► A hot lap of a cold island
► We tour Iceland by Mazda MX-5
► Photo diary of our road trip
Want inspiration for a winter’s blast? How about a driving tour of Iceland - 800 miles around the starkly volcanic island in a back-to-basics Mazda MX-5 Icon.
It’s affirmation that you can have fun on the road, even in this increasingly autonomous, computer-governed age.
Read on for a photo diary of our breathtaking drive.
1) Good things come in small packages
It’s no giant, the Mazda MX-5. But then, it doesn’t need to be, squeezing all you could possibly want from a two-seat sports car into four metres of elegantly-styled steel. Iceland, as it turns out, is exactly the same. It may only have the 107th largest land mass in the world, but where else could you find lava fields, ice caps and volcanoes all jostling for position on an island smaller than Cuba?
2) Spare a thought for the hitchhikers
Thankfully, the roads in Iceland aren’t as packed with traffic as the view out the window is with awe-inspiring scenery. Home to just 332,000 people – almost half of whom live in the capital Reykjavik – the Icelandic road network is as sparse as the standard kit list on a Mk1 MX-5. That means you can wind your way through endless miles of mountain roads without seeing another soul.
3) Speeding is for the rich
There may not be much traffic in Iceland, but that doesn’t mean the roads are free of pesky speed cameras – and traffic cops. Patrol cars are a rare sight yet when they do come into view it almost certainly means trouble for those who creep over the blanket 55mph speed limit. Get clocked by one of the Ríkislögreglan traffic officers, and, as a foreigner, you’ll feel your wallet lighten to the tune of €600 or more, depending on how fast you’ve been going… Ahem.
4) Warning: views out the window can be distracting
Those who drive fast don’t just run the risk of getting nabbed by the cops. They’ll also miss jaw-dropping sights like this – the cascading Godafoss waterfall near Husavik. A good thing then that the MX-5 Icon majors on driver enjoyment at low speeds. Its 130bhp naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre four-pot is far from the last word in outright pace, yet it still provides enough urgency to put a giddy grin on your face as you cruise past the sites at Krona-conserving speeds.
5) House of harps
While we’re on the subject of sites worth seeing, the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik is one of the only buildings in Iceland that looks as bang up-to-date as our MX-5 Icon. Completed in 2011, the structure’s defined lines and angular windows are designed to reflect the old harbour and the sky above. One suspects the designers didn’t bank on it reflecting a Mazda MX-5 Icon however.
6) Making the most of a rare fuel stop…
One of the unexpected surprises of our MX-5 Icon was the infrequency in which we had to stop for fuel. We knew the 1.5-litre engine was frugal, having previously run one as a long-termer, but we certainly weren’t expecting this fresh out-of-the-box, rev-happy sports car to return an average of 49mpg over 800 pacy miles.
7) Donuts for wheels
Coaxing almost 50mpg out of your standard Icelandic off-roader might, we suspect, require rather a lot more effort. Out here, 44-inch studded tyres and elevated air intakes are commonplace on Iceland-spec 4x4s. The harsh winters, snow drifts and 90mph winds would render even the hardiest of Chelsea tractors utterly useless. Surprisingly though, off-roading is illegal in Iceland and – like speeding – attracts wallet-busting fines. Even the F-roads (unpaved mountain tracks) require a special permit to drive on.
8) If the M1 had its own gravel section
Off-roading may be illegal, but that matters little when sections of the arterial road ‘1’ holds its own loose-surface surprise or two. Around 50km south of Egilsstadir on the eastern side of the country, Iceland’s perfectly surfaced ring road simply disappears. In its place is a winding section of gravel-topped mountain road complete with flowing, wide-open switchbacks (and handily placed guard rails). Perfect then for the permanently-playful MX-5 to hang its tail out – our car frequently dancing its nose around the apices as the rear end arcs through the hairpin.
9) Not a Big Red Bus in sight
Since even the main roads in Iceland can turn into floaty gravel traps at the drop of a hat, their tour buses can be a little unorthodox. No Big Red open-top double-deckers here, rather, a knobbly-tired big-rig capable of crossing the most challenging terrain in relative comfort for its 16+ passengers. Dakar rally chase bus, anyone?
10) MX-5 invasion
Speaking of tour buses, our MX-5 Icon garnered a considerable amount of attention from, well, just about everyone. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the above photograph represents the exact number of MX-5’s sold in Iceland. That’s right. Two. There’s only one dealer on the island and enquiries for MX-5s (and convertibles in general) are as rare as hen’s teeth. We can’t think why…
11) Stench of the geysers
Perhaps the lack of convertibles in Iceland is to do with the overwhelming smell emanating from the sulphurous hot springs dotted around the country. Cruising past the Namafjall geothermal field was an assault on the nostrils and led to probably the fastest piece of driving on the entire trip as we scrambled to get upwind the offending geysers.
12) Icon meets Iceberg
As we past the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the final leg of our trip, our MX-5 Icon posed for its final photo. Sitting in the driving rain on a rocky, potholed piece of earth the intrepid Mazda had done its job. Of the five cars taken to Iceland not one had suffered from any form of technical fault, breakdown or puncture over 16,000 miles of hard labour. Impressive. But can it survive a typical British summer?
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