Choosing a Nissan for a European road trip may seem a little strange, but considering French company Renault has a 43 per cent stake in Nissan, this is about as close to a French car as we can get for the North American market. Besides, like many other European sports cars, the Z has a long and storied history as both a successful race car and sporty road machine. Sounds like the right recipe for a road trip car to me.
The purpose of our trip to France is a family wedding, and thanks to some good luck and a generous friend, the family has “borrowed” a splendid 12th-century chateau deep in the heart of wine country, east of Bordeaux – a destination Google tells us is a 6-hour drive away.
Up early and on the road after a breakfast of crepes (naturally), we’re soon out of the city, cruising through the green French landscape, and it doesn’t take us long to appreciate the common sense French motorists apply to their driving. The left lane is reserved for passing and considerable discipline is exercised in signalling lane changes, and keeping a reasonable distance between cars.
The speed limit on most parts of this highway is 130 km/h, notably higher than the archaic 100 km/h limits suffered at home in Ontario. And because the speed enforcement cameras are announced on signs, some of the traffic travels at speeds that would have a roadside license suspension and car impoundment on Canadian soil.
With the majority of motorists wisely choosing compact and sub-compact hatchbacks modestly powered by frugal diesels, I try not to let the Z’s 332 horsepower get to my head, instead slotting the car in between a little Peugeot and a Dacia Duster being driven surprisingly fast. Even at north of 150 km/h, the Z remains a calm cruiser on the highway, helping us make our way to rendezvous with family ahead of schedule.
Once at the chateau, the Z’s work isn’t finished however, with a series of pre-wedding tasks assigned to yours truly (and my trusty “steed”), including runs to the train station to retrieve late-arriving guests and perhaps most importantly, the procurement of precious pastries for after the wedding dinner.
Up early on a Saturday morning, this last task requires an hour-long drive through the French countryside on a few spectacular rural routes that wind and jig through forests and pasture lands. At last the Z is in its element and its considerable handling prowess is exercised sufficiently, charging hard into and out of turns varying in radius and camber, the 3.7L V6 snarling away. The brakes shed speed quickly and effortlessly, time and again as corners sometimes come up a bit quicker than anticipated. The combination of fantastic roads, breathtaking scenery and a car that seems happier the harder we push will be one memory from this trip that won’t be soon forgotten.