Now, though, we have the chance to delve deeper. The opportunity is a two-day, 828-mile drive around the Ring of Iceland, two up but without interruption or support (beyond a packed lunch), with only our thoughts for company on the glaciercarved and volcano-contoured roads for 12 hours a day. “If you need help, it’ll be several hours away if you’re lucky, so try not to need help,” smiled the man from Mazda as he handed over the keys. If we thought we knew the MX-5 before this trip, there’s no question that we will know it better at the end. As definitive as an Autocar road test is, unsurpassed in its assessment and rigour, there’s still nothing like a long, lonely drive for really getting to know a car.
The excuse, lest you feel we need one, is the MX-5 Icon special edition. It would be easy to dismiss it with the wave of a hand – to all intents and purposes it is ‘special’ in the lightest sense: a well-kitted, well-priced 1.5 SE-L Nav bedecked in striking paintwork on its door mirrors, rear spoiler and front skirt and with some stickers down the side. But it is also the latest in the line of Icon-badged MX-5s, lending the launch a hint of history and giving Mazda’s marketeers another opportunity to keep sales rolling along. This time, just 600 Icons will be sold in the UK, complete with numbered plaque in the cabin. If you’re a collector or fan and counting, that’s fewer Icons than ever before; 750 were launched in 2000, 1563 in 2005 and 1250 in 2007. While MX-5s have never been especially tenacious at holding onto their value, there’s a kudos – and kit list, including parking aids, leather seats and automatic headlights and wipers – that some will covet.
Not that it really matters as we turn the key in Reykjavik for the start of our road trip, which is punctuated by a night’s sleep in Egilsstaðir, on the east coast of the island. The familiar qualities of the latest MX-5 stand out once again: a seating position and seat that flatter drivers of every shape and size, perfect pedal spacing (good old-fashioned heel-and-toeing is alive and well here) and controls that have been placed with thought and which are well weighted. Spend too long in the MX-5 and you will take these things for granted, but that would be a huge mistake, because so many car manufacturers get them wrong. They don’t just make the MX-5 better to drive; they also make it more habitable. Let me remind you that I’m writing this after spending about 22 of the past 36 hours in the car. I may not be the freshest of daisies, but I owe what reserves I have to the hours of toil engineers put into perfecting that seating position and cabin.
Out on the road, it’s impossible not to marvel at the sights and sounds of Icelandic life, which can be as seductive as the car itself. Our route takes us along the western edge of the island, before looping back up north and around in a clockwise direction. Stare again at the map and give your vocal chords a chance to stretch out by attempting to pronounce Skagafjörður, or perhaps Fjarðabyggð. Take a moment to pity the world’s newsreaders who were faced with having to explain the ash cloud crisis in 2010, sparked as it was by a volcano named Eyjafjallajökull. These unpronounceable place names do a neat job of encapsulating the quirky and brutal yet enchanting look and feel of a country of terrifying natural beauty, from its snow-lined volcanoes to steaming geysers, deep blue lakes and multicoloured natural night-time cinema courtesy of the aurora borealis.