Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Celebrating 30 years of the iconic Mazda MX-5 with a drive in the Arctic Circle

The Mazda MX-5 is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a host of updates and the new models go on sale in the UK this September. Photo-journalist Lisa Young was invited to test drive the latest version of the two-seater convertible in the harshest of conditions on an epic drive in the Arctic Circle

Driving through Sweden

A self-drive Arctic adventure, with all of the unexpected challenges associated with driving in freezing conditions within the Arctic Circle during the winter, was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

With the exception of the last 62 miles (below the Arctic Circle), the journey would take me and my companions 500 miles from Honningsvåg in Norway’s northern wilderness, through Finnish Lapland and onwards to Luleå in Swedish Lapland.

The drive is very twisty, quite technical, beautiful, and a huge amount of fun, but it does bite the unprepared and can take anywhere between nine and 14 hours, and longer if you encounter tricky weather.

Generally, a powerful 4×4 is the vehicle of choice for people who take on this adventure, but not on this occasion. We’d be driving a new, updated 2019 2.0-litre engine Mazda MX-5, rear wheel drive, with shiny BBS Alloy wheels, – and with the roof down for a good portion of the way.

It’s a fun car to drive any time, but take it out of its comfort zone, on compacted snow and ice roads, and it’s even more enjoyable. We were ready to take on the elements.

In early March, the Arctic Circle is draped in its white winter cloak, and the weather plays tricks on you every chance it has.

The Northern Lights at Nordkapp, Norway.

A 20-minute icy drive from Honningsvåg is Nordkapp – it’s closer to the North Pole than to Oslo. If the conditions are right, you might experience the cosmic phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights, in the polar night sky.

Hugging Honningsvåg’s coastline we passed rugged beaches, small fishing towns, and rustic houses with fish drying racks outside. The drive could take anything from eight to 12 hours depending on the weather and road conditions… and possibly longer.

With early morning cloud making way for a piercing blue sky and sun, we felt the best way to enjoy the conditions was to push the button, that made the roof go down – the Recaro heated seats helped keep us warm.

Our route would take us south close to Alta, continuing along the E45 towards Kautikeino, crossing into Finnish Lapland and the region of Enontekiö, and onto Luleā in Sweden. Amenities are limited, as you’d expect, but there’s enough fuel stations to keep the car going, with snacks, coffee, pies, hotdogs and burgers to keep the humans going, too.

The interior of the 2019 Mazda MX-5.

The car gripped to the ice even when we drove briskly, but you could occasionally feel it start to slide so we tried not to have too much enthusiasm coming out of corners in case we ended up in a snow bank.

It can be very, very cold here, down to -30 degrees and even colder in Finland, so you need to be prepared for the worst. Carrying survival blankets, shovel, and other break down gear is essential, and we were told that if we did break down we should always stay with the car and keep warm.

This 500 kilometre road trip is one that petrol heads and other thrill seekers have added to their bucket list and there are several ways to tackle it. You can cross the channel and drive all the way in your own car from the UK, or rent a vehicle in Sweden. It can be done in one hit from eight to 12-hours in either direction; north to south or south to north; in sections, or part of a ski tour perhaps by including ski resorts in Finish Lapland, such as Levi, Yalläs, Kusamo and Salla. You can avoid bad weather days and spend nights in local B&Bs or winter resorts, travelling at a relaxed pace with some winter activities.

On the road in Norway within the Arctic Circle. Photo David Smith

We drove the last three hours in the dark, sharing the road with huge, hurtling road trains (double trucks) through storms, and spraying snow everywhere which at times made it difficult to see anything! 

We rolled into Lulea, alongside the metre-thick, frozen brackish water of the Gulf of Bothnia, that usually divides Sweden and Finland. We checked into our hotel, the Elite Stadshotellet, where we celebrated our eventual, but safe arrival with trendy Scandi beers and reindeer steak.

Mental endurance, good driving skills and functioning shock absorbers are required. Driving on snow and ice takes complete concentration.

To read more about the new updated Mazda MX-5 CLICK HERE

A drive around the small harbour of Honningsvag, high in the north of Norway.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Getting there:

SAS Airlines to Oslo, Luleå or Honningsvag

www.flysas.com

Where to stay:

Honningsvag hotel:

Scandic Bryggen, NO-9750 Honningsvag

www.scandihotels.no

Lulea hotel:

Elite Stadshotellet, Storgatan 15, 972 32 Luleå

www.eloite.se

Follow my leader on the way to the Norwegian coast. Photo David Smith

Rush hour in Sweden. Photo David Smith

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