Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Road tripping in the 2017 Nissan Versa Note

When most people think of a great road trip vehicle, they have visions of a fancy grand touring car, or maybe a luxurious sedan. We aren’t like most people. For us, the perfect road trip vehicle is a car that is light, nimble and fun to drive, has lots of space for our stuff and whatever junk we might accumulate along the way and gets great fuel economy. If it can catch the interest of some onlookers along the way, that is even better.

With our event season about to go crazy, Mrs. G and I decided that a bit of a road trip was in order, so we poked about on Google maps to find an Ontario destination that we had not previously explored. We settled on the town of Perth, about an hour west of the nation’s capital. We had driven through the town before, in the Summertime, and took notice of the historic limestone buildings and bustling pubs and patios so we thought it was worth a look.

Our steed for the trip would be the second smallest roller skate in Nissan Canada’s fleet, a Monarch Orange 2017 Versa Note SV. Long time readers may recall that back in the day, we used to rally a tiny, front wheel drive Suzuki, and we are still passionate about sporty little econo-boxes. From a specs standpoint, it wasn’t too different from our old rally car, albeit a lot more comfortable and about 30 decibels quieter. The extra pair of doors makes the Versa a bit more practical too.

The Versa Note boasts 1.6L DOHC 4 banger which sends a massive 106 horsepower to the front wheels, through a 5 speed manual transmission, just like our old rally car too. Yes, I know it isn’t really massive, but it is just enough for a real enthusiast to be able to have a bit of fun on a challenging road.

We loaded our stuff into the cargo area, with no need to fold down the split rear seats, leaving the back seats open for any hitchhikers we might have picked up along the way. If this was 1976. A quick dive into the local McDonald’s drive through for breakfast and we were on our way. Unlike most people these days, I don’t look for the quickest way from A to B on a road trip. Most people leaving the outskirts of Toronto on Highway 401, but the reality is that the major highway route only saves about 10 minutes off this trip. Instead, we headed north on Highway 115 to Peterborough and then turned to travel east on highway 7. The speed limit on 7 is 80 km/h, but the average flow of traffic is about 105 km/h and the scenery is infinitely more interesting to look at.

Our first stop was in the tiny town of Norwood, where I dropped in for a bit of a sales visit at the well known Ralph’s Butcher Shop. Just opening up for the season, the owner, a delightful gent named James(?), told me that they make a whopping 81 different varieties of sausage. Needless to say, Ralph’s is a popular spot for cottagers on their way up from the city.

About 10 km up the road, we made a quick stop in Havelock to take some kissy face selfies by an old caboose, before heading towards the cool mid-sized town of Madoc. We were on the hunt for a pub, but we found butter tarts instead. On the town’s main drag, we came across a shop called Hidden Goldmine Bakery which is a nifty combination of bakery, antique shop and home decorating place. We picked up a six pack of tarts (with raisins of course) and were headed out the door, when Mrs. G spotted it. A vintage bacon press! If the words bacon press on the top weren’t already cool enough, when I turned it over, there is the image of a chubby pig on the bottom. Not only did I have to buy it, but that pig is going to be my next tattoo!

Leaving town, we chose a sort of backwards looking route back to Highway 7, which led us down a rough cottage road towards a closed Summer resort, where we were surrounded by a working sugar bush. While most trees were joined, modern style, by plastic tubing to collect the liquid gold used to make maple syrup, here and there were clumps of trees with old school collection buckets.

Back on to the main highway, we got into a less interesting rhythm and we were itching for a bit more fun. There aren’t many side roads that run east/west in this part of the province, because there are so many lakes and rivers, so we were excited to find Fall River Road. With a coarse gravel surface, this path has so many tight turns that the map doesn’t do it justice.

Fall River Road is pretty rough in sections, which means that speed must be kept lower than one might hope for, which is probably a good thing in a street car, as this road throws out a few gotchas! The first thing I did of course was flick off the Versa’s stability control, remembering that the ABS is still fully functional. That means that I would be able to get the car sideways to set-up for fun corners but that if I did anything silly like enter a turn too fast, the little car would understeer into the woods. That was not going to happen under my watch!

After about 10 minutes of super technical fun, we turned left on Armstrong Road and the road surface transitioned to the most beautifully smooth hard pack gravel. The turns were a bit more open, allowing for a bit more speed. The Versa Note is quite simply a champ at dealing with fun mixed surface roads like this at a somewhat enthusiastic pace.

This is the area in which the annual Lanark Highlands Rally takes place and most of the time, these roads are devoid of any traffic. Eventually, Armstrong Road straightens up and the occasional farm makes way to rural family homes and our drive takes on a more leisurely tourist pace.

Arriving in the town of Perth, we make a stop at the Perth Brewing Company to stock up our room before setting out on foot to explore the town.

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