3 will reward you. Prefer a snow bank? Hammer that throttle and twirl that steering wheel.
If you live in snowy climes and want to drive a MazdaSpeed3 in all four seasons, do yourself a BIG favor and install snow tires for the winter. On all four corners. When the snow disappears from the interstates, a sensitive driver will notice a bit of road wander at high speeds, a result of the taller, less stiff sidewalls. But the overall improvement in grip when the white stuff begins to fall far outweighs this slight annoyance.
Plan appropriately and you can enjoy driving your MazdaSpeed3 regardless of season or conditions. But if you live on Long Island, stay away from those empty parking lots covered with pristine snow. That mall cop might still be lurking nearby, and you don’t want to be the one doing the mauling.