New Mazda2 tested in the At­lantic

We test the up­dated Mazda2 in the mid­dle of the At­lantic (sort of),

The Scotsman - - Front Page -

Thank good­ness for satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, that’s all I can say. For­get about try­ing to find your way to an ad­dress in town. That’s not dif­fi­cult; you can al­ways stop and ask some­one for di­rec­tions. But try do­ing that at 37,000 feet!

Find­ing the Azores — at least be­fore the days of sat­nav be­ing stan­dard in planes — would have been the re­al­i­sa­tion of try­ing to find the prover­bial nee­dle in a haystack.

This tiny string of nine islands—which be­long to por­tu­gal—sits al­most bang in the mid­dle of the At­lantic, 1,000 miles west of Lis­bon and 1,196 miles south-east of New­found­land in Canada. So, to say it’s a re­mote lo­ca­tion to test a car is some­thing of an un­der­state­ment.

With its balmy cli­mate, warmed up by the Gulf Stream, they’re not called the Hawaii of Europe for noth­ing. There’s even a tea plan­ta­tion.

Un­daunted by the lo­gis­ti­cal hur­dles, Mazda UK, in its in­fi­nite wis­dom and never shy of a chal­lenge, elected to trans­port 12 mo­tor­ing hacks from th­ese shores to drive the lat­est in­car­na­tion of the Mazda2 round the vol­canic idyll that is Sao Miguel, the largest — but in re­al­ity, still pretty titchy — is­land in the Azores.

In truth our jour­ney to the is­land’s cap­i­tal, Ponta Del­gada, was a breeze com­pared to what the cars had to un­dergo. Ok, the day started with a 3am wake-up call — never bril­liant — fol­lowed by a 6am de­par­ture from Heathrow to Lis­bon.

Two-and-a-half hours later, I was fi­nally ready to face break­fast while we twid­dled away the next two hours wait­ing for the flight to the Azores.

Break­fast? How do you fancy a dou­ble es­presso and a Raisins Snail? Aye, some­thing got lost in trans­la­tion: for Raisins Snail, read Pain au Raisin … you know, one of those curly pas­try things with raisins.

An­other two hours later, we fi­nally landed in a rather blus­tery and wet Ponta Del­gada. Glad the pi­lot suc­cess­fully pro­grammed his sat­nav.

The cars mean­while, en­dured a rather longer jour­ney. First they trav­elled to Lis­bon on the back of trans­porters. Then they were loaded — rather pre­car­i­ously — on to the top deck of a ship for the three-day sail to the Azores.

Craned off, the Maz­da2s were then cleaned of their coat­ing of sea salt by Mazda’s bril­liantly ef­fi­cient and al­ways jovial Ed­in­burgh-based car lo­gis­tics crew ahead of be­ing handed over to the journos.

I have to ad­mit, a few of us were scratch­ing our heads when we got the call to head to the Azores.

“Why the Mazda2?” seemed to be the main ques­tion.

The an­swer very soon be­came ob­vi­ous. Mazda’s su­per­mini was the per­fect size to master the nar­row, ever twist­ing roads which me­an­der around and across the is­land. And round each cor­ner con­fir­ma­tion of the is­land’s re­mote­ness came with a view of the At­lantic dis­ap­pear­ing to the far off hori­zon.

Re­cently up­dated, and now in­clud­ing two new mod­els, a GT and GT Sport, the slimmed down eight-model range utilises three dif­fer­ent out­puts from the same 1.5-litre Sky­ac­tiv-g petrol engine. The range also now in­cludes G-vec­tor­ing Con­trol as stan­dard.

And while there are 75PS and 115PS ver­sions of the engine, I opted for the best­selling vari­ant in the range, the 90PS. I also snapped up the only new Tech Edi­tion of the Mazda2 in stun­ning Dy­namic Blue Mica.

Lim­ited to just 750 mod­els, the Tech Edi­tion — based on the £14,695 1.5 90PS SE-L Nav — ben­e­fits from the ad­di­tion of 16in al­loys, rear park­ing sen­sors, pri­vacy glass, cli­mate con­trol, auto lights and rain-sens­ing wipers. And all for a price pre­mium of just £300 over the SE-L Nav. Bar­gain, I’d say.

Thank­fully rested af­ter a great night’s sleep, fol­low­ing a 21-hour day, we woke to bright blue skies. My eight-hour, 375km epic drive fol­lowed a fig­ure-of-eight route round and across the is­land, first head­ing west, then back di­ag­o­nally north-west to south­east, up the east coast be­fore me­an­der­ing back cross-coun­try to Ponta Del­gada.

The Azores not only lie on the vol­cani­cally tem­pes­tu­ous Mid-at­lantic Ridge, but also have to deal with a fur­ther ge­o­log­i­cal com­pli­ca­tion be­ing that they also strad­dle the meet­ing point of three tec­tonic plates.

Mer­ci­fully for the in­hab­i­tants — there are around 150,000 on Sao Miguel, with a fur­ther 100,000 dot­ted around the other islands — this is the world’s slow­est spread­ing rift, open­ing at a leisurely 2-4mm each year.

No sur­prise then that the jaw-drop­ping view is that of the breath­tak­ing Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul lakes which are lo­cated in the cen­tre of a mas­sive vol­canic crater three miles across.

As if that wasn’t enough, bizarrely, the best view is not from the view­point, but from the rooftop of a ne­glected and aban­doned con­crete 5-star ho­tel. Built in the Eight­ies, with stag­ger­ing views from its rooms and bal­conies, it went bust al­most be­fore it got started.

It’s amaz­ing, in so many ways. There are still car­pets on the spi­ral stair­case which takes you up to the rooftop, but there are also com­pletely open lift-shafts, and not a guard rail in sight. Health and safety? What’s that?

Fur­ther on the route we came to Mosteiros, with its amaz­ing black rock beach. Then an ex­hil­a­rat­ing sec­tion of road with never-end­ing hair­pin bends took us to the panoram­i­cally-lo­cated Lagoa do Fogo perched high the moun­tains in the cen­tre of the is­land, and on to the vol­canic spa town of Fur­nas.

Tourism is still in its rel­a­tive in­fancy on the Azores — ap­par­ently Ryanair does one re­turn flight a week — but we lost count of the num­ber of work­men metic­u­lously man­i­cur­ing the hy­drangea-smoth­ered road­sides as we cir­cum­nav­i­gated the is­land.

And while the road sur­faces flit­ted between the A-road

Mazda’s su­per­mini was the per­fect size to master the nar­row, ever-twist­ing roads across the is­land.

stan­dard and hand-placed an­cient cob­bles, it seems many of the is­landers are:

a) not used to see­ing ‘for­eign­reg­is­tered’ cars, and;

b) per­haps haven’t sat, or passed a driv­ing test.

Ap­par­ently, our Uk-reg cars were the only non-por­tuguese reg­is­tered cars on the is­land, so as you would ex­pect, they at­tracted quite a bit of in­ter­est.

As for the driv­ing stan­dards? Cars, lor­ries and coaches com­ing round cor­ners to­wards you on the wrong side of the road was com­mon­place, as was turn­ing left sud­denly with­out any in­di­ca­tors.

We even came across — I kid you not — an un­teth­ered horse and kart at the side of the road. As I slowed, the gate on the op­po­site side of the road opened; the craggy-faced, leather-skinned farm worker whis­tled, and the horse turned and walked across to his master, pulling the cart be­hind him.

The Azores cer­tainly left an im­pres­sion. Sao Miguel — known as the Ilha Verde, ‘the Green Is­land’ — is prob­a­bly the green­est is­land you’ll ever en­counter in your life, and the sin­u­ous, nar­row roads which dis­sect the is­land are a joy to drive. In fact, they were the per­fect foil for Mazda’s lit­tle su­per­mini, and made that 3am start worth­while.

Pic­tures: Dave Smith

Main im­age: The Mazda2 next to the world’s slow­est spread­ing tec­tonic rift. Above, stuck be­hind some of the is­land’s slow­est mov­ing traf­fic. Left, Jim takes in the sights

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