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Feature: Arctic role for MX-5ís 30th birthday. Image by Mazda.

Feature: Arctic role for MX-5ís 30th birthday
We drive a Mazda MX-5, non-stop, to the frozen North Cape of Norway.

   



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Standing atop a vertiginous cliff, 1,000-feet above the crashing, freezing waves below, and buffeted by winds whipping unfettered from the high Arctic latitudes, I had a curious thought: "I've been here before."

Indeed, I had. Three years ago, to be exact, when Mazda rang up and asked if I'd like to participate in an epic drive from north-east Sweden to the North Cape, the very top of Norway; the place where Europe ends and the true Arctic wastes begin.

Heck yes, I said, and in brief order found myself driving a little CX-3 hatchback (Mazda says it's a crossover, but come on - it's a hatchback) to the Cape. Frankly, it was a little easy. The CX-3 had four-wheel drive, winter tyres, studs and a roof. We breezed along, all but effortlessly. Couldn't we try something a little more difficult next time, I asked?

Careful what you wish for, and all that...

With a whizz, a faint scraping noise and a gentle, pillow-like 'whump' we spin around backwards and embed the rear of the car in a shallow bank of snow. We're on the metre-thick ice of the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden, just off the coast of the Lulea, Sweden's go-to town for steel production and Facebook server farms (no, really).

Out on the frozen Gulf, a little driver training is taking place and it turns out that turning off the traction control in these conditions is the electronic equivalent of 'hold my beer, I got this...' Inevitable over-confidence results in a rotation, and a necessary extraction, and I'm thankful that my driving partner is the one to get out and give the car a snowy shove (sorry, Batch...).

The car in question is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, 30 years since it burst upon a moribund motoring scene in 1989 and reminded us all how much we loved driving. The Mazda MX-5. Through three decades and four generations, the MX-5 has been a constant source of driving joy, not least because it's always stuck to its simple front-engined, rear-wheel drive, two-seat layout. No bulky weight gain for the MX, in the manner of such rivals as the BMW Z4, nor (thankfully) for it the total lack of production, these days, of its erstwhile sparring partner, the Toyota MR2.

In that time, we've driven the MX-5 over our favourite roads, gotten it stuck in traffic, cruised along getting gently sunburned and even raced one in a four-hour endurance event to celebrate its 20th birthday back in 2009. Now, though, the birthday is coming with extra frosting in the form of heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures because we're Cape-ward bound again, this time with rear-wheel drive MX-5s in place of four-wheel drive CX-3s. Hence the offshore driver training (primary take-away: don't turn the traction control off) and hence too the aggressively chunky winter tyres (studded, natch) mounted on deeply attractive optional BBS alloy wheels.

Lessons learned, we load up for a mammoth 535-mile drive from Lulea, up across the Arctic Circle (we're already so far north that we'll cross that within an hour of leaving), across a bit of Finland (the country where I quite want to be. . .) and on into Norway, with the Cape as our final destination.

Aside from the tyres, the MX-5s are mechanically bog standard. Ours is a Sport Nav model, so thankfully it has the all-important heated seats, and it's been painted in Mazda's distinctive Soul Red Crystal paint, which frankly looks like it was born to be sprayed on the MX-5's low-slung form.

Power comes from a revised 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine, which now has 184hp to its name, and finally Mazda has fitted a telescopic adjusting steering column, so I can actually get comfortable behind the wheel.

Comfortable and rather unflustered. As we set off, the skies are azure blue and the sun is shining, but the temperature is ducking beneath -20 degrees Celsius, and the roads are strewn with enough snow and ice to bring all of Britain south of Inverness to a crunching halt. For the Swedes and Finns, it's simply another mundane weekday and the kids are going to school and there's shopping to be done. Far from everyone rolling around in gigantic 4x4s, most people have the same modest family wagons that we have, albeit with extra-grippy tyres. Many also fancy a stack of auxiliary spotlights on the front, to better light the way in the endless Scandinavian nights. It makes the place look like it's over-populated by rally fans.

As well it might be because within a few miles, you quickly see why so many rally and F1 champs come from this neck of the woods. Although conditions are relatively benign right now, and although we've got those studded tyres on, a little flick of sudden oversteer or understeer is never far away. Thankfully, the MX-5's chassis responses are so rapid and so true that they seem to amplify my own sluggish, ham-fisted reflexes, and soon I'm applying small but regular dabs of opposite lock to the dinky steering wheel to keep the MX-5 on the straight and narrow. The stability control (very definitely left ON) is good enough that it doesn't really need me to do that, but it's also lenient enough to let me do enough to make me feel good about it.

Conditions become trickier by far the further north we go. Sweden and Finland are despatched in an easy amble, with no worries other than keeping our insulating hats on and making promises that no matter what happens, we keep the top down.

Deep into Norway, though, things change. The sky turns dark, not from night but from cloud, and although the temperature has inched up, the snow begins to inch down. The wind has picked up and loose, powdery snow is being blown into the air from the bleak rocky fjord walls that now surround us, adding to the gloom and the lack of visibility. We pick our way forward, those little oversteer incidents mounting up, hoping that the white bit in front of us really is just snow-covered road, and not a deep drift into which to slump.

Corner by corner, we go and finally find ourselves in the series of tunnels that leads to the Nordkapp, the North Cape itself. Once the scene of unimaginably brutal naval battles, it's now a popular summer tourist destination. Not right now, though. Now it's frigid and dark and remote and even though the shimmering green and purple curtains of Aurora Borealis are hanging in the sky, visible through gaps in the cloud, it's unbelievably bleak.

We have one final test - a snow plough leads us in brisk convoy up the loneliest road I've ever seen, chucking great geysers of loose-packed snow into the air around us as we follow it to the tip of the continent.

Suddenly, we're there. The MX-5's roof goes up for the first time since we left Lulea, 500-odd miles and 15 hours ago. We've done it, driven to the remotest part of Europe, through this continent's last great wilderness, in a tiny two-seat sports car. We've used around 60 litres of fuel, eaten two Mars bars, drunk a lot of coffee and battered our exposed faces with constant Arctic wind blasts.

Totally worth it. A drive that proves the fallacy of SUVs, and which proves once again why the MX-5 is the living legend that it is. Another three years before we do this again? Not half so long this time, I hope...



Neil Briscoe - 13 Mar 2019



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2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.

2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.2019 Mazda MX-5 to the Arctic Circle adventure. Image by Mazda.








 

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