Prince Edward County to the Laurentians in the Mercedes C300 4Matic Coupe
Road-tripping through the Eastern Canadian heartland in the latest edition of Mercedes’ popular Coupe
There are a few things you need for a road trip. A camera, for example. Snacks. Water. Lots of water. Music. A good road trip companion.
And, ideally, a cool car.
Well I had the chance to embark on a trip in what would ultimately turn out to be a real cool car, and one of the more surprising drives I’ve had this year.
It’s a funny thing about Mercedes-Benz these days. When the B-Class finally made it to our shores a decade or so ago, it was a big day: finally, you could afford a car with a Three-Pointed Star on its snout without having to break the bank. Forget execs or even junior execs; the B was priced so that a recently-graduated first-time car buyer could afford it, too.
Fast forward ten years, and the B-Class is no longer your only choice for a less-expensive Benz; now, you have the GLA-Class, the CLA-Class and this, the C-Class.
That last one’s a bit of an outlier, though; it’s been around for years, but you have to think that as soon as the B appeared, the C no longer had that “affordable” category all to itself, as the B was actually less expensive.
So where do all these new models leave the good ol’ C?
I’ll tell you where: standing beside Lake Ontario, just outside of Wellington, ON and looking as gorgeous as so much of the scenery around Ontario’s Prince Edward County, where our trip was starting.
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This, of course, is not just any C-Class; this is the all-new (and, in our case, very blue) C-Class Coupe. There’s been a two-door C before, but it has nothing on this in the styling department. The 2016 model’s new chainmail grille, LED running lights, 14-spoke 19-inch alloys and most importantly, the car’s profile have it looking closer to the massive continent-conquering S-Class Coupe than it does an entry-level Benz. This model is the C300 so it is, in fact, the entry-level model in Canada but looks nothing like it.
Inside, it’s more of the same; gorgeous, supple ventilated leather seating, aluminum accents (that match the finish on the fantastic Burmeister speakers), black dash upper with contrasting white stitching and a great, chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel, which has become a Benz staple as of late.
Another Benz staple is the Comand infotainment interface (yes, that’s “Comand” with a capital “C” and one “m”), which actually provides two separate ways of navigating its menus: a mouse-like touch pad joins a scroll wheel, which has been serving duty in Mercedes products for quite some time, now. The two controllers are on-hand to navigate a single screen, which is one aspect of the C300’s interior I’m not so enamoured with. It just appears so tacked on. Which it probably is, because while Europeans are used to more low-tech interiors, North American buyers will have none of it. So, Mercedes had to find a way to add one without redesigning the entire centre stack. The answer, then, is a screen that looks as tacked-on as it probably is.
There are a pair of back seats and they are a bit snugger than what you’d find in the sedan, but for a trip like ours, we weren’t too bothered. More important, in fact, was the trunk and while the opening’s not huge, once we finagled are large suitcase through, there was plenty of room inside.
Our trip was going to take us from Wellington, through Prince Edward wine (and, as we’d find out, beer, too) country, through the Quebec Laurentians and on to Montreal, QC. The vast openness of Prince Edward would test the C300’s highway mettle, the roads around Arundel in Quebec’s picturesque Laurentian region would test its handling and, as anyone who’s been there knows too well, Montreal’s oft-knackered streets would test its ride, perhaps to the nth degree.
Since we were staring in Toronto, the first leg of the journey would have us on the arrow-straight highways leading out of the city. There, the C300 cruised with remarkable solidity and silence, really only vocalizing its intentions (or indeed, those of the driver) when it came time to throttle in and pass.
Power comes on smoothly; it’s rated at 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, transmitted through a 7-speed automatic gearbox. That’s one of three different transmissions on offer for the C-Class range, but it’s the only option for the C300. It comes paired with a set of wheel-mounted paddles, so there’s a little value add on the driver involvement side. There’s a great driving position and plenty of room in the front seats, too; the rears are best left to golf bags, kids and baby seats. We tried installing one and to our surprise, it was fairly easy, with easy-to-reach ISO-Fix latches and lots of room to manoeuvre the seat it once you slide the front seats all the way forward.
You’d have to think, though, that the main purpose of this car – for most buyers – will not be ferrying the kids around. It will more likely be on taking trips like this to the roads-less-travelled parts of our fair country.
Roads like the Loyalist Parkway, for example. Otherwise known as Ontario Highway 33 (that’s half of 66; just sayin’), it connects Bloomfield, ON – where we were – with Kingston, and it’s a properly scenic route through golden fields and one-stoplight towns such as Wellington and Picton.
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What’s great about a trip like this are the surprises that come with moving into more uncharted territory; how else would you come across a used trinkets store called “Dead People’s Stuff” in Bloomfield? (it was closed when we passed through, which seemed kind of appropriate) Or what about the sterling beachfront just off the main drag in Wellington, not to mention that town’s fantastic Drake Devonshire Inn, with its brunch menu consisting of chicken and waffles and smoked brisket hash?
Continuing in the opposite east direction of 33 gets you to Barley Days Brewery, whose craft ales include the Scrimshaw Oyster Stout (GREAT name), made with oysters from New London Bay, PEI. That particular one is not my style – I’m more of a Pilsner man – but other aptly-named brews like Harvest Gold Pale Ale and Loyalist Lager (again; bullseye on the name) were right up my alley. If learning about the creation of a beer is more your alley, then they offer tours, too.
While craft brewing is all the rage these days, let’s not forget that the winemakers have been doing it for a long time, too, and their products should not be forgotten.
Prince Edward County sure hasn’t forgotten, and they’re keen to show that while the Niagara region is kind of the gem of Ontario’s wine production, PEC has something to offer, too.
Since the region doesn’t have quite the fertility of the Niagara Bench, it’s known more for its lighter wines; pretty much every winery we visited was highlighting its Pinot Noir and chardonnay varietals, which works for the hot and heavy temperatures we were dealing with.
There are plenty to choose from, but be sure to visit the big purple barn at Closson Chase Vineyards and if you need to fill your belly, stop by Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard for a spot of their brick-oven pizza. Be sure to try and secure a spot on the gorgeous patio overlooking their acres of wine.
While we assumed that we’d have to wait until the Laurentian region to really test the C300’s handling characteristics, tere were a few bendy roads with broken tarmac in the area that would give us a taste of what was to come.
The C300’s streamlined shape and planted stance don’t lie; this here’s an able handler through corners thanks to a fairly firm damper set-up. That did translate to a bit of a bumpy ride on the more broken sections of the tarmac, but I still wouldn’t go so far as to call it teeth-rattling, necessarily.
With Prince Edward in our rear view mirror it was time to hit the big 405 highway and make our way to Quebec, giving us time to sample the coddling aspects of the car.
For starters, I will say that the audio is fantastic. Crisp, clear and complimented by some of the nicest-looking speakers on the market, it does a good job of reinforcing the luxury aspect of the car. It costs an additional $1,000 to get it, but I’d say that’s money well spent as even with an almost fully-loaded option set, our tester barely cracked the $60,000 barrier. Also helping here was our car’s optional Airmatic suspension system, which makes use of valves on each individual wheel that can self-adjust depending on the driving conditions. They can’t be set manually by the driver, however, which is too bad.
I guess you could also say it’s too bad that we didn’t have the Intelligent Drive package, meaning we were missing such help-me tech as automatic lane keep assist and collision mitigation. Not such a big deal in town, but a bit more so on the highway.
Until the highway gets bendy, of course, which it soon would as we crossed into Quebec and that province’s mountainous Laurentian region. On roads like that, those types of systems tend to be a little more invasive than helpful as they sometimes have trouble following the curving lines that they need to in order to be functional.
Which is not something you want to have to think about as you man the woodwind on a car like this. That sample we got in Ontario proved to be more than just a tease; as we began to tackle ever-more winding roads here, the sharpness of the C300 really came into focus. Direct electronically-assisted steering leads to a nicely responsive chassis, and while the brakes are a little down on feel, my, are they effective.
Having said that, these great roads also exposed what I found to be the C300’s main weakness: its engine. Or, more specifically, its engine’s power output. It wasn’t so bad on the highway through Ontario, but in addition to some wonderful bends, the Laurentians also feature some fairly steep climbs, and you could tell the C300 was working hard on these. Same goes for quick two-lane passing moves, which required a little more transmission manipulation to accomplish comfortably. A C43 AMG model is on the way; that should resolve these issues.
Other than these great roads, however, the area does have many destinations that will appeal to weary travellers. Sure; there are a handful of lakes and a ski resort not too far away from Arundel, but once again, we were here to find the not-so-obvious stuff.
The Runaway Creek Farm is definitely one of those places. Nestled on a ridge and accessed only by a light gravel road, it’s an artisanal placed owned by a couple that also operates a small resort in the Caribbean. So it’s got a great mix of the Canadian countryside (chicken coop, plenty of fresh fruit and veggies) but with a tropical twist; a few times every summer, for example, the farm hosts a jerk chicken cookout and the hot peppers they sell at the little on-site tuck shop are potent little numbers that will catch you off guard. It was a great way to spend our last day in the region.
As we rolled into Montreal, it became clearer and clearer that there are very few issues that needed resolving when it comes to the C300. Even the bone-jarring, knackered and always under construction roads (although I don’t find them as stereotypically awful as they’re often depicted) around Montreal weren’t too much for the C300; those dampers are a godsend, here, and the quiet environs the cherry on top. Plus, the car’s shape manages to shine even in Montreal, among its old-world building designs like St. Joseph’s Oratory and newer stuff like the Musée d’Art de Montréal alike.
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Both classic and contemporary, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe has done the Three-Pointed Star proud.