Saracen have always been good at spotting bike trends and so it's no surprise to see them already offering half a dozen big-hit hardtails. The Mantra 3 sits in the middle, with the Zen range above it.
The big boxy down tube and chunky strengthening gussets at both head and seat tubes tell you straight away that this is a bike built for hard knocks. Down tube guard mounts make a nod to UK conditions, while the omission of V-brake bosses keeps the lines cl ean. Although the rear facing seat tube slot -necessitated by the seat tube gusset height in front - isn't ideal.
A taller fork helps jack up the front end and to a lesser extent the bottom bracket. The relatively short reach feels right on what is, after all, an extreme XC bike.
Given the greater speeds you'll be reaching downhill on the Saracen, it's reassuring to see hydraulic discs with 180mm rotors for that extra stopping power. Even though these are budget brakes, dual pistons are a step up from the single-piston Soles.
The drivetrain, and specifically the Alivio rear mech, feels a bit agricultural compared to the other bikes. The chain ramps up and down without skipping, just a bit roughly and reluctantly. It's not a big deal, given that you'll replace the drivetrain eventually, though. However, the plastic chainguard looks odd on this bike. It'd be better if both it and the outer chainring were swapped for a bashguard, as this clearly isn't a big ring bike.
In a word: unstoppable. Downhill, its longer fork and fatter tyres swallow everything in your path. The fork is adjustable for preload only, yet it is oil damped - FFD stands for 'Fluid Flow Damping' - and it doesn't kick up over bumps and rocks. The tyres are only 2.3 but feel huge, with a bigger air pocket than the Conti Gravity.
What's surprising is that it climbs okay - slowly and steadily, but okay. Being sat up, you'd expect the front end to be sketchy and lightly loaded on uphill hairpins. In fact, it's firmly planted, with the fork's mass and the overall weight distribution around the bike helping to keep the nose down.
On fast hardpack it obviously lacks pace, but on rocky singletrack it comes into its own, cushioning you well enough that you don't really miss rear suspension.
It's a lot of weight to haul around but the Saracen pays you back handsomely with big grin descents. Armoured trails that otherwise loosen your fillings are ironed out by the fat tyres and damped fork, which is capable of dealing with much bigger hits from drop-offs and rock gardens. Long rides are slow, but shorter, more technical circuits, are a blast.