Going Rural: An unconventional adventure with the Mercedes-Benz GLC300

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Though effectively three personal and four professional lifetimes ago, my origins still trace their way back to rural Quebec — well out into the sticks roughly two hours east of Montreal. Having recently relocated to Toronto, and not having devoted any time in recent years to visiting my family, a proper visit was long overdue. Obviously a proper and comfortable ride was required, but given the terrain in the surrounding area (fairly rough and unkempt gravel roads being the only way in and out of the farm), I faced a bigger question from an editorial perspective.

There are a plethora of capable all-wheel drive crossovers and compact SUVs on the market these days that frankly never depart a paved surface. Brands like Land Rover and Jeep blatantly advertise their capabilities on loose terrain, but what about the rest? More frequently manufacturers talk a big game about handling slippery highway surfaces, which effectively leaves owners questioning what sort of surfaces their urban commuter can really handle. Given this unique opportunity, I opted to loan one of the most stereotypically urban midsize SUVs in Canada—the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300.

img 6248 Going Rural: An unconventional adventure with the Mercedes Benz GLC300

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

“Stereotypically urban” is by no means a slight on Benz, but a simple reality of the entire luxe SUV category. Whether we’re talking the GLC, the BMW X3/X4/X5, or offerings from Audi, Porsche, or anyone else in the game, they just aren’t looked at – or driven – the same way one would similar vehicles from the aforementioned off-road savvy sect. Being handed the keys to the GLC 300 sporting all-season Pirelli Scorpion tires, the idea was not so foolish as to see if I could climb the backside of a mountain. I would head east, and see what sort of terrain I could cautiously roll into, with the intent of giving GLC owners and prospective owners a bit of additional reassurance that should they face the occasional logging road or other unpaved surface, that their urban grocery getter should be up to the task (at least in theory).

Before getting into anything there was still the matter of the roughly 7-hour drive from Toronto to my final destination (longer considering the need for pit stops for my furry copilot who was tagging along for the ride). Nudging my way along the 401 through Belleville, Kingston, and beyond, unfortunately the weather was not on my side. An incessant drizzle, made worse by the thick mist trailing off my fellow motorists, quickly negated any motivation to do anything other than remain on the road at as fair a pace as law permits. Having departed later than planned, the ongoing downpour was quickly hindering any motivation to take in any sort of sights and sounds, shy of the occasional rest-stop facilities.

Weary of the unrelenting downpour, and with exhaustion setting in as the wee hours of the morning approached, I opted to pit stop for some much needed rest, hoping the following morning’s weather would prove more cooperative. As luck would have it, the balance of the journey would at least remain dry. Before long I was passing through Drummondville, the ever-growing industrial town of roughly 75,000 residents. Memories of driving into the town quickly flooded back from childhood, as did the memory of my first accident at the wheel which took place on Boulevard Saint-Joseph. Driving past the site, I remembered the crumpled front-end of the family’s ‘92 Accord, the trail of oil behind it, and most notably the large aluminum twin-arc lamp post that the Accord had managed to sever from its bolted base, leaving it strewn across the boulevard after bouncing off the car’s shockingly sturdy roof. I’ve remained shocked and disappointed that to this day, at 493,000kms the Accord’s demise came at the hand of my falling asleep behind the wheel (young, stupid, and 17) rather than mechanical implosion.

Getting closer to the family farm, the telltale signs of late spring in rural Quebec were surfacing at every turn. Though the production season had just come to a close a week or two prior, the buckets hanging off every last suitably sized maple tree, and the vast web of plastic pipelines for the gathering of sap used for maple syrup production remained a telltale sign of the season. Finally arriving at the family farm by late morning, my father suggested we take a bit of an exploratory jaunt while the weather was on our side. Recent heavy rains during the maple production season meant that those conventional trails would be out-of-bounds for anything other than a tractor—the soft terrain had led the sap gathering tractor rig to cut tire tracks roughly a foot deep through the forest, meaning passage with any vehicle not sporting an aftermarket lift kit would not survive unharmed.

Guided by my father’s 70+ years of wisdom, having lived in our little rural corner the entirety of his life, we set out for Chemin De La Riviere, a small partially paved track that runs alongside the St-Francis River—an offshoot from the St Lawrence via which settlers of the region traveled in the early 1500s (my personal ancestors included). Forced to double back due to a collapsed culvert that left a gap in the road roughly 12 feet deep and equally broad, our initial access to the riverbank seemed lost at first, until a relatively smooth field access presented itself. Walking the terrain as a precaution, we were effectively standing on a matted pile of reeds that last fall would have stood seven or eight feet tall. Though this created an oddly cushy surface, the seemed to be dense earth below the pile encouraging enough to attempt entry. Other than a mild decline rolling from the gravel road to the riverbank, the surface was generally flat, and the GLC made little if any fuss as I nudged my way around the terrain seeking the appropriate photo backdrop. Being somewhat limited to a blast radius of roughly 50 or 60 feet in any direction, I captured my desired shots, and rolled back up and onto the road. Score one for the GLC, as even the exit incline provided no challenge for its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

img 6213 Going Rural: An unconventional adventure with the Mercedes Benz GLC300

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Next on the list the following morning, a requisite detour to Sherbrooke—roughly 45 minutes southeast—proved somewhat fruitful, all told. The university town has always been a bit of a peculiar one, where many segments of downtown retail struggling as the larger malls and large-format stores on the outskirts of town strip away downtown clientele the same way we continue to see across the country. That said, small coffee shops like Café général conserverie on Rue Alexendre are proving that the prospect of gentrification in some of these struggling neighborhoods is anything but out of the question. Our little excursion ended with a pit stop at a vintage shop known as Boutique Juste Du Vieux, where I tracked down a little memento of the visit—a vintage lighter, complete with its original box in seemingly functional condition. With my social endeavors accounted for, it was time to head back to the farm to meet my brother, who seemed to have a few brave ideas of where we might explore next.

“Remember the Sand Hill? There’s a back way into it now.”

Of course I remembered the “Sand Hill”, as we called it. Effectively a small desert in the middle of nowhere, its sand said to have been left by the melting of glaciers at the end of the ice age (so the tale goes). Longer than a football field and fairly wide, countless summer days were spent wandering around this bizarre place, building sandcastles, digging holes, and just being kids. Thing was, at the time there were only a couple ways to gain access, and none of them were passable by road-going vehicle. From our side of the property, hopping a fence and cutting a path through the forest was the easiest route. In the winter, a narrow snowmobile trail entered through one neighbor’s corn field, and exited through another. It would seem that recently a neighbor decided that better access was required, and cut a clean trail on the far end to gain access through a section of unused cow pasture. I had faint reservations about driving into sand at all, but I had to see—I had to at least get to the cusp and assess the situation for myself.

img 6200 Going Rural: An unconventional adventure with the Mercedes Benz GLC300

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

As stated, access to the area was pretty idiot-proof. Other than one moderately sized mud puddle, the GLC coasted over the field’s firm terrain, which was clearly unphased by the recent rains. A brief section of forest trail was as smooth and clear as promised—a welcome sight, as even the faintest risk of scratches or damage were grounds for turning around. Coming up over a final rise in the trail, there it was, just as I’d remembered it from all those years as a kid. Though relatively flat, there were at least a few rises and falls to the terrain, which once again required a quick walk of the surface to see what I was really up against. Unlike beach sand, the surface felt relatively firm, so with the thought of having a “running start” at any incline in the back of my mind, I had to give it the old college try.

The only vague lesson I remembered as I entered the exotic landscape was one that served me well. Take off slowly, and come to a halt equally slowly, for risk of digging yourself into a rut. Oh, and also NEVER stop on a hill. Down the first dip. And up the first incline to the main section where things were more level, the GLC seemed to continually find some semblance of traction where none was thought to exist. Turning off the traction control (though it cannot be entirely turned off it seems), there was no escaping modest amounts of wheelspin as I plodded along the sand, though even at a very slow roll, there were never any real signs of struggle. Inching maneuvers executed as I positioned the GLC for photos were equally simple and problem-free. Even once I’d had my fill and decided to plot an exit, the little white Benz remained entirely unphased by the experience.

Aside from a serious desire to head back home for a similar experience in something more all-terrain friendly (Jeep or Ford Raptor perhaps?), the takeaway from this little adventure is simple. So long as you’re not on summer/performance tires, which would have instantly quashed any of my adventuring ambitions, the Mercedes-Benz GLC is entirely capable of serving duty elsewhere than just mild-mannered city streets. I haven’t been surprised by the capabilities of a new vehicle in quite some time, but this little jaunt sure surpassed any expectations.

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