Driving a Miata to the Edge of the Frozen World

Taking Mazda's little yet unbeatable roadster with the top down and its heater up through three countries to Nordkapp, the northernmost point of Europe. A perfect snowy March in Scandinavia.

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Máté Petrány

In case in the middle of summer, you find yourself at a bar in Ivalo, the second largest village in the heart of Finnish Lapland, chances are that the only foreigners struggling to find the point of lonkero as hard as you do will be a group of Germans, who will be riding their big bikes to Nordkapp the next day in search of true freedom.

On the other hand, the vast majority of tourists will use massive cruise ships to get to Europe's northern edge in Norway, maintaining a slightly intoxicated state most of the way, not unlike the sailors who once pioneered the route. But while the first tourists may have arrived to the fishing villages surrounding Nordkapp in the warmer months of 1664, probably to enjoy the views under the 'midnight sun', no promise of fine capelin dishes could lure more than a few people to this part of the world during the winter months.

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Getty Images

What's labeled as the 'North Cape' surrounded by the 'Arctic Icy Sea' on Henry Schenck Tanner's fairly accurate map of Sweden and Norway dating from 1844 is an absolute dark zone at night today, as shown by data gathered by the Landsat 7 satellite. Waters rich in fish, clean air, but only a few thousand residents in the whole municipality. None of whom expects you to show up there in a Mazda Miata on a crisp March day. But that's where we came in to surprise them all. But first, let's head south.


Luleå is the capital of Sweden's northernmost county. Carmakers like the area because the temperature easily drops below -20ºF, which is great for cold-weather testing, and will also freeze the northernmost arm of the almost saltless Baltic Sea just by the city. The locals then turn that stretch into miles and miles of well-maintained ice tracks, for all to enjoy. The place also popped up on Mazda's radar, who then had the grand idea of launching another one of their 'Epic Drive' events from there. The instructions were very straightforward:

"Drive your Miata as quickly as you dare 550 miles up north to Nordkapp, because it will take roughly eleven hours, and the truck that can cut your way through the snow for the last few miles to the edge of the continent has a tight schedule in the evening."

Roger that.

Simply put, I had to do this. I needed to crash this party, despite it being organized for the British. Through the helpful people at Mazda North America, I introduced myself to the good folks at Mazda UK, who had some questions. I had to convince them that I fully understand what "low assistance" means, adding that demanding long-distance driving is totally my jam, and I also have no problem sourcing my own coffee at whatever gas station I find open.

Once in Luleå, it was a good idea to get some practice on the ice tracks a day before the journey, because while Nokian's studded winter tires are amazing, the piles of snow shuffled around by the wind will easily bottom out a small car like a Miata. And once you hit a larger one, your car becomes a spinning curling stone on the other side, with the studs carving your chaotic signature into the frozen sea. At that point, all you can hope for is to avoid the banks, but the odds are against you, because you've been on it, and so the spin won't come to a halt after a casual 360.

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Máté Petrány

Off the ice, but still driving on compressed snow with icy spots within the city's limits, the Miata was very reassuring. Even with the traction control off, this car just keeps biting with those studs. And when the rear finally steps out, thanks to the limited-slip and the faster steering, you can still balance it with the throttle however you wish. This finesse is what Mazda's roadster is all about, and now that the 2.0-liter engine revs like the 1.5 that's not even available in America, life is just better.

The next morning, I had a feeling that the PR team wouldn't mind if I had a driving buddy for this long drive in the name of health and safety. Then again, they had enough cars for me to go solo, and I made sure to leave before they could change their mind. Setting off from Luleå with the roof down wasn't part of the plan, but an experiment worth a shot. After all, I had a jacket, a hat, gloves, the whole alpine kit. Heated seats on medium, the heater on max, fuel consumption be damned.

The Swedish leg of the journey turned out to be the coldest by far, and I spent most of it getting used to the sensation, plus preparing my head for roads ahead. Those were no doubt about to get rougher the further north we went. As mentioned before, in the winter, Nordkapp can only be accessed if you follow a massive plow, and ours was to fire up its engine at 18:30 sharp, with or without a bunch of Miatas behind it.

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Assistance.
Máté Petrány

By the time I crossed a small bridge over to Finland to get the thumbs up from a guy driving a massive pickup as a fitting welcome, the Miata and I had already crossed the Arctic Circle. It only took 62 miles from Luleå, and the sky seemed to be waiting for the best slide films Fuji or Kodak is still willing to produce. If only I had a roll.

Without a driving buddy, one is advised to prepare some entertainment for an eleven-hour drive through the frozen land. I don't have many hard rules about being in Finland, but I do need to start listening to Lordi whenever I'm driving over there. In 2006, Lordi unlocked the impossible level by winning the audiovisual crime that is the Eurovision Song Contest, despite being a hard rock band. Also, their track 'Chainsaw Buffet' features Jay Jay French.

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Finland, home of Lordi.
Máté Petrány

As the heavy metal party continued towards Norway, I noticed that despite all the snow and ice around, the temperature just kept rising. By this far into the journey, I didn't miss the roof at all, instead enjoying the bright afternoon sun so characteristic of the north. Life then was surprisingly good in the Miata, thanks partly to the Gulf Stream, which runs up Norway's coastline, gradually warming up the air the further northwest you go. Up there, the open sea never freezes, and that's why, despite being at a higher latitude than Iceland, Norway's northern coast is full of wildlife, including wolves, bears, wolverines, arctic foxes, moose, and a whole variety of birds, not to mention whales, dolphins and king crabs.

But it also mattered that the Miata just wouldn't miss a beat, come ice, snow, polar winds, blizzards, or whatever else nature could throw at it. I can guess what those few Finns on the road thought of seeing an open-top Mazda passing them, heading north. However, then came Norway, the country which would prove a lot more challenging and exciting than the fairly straight route between Sweden and Finland.

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That’s it. Welcome to Norway!
Máté Petrány

Norway shakes things up with some serious elevation changes, tunnels through the mountains, as well as tall forests and a few scenic harbor towns. But the further you go, the less traveled the roads get, which means the only other vehicles in sight will likely to be log trucks, other large delivery vehicles, and snow plows built on semis. Behind one of those on a tight road, visibility drops instantly as you get engulfed in a cloud of blowing snow, while overtaking becomes a game of patience.

Then, you get hit by a polar snowstorm. One of many yet to come, because Gulf Stream or not, you're soon about to be closer to the North Pole than to Oslo, the capital of Norway.

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Máté Petrány

This is when you really need to start focusing instead of listening to Norway's finest heavy metal. The sun is long gone behind the clouds, and the storm quickly gets so heavy that you won't even see the taillights in front of you. The Nokians keep gripping, and the Miata still seems to be enjoying itself as much as a car can, but the traction control will kick in from time to time to remind you that there's ice under the snow.

Still, it would probably be harder in Siberia. Most human activities seem to be harder on that side of the Arctic.

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Máté Petrány

Roughly ten hours into the whole adventure, the northern edge of continental Europe is starting to feel close. You had a coffee and a gas station hot dog in a town some time ago, so the necessary carbs and placebo caffeine dose is in. Now, it's time for a final push, and Norway still has a surprise in store for you before Honningsvåg, the 2500-strong town acting as the center of the Nordkapp region.

Having driven 63 miles on the E6 route all the way to Olderfjord, now, it's time for Norway's E69, a narrow coastal road full of tight curves and tunnels, surrounded by the mountains on each side of the bay. Europe's northernmost public road must be full of buses loaded with tourists in the summer, but in March, it's almost completely empty, so you can trust your little Mazda, give its improved engine some well-deserved revs, and enjoy the peaceful view as you approach Honningsvåg.

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Petrány Máté

Nordkapp, otherwise known as North Cape, is 20.5 miles from Honningsvåg. When covered by snow, it looks pretty much like an alien planet, yet it can still be accessed by car behind the scheduled snow plow. The cape includes a 1007 foot cliff with a plateau on top, with a vistor center since 1988. In front of it is where the Norwegian Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean, meets the Arctic Ocean, in the form of the Barents Sea. From May 14 to July 31, you can enjoy your cappuccino under the midnight sun here, while if you're crazy enough to arrive in March or even earlier, there's a good chance you will catch the northern lights. Just make sure to drive up a peak, where Honningsvåg's minimal light pollution is not a factor.

What a place, and what a drive! A 550-mile journey that taught me the 2019 Mazda Miata has a good heater, and that it's still the roadster that can do it all. Yes. I'm afraid that once again, the answer is Miata to the automotive question you haven't even thought of yet.

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