Road Trip: 2016 Nissan 370Z in Europe

Having just topped up the tank with 75 euros worth of premium for the last time, my travel companion turned to me and said, “I’m really going to miss this Z.”

“How the hell am I going to fit a giant suitcase I can barely lift into the limited cargo hold under the 370’s hatchback?”

So was I.

Past experience has shown me that after the successful completion of an epic road trip like this, the chosen chariot will secure itself a permanent – and very special – place in the driver’s heart and memory. The car has been there with us through all of it, challenges and rewards, and ultimately got us to where we needed to be.

When that machine is something special to begin with, like this 370Z – Nissan’s enduring two-seat sports car – the odds are even better that the road trip will be a memorable one. And when said road trip takes place over 3,000 km of French (and Spanish) countryside, nothing short of catastrophe would prevent “our” Z from endearing itself to us.

* * *

Nine days earlier, flight-weary from an airborne hop over the Atlantic, we are handed the keys to this gleaming metallic black cherry 370Z from Nissan’s French headquarters in a suburb of Paris. The first real challenge of our journey sits at our feet right next to the Z.

“How the hell am I going to fit a giant suitcase I can barely lift into the limited cargo hold under the 370’s hatchback?”

Anticipating the Nissan being able to haul little more than ass, my girlfriend and I elected to share a single suitcase, stuffing it till it bulged and could only be lifted with a mighty heave and considerable grunting. As penance for selecting an impractical car, I was permitted enough suitcase space to pack a bathing suit and little else. Now, seeing the wheeled, nylon behemoth parked beside the Z, I envision needing either a trailer hitch or having to unzip and empty the carefully packed contents of the case into the cubbies and crevices in the Z’s trunk; leaving our personal items on display for all the good people of France to witness.

As a first stroke of luck for our trip, the suitcase fits under the glass, albeit after removing the privacy cover and squashing the end of the case nearest the back of the car. Whew. No souvenirs for us, I guess.

Doing a local tour? ZCon 2016: The International Z Car Convention Heads North

Off we go, travelling only a short distance to nearby Versailles where we’re immediately struck by the reality of navigating a car in an ancient place where the roadways were created (and scaled) long before automobiles were imagined. The 370Z is in no way a large car, but the underground parking garage presents enough twists and turns (and strangely placed concrete pillars) that a few multi-point corrections are required to navigate safely.

What’s more, the Z has extremely limited rear three-quarter visibility and those voluptuous “hips” known as rear fenders cause me to sweat the 370’s gorgeous forged Rays wheels every time parallel parking is required.

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.

Compared to the contemporary small-displacement turbocharged engines that have all but eliminated turbo lag and offer hard-hitting, low-end torque, the 370Z’s engine feels a little old-school, needing more revs to get the most out of it. For many (myself included), this sort of smooth and linear delivery of power is thoroughly enjoyable, in this case marred only by the seven-speed automatic fitted to our car instead of the far more appropriate six-speed manual.

Despite large, metallic paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, shifts were woefully slow. With modern dual-clutch transmissions (and even many other makers’ automatics) offering instant snap-snap-snap gear shifts in today’s sporty cars, this dull unit sucks the life out of an otherwise engaging driver’s machine.

Putting the transmission whining behind us, there’s an even bigger downside to all the motoring mirth enjoyed on the drive to the pâtissiere: the sudden realization that the trip back to the wedding with boxes of highly prized – and delicate – cargo means driving the twists and turns at an escargot’s pace. I find myself muttering over and over through clenched teeth, “What a waste of great roads!” while the driver of a large Citroen delivery van being held up by my pace stares evil thoughts into the back of my head.

For what it’s worth, those pastries are well worth the suffering.

* * *

Sufficiently recovered from post-wedding hangovers, the beds made and the chateau’s gates locked behind us, we set out once more on the French motorways for the first of several days of cross-country travel. We climb the mammoth dunes at Arcachon before heading south to San Sebastián, Spain and dip our toes in the Bay of Biscay, followed by a meal of magnificent tapas.

The next day, back into France and blitzing across to Montpellier, we dip our toes again, this time in the Mediterranean. And a few days later, we’re on the road travelling east to Annecy, the tourist-heavy Alpine town also known as the Venice of the Alps. It’s an impossibly beautiful place that’s worth the trip (especially if you’re in Geneva, only 30 km away).

The 370Z has been around a few years now, but it’s no less exciting to behold than it was when the public first laid eyes on it. What’s more, in France, the Z is a veritable exotic, despite its reasonable price. During the entire trip, we did not see another 370Z. To put this into perspective, we counted seven Ferraris and a dozen or so Porsches during the same journey.

And people do notice this car, in a big way. Pedestrians and fellow motorists alike would unabashedly stare at the Nissan, as if they’d never seen one before. Just outside Montpellier, a truck driver with a trailer full of Nissans (including three brand new GT-R super cars) gestured excitedly his approval of our ride.

By the time we return to Paris, the 370Z’s trip odometer shows more than 3,100 km. While far too much of it was spent on freeways to cover the expanses between the places we wanted to see, the Nissan ran smoothly and happily the entire time. Rocketing away from toll booths ahead of the eco-minded wheeze-wagons around us proved to be a common pastime for us, just so we could feel the Z’s considerable thrust and hear its induction roar fill the cabin.

As much as we have grown to love the 370Z, there are certainly better choices of car for covering vast distances. The Z’s seats still cause backaches despite an adjustable driver’s lumbar support. Nissan’s excellent Zero Gravity technology found in the Rogue and Altima would do wonders here. The hindered rearward visibility grows tiresome when constantly second-guessing blind spot checks, and the navigation system frequently becomes confused, suggesting routes predicted to be hours longer than ones recommended by Google Maps.

And between the ridiculously frequent (and often pricey) highway tolls, and the 370Z’s average fuel consumption of 10.0 L/100 km, we spent over $800 in just over a week of driving, making a pretty strong case for the highly efficient public transit options in Europe.

Of course it’s the undeniable freedom and fun given to us by “our” Z that’s in no small part why this has been such a fun adventure. Coming and going as we please, we’re on our own schedule – and only ours, making the trip feel like a greater break from the pressures of daily life. There are a lot of great ways to travel around Europe, but “our” Nissan 370Z is sure to be remembered fondly as our preferred way of seeing the countryside and getting from city to city.

Long after the return flight, when our mornings are no longer enjoyed strolling cobblestone streets amidst centuries-old buildings, and when we no longer enjoy every dinner at an outdoor bistro with a bottle of wine, we’ll miss the French lifestyle.

And we’ll miss the Z too.

Base Price: $29,998 (our European-spec car does not align with Canadian-trim cars)

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance
Having just topped up the tank with 75 euros worth of premium for the last time, my travel companion turned to me and said, “I’m really...