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Iceland in an MX-5: My Dream Drive

A big trip in a small car; PH man Al reflects on a true dream drive in an MX-5

By Alisdairsuttie / Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Al Suttie



Car used:

Mazda MX-5 Icon

The route:
"Just follow Route 1. It's as simple as that if you want to drive the Ring of Iceland. While that might sound too simplistic, it's the truth, even if you do have to make the occasional left or right turn at a junction. During my time on this journey, I plugged in the destination on the other side of the country simply to see what the estimated mileage and time of arrival would be. This also had the enjoyable side effect of showing instructions such as 'take a turn in 397km'.

Views like this wherever you look!

Views like this wherever you look!

"So, from the centre of Reykjavik, I used Route 49 to escape the town in what passes for rush hour. Compared to most UK cities, it's like a Sunday morning stroll and this road leads directly on to Route 1, so from the middle of the capital to the main event is less than 15 minutes. After that it's not long before the road starts to climb and swoop its way around the coast to Grundarhverfi, having opted to take the route in a clockwise direction. From here, this ring road just gets more and more impressive before turning right after the bay crossing at Borgarbyggo.

"Through the mountain scape of the Northwest Region, I headed ever more eastwards, stopping for lunch at Akureyri, which is one of the few decent sized towns along the route. A quick top-up of fuel and it was on to Reykjahlio before the long and sweeping road down into Egilsstadir for the night's stopover.

"Next morning, it was back on the 1, but with a small deviation over the unmade 939 that was more like a rally stage. It saved a bit of time when I was back on the 1 as I had some sightseeing planned around Jokulsarlon and the glacier that looms to the right-hand side of the road in this area. After that, it was back on the 1 for the run back to Reykjavik through Hella and Selfoss. A quick turn left back on to the 49 and it was into the city centre for a well-earned beer and dinner."

This picture doesn't really need a car in it

This picture doesn't really need a car in it

Why it's a dream drive:

"It might be one road all the way around Iceland, but my goodness does the scenery change. There is never a moment when you think 'I've seen enough of this mountain, coast, glacier, forest, rock-strewn plateau' or any other type of countryside you can imagine. Just when you think it's about to carry on, you go round a bend and it changes. This has the happy coincidence of meaning the road's topography switches from open stretches to more technical twisty routes. There's everything you could ever wish for from a driver's perspective and the traffic is so sparse I counted 27 minutes before seeing another vehicle at one point, and it was parked. What cars, buses and trucks there are on the road tend to be polite locals who let you pass and happily chat when you're stopped for some sightseeing.

"The road is not always perfectly smooth, but it's generally well maintained and this suited the MX-5 to a tee. I was also fortunate with the weather, which was cool but dry, so the Mazda's furnace-like heater and warmed seats kept things toasty in the cabin with the roof down all the way."

Highlights and lowlights:
"Any section of Route 1 could be held up as a prime candidate for best of the trip, but two stick out clearly in my memory. The first was on day one as I headed up and down the coast road from Grundarhverfi to Arkanes. No other cars, clear lines of sight, sweeping corners and some tighter turns thrown in for good measure. The MX-5 Icon with its 131hp 1.5-litre engine may not be especially quick, but it was ideal for these roads as the engine loves to rev. There's also the precision of the six-speed gearbox to keep the motor working hard, plus rear-drive handing and accurate steering to make the most of it all.

"The other highlight was the road towards Jokulsarlon that is very open and fast and showed off the MX-5's excellent control at high speeds. This leads on to the abiding lowlight of the trip, which is the ever-present spectre of the local police and a blanket 90km/h speed limit."

MX-5 really well suited to Iceland actually

MX-5 really well suited to Iceland actually

Sights, stop-offs and diversions:

"Reykjavik is a great base to start and finish from, and it helps that it has the main airport close by to get in and out of Iceland. There's plenty to see and do from a tourist point of view, but the driving fun is outside of the city. When you get away from the capital, almost anywhere is good for a pull over and gawp at the scenery, so build in a bit of time for this. I visited a couple of geysers, that are clearly signposted, to see the super-heated water spurting out of the ground. It's worth seeing to get an idea of the power of nature, and there's also the Blue Lagoon where you can take a dip. However, this is hugely busy, so book well in advance if you want to enjoy its sulphurous temptations.

"Another must-see is the glacier at Jokulsarlon where you can watch chunks of ice the size of an office block slowly float past after they've broken away from the main pack of ice. There are boat trips to get you closer to the icy action, or further along the road there are lay-bys where you can park up and walk onto the glacier. No health and safety nonsense here, just a sign that essentially says 'don't be stupid'. You have to love Iceland for that alone."

View the route











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