► Mercedes Marco Polo review
► We test the new Merc camper
► It’s a V-class with four berths
Mercedes-Benz has sold the V-class Marco Polo on the Continent for some years, but it’s never made it to the UK - until now. For 2017, it’s made the leap and committed to right-hand drive production, meaning the VW California has some competition at last.
The UK camper van market has long been dominated by third-party conversions, with Volkswagen mopping up those wanting OEM reassurance with its inhouse Cali, the pricey-but-posh premium motorhome. It sells around 1000 a year in the UK.
We’ve driven one of the first right-hand drive Mercedes campers in the UK. Read on for our full Mercedes Marco Polo review.
The Marco Polo is based on the Mercedes V-class people carrier and Vito van range, and converted in-house at the company’s Vitoria plant in Spain. This essentially involves chopping the roof off, adding the extending canopy and kitting it out with a range of camping goodies such as sinks and stoves. Yes, you really do take the kitchen sink with you in the Marco Polo.
It’s a big car at 5140mm long and 2249mm wide, yet never feels too intimidating on the road, thanks to good visibility and parking cameras front and rear. The ineffective quarterlight split front windows are a bit of a joke, however - you can’t see anything through them.
Mercedes Marco Polo prices, engines and specs
Two models are sold in the UK, with a choice of two trim levels:
- V220d £53,180 (Sport), £55,320 (AMG Line)
- V250d £55,055 (Sport), £57,195 (AMG Line)
Here we’re testing the Marco Polo 250d Long Sport model - so the more powerful engine, but in the lowlier trim level. Its cost spiralled to £62,265 with the addition of some choice options:
Comand Online £1795
Diesel auxiliary water heater £1345
360deg parking camera £335
Towing package £750
Side awning £695
Obsidian Black metallic paint £645
Driving Assistance package £1645
The last options package bundles lots of safety kit in, including blindspot detection and Pre-Safe crash preparation; be warned that its lane-keep assist function buzzes away annoyingly if you wander near lane markings.
You can spread the cost of Marco Polo ownership using Mercedes-Benz finance packages; the company cites a drive-away deal on an entry-level 220d Sport Long with a £10,999 deposit and 36 monthly payments of £593.
How does the Mercedes Marco Polo drive?
If you’ve driven a camper van before, you’re in for a treat: the Marco Polo is a comfortable and easy vehicle to thread along Britain’s roads. The 2.1-litre diesel engine musters 187bhp and 325lb ft, so there’s decent grunt available and the 250 easily keeps up with motorway traffic.
Mercedes quotes 129mph flat-out and 9.8sec 0-62mph, but you’d be mad to attempt either in day-to-day driving. It’s clearly a more laid-back kind of drive; your camping clobber and kids won’t thank you for throwing it into corners too hard (although it’ll cope well if you do).
If you haven’t driven a camper van before, it’ll take a while to adjust, but really it’s not a tricky vehicle to drive. Ours had the optional all-round parking cameras, so it’s easy enough to reverse and its footprint is no more daunting than driving a large limousine. We also love the prod-to-hold brakes (a standard Mercedes car feature) and the steering wheel-mounted gearlever frees up more space in the middle for clambering back and forth.
Ride comfort is reasonable for a vehicle of this type. Ours rolled on 245/45 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres and proved comfortable on a long drive, but you inevitably get some groaning and flexing in a van-based vehicle when you encounter bumps and lumps in the road.
This or a VW California?
There’s really not much in it. Volkswagen certainly wins hands down if you want a wider choice of spec - you can currently choose the new T6 VW with two engine outputs, a choice of two- or all-wheel drive and either manual or DSG automatic transmissions.
One immediate advantage the Cali has its price: VW offers a range of different California campers, with kitchen-less, stripped-out Beach models starting at just under £40,000 (accounting for a third of sales; most buyers plump for the posher Ocean). Mercedes is targeting the area a notch above and all Marco Polos come with a high-quality kitchen, twin-hob oven, wardrobe, leather upholstery and electric operation of side door and tailgate.
We averaged an impressive 36mpg over 200 miles of high-speed, M- and A-road driving; see how our sister brand Parkers is getting on living with a similarly engined Mercedes V-class here.
Is the Marco Polo a good camper van?
What you pay up front in extra cost you claw back in clever features. The Mercedes is a wonderful place to spend a night en famille. Step into the passenger compartment and you’re met with standard-fit ‘yacht wood floor’ which looks like teak. It’s a clever touch, immediately smarter than the rubberised, elevator-style flooring you’ll find in rivals, and it’s easy to sweep clean.
The quality of the cupboards and fittings (above) is noticeably smarter than the units in a VW California too. The doors and drawers open and close with a beautifully damped polish, and there’s no shortage of stowage space for cooking utensils and food.
Every UK Marco Polo comes with a table and two deckchairs as standard (though they aren’t accommodated in the huge tailgate, unlike on the brilliantly packaged VW). Sat-nav is standard to get you to distant fields and three-zone climate control keeps everyone the right temperature.
Is it comfy to sleep in?
Yes. There are two sleeping compartments in a Merc Marco Polo: the rear seats flatten into a double bed down below, while the Westfalia-branded rooftop raises electrically to reveal a cleverly sprung mattress on the roof. It’s the comfier of the two beds and totally flat - best reserved for mum and dad. We slept very well up top.
Our family of four (plus puppy) spent a weekend in the Mercedes and loved it; we’ve spent a lot of time in Californias too and both models share so many features. The Marco Polo’s two front captain’s seats swivel around to create an ad lib office or dining room, and the Merc’s night blinds were superior (it’s really dark downstairs and the front windscreen blind clips on more easily). The heavily tinted rear windows help here; they’re very gangsta black.
There are numerous cubbies dotted around the Marco Polo’s cabin and we weren’t short of places to stow the trivia of family life on the road. Clever touches include the brilliant LED torches installed up top, with three levels of brightness.
What don’t you like about the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo?
Not a great deal. The price is steep, granted, and the Marco Polo only comes as standard with four seats (you can order an optional fifth individual seat that clips on to the runners). In a California you can order a third row, turning it into a proper seven-seater minibus for those times when you’re heading to the school run and not a campsite. You can roll the Mercedes’ rear seats back and forth to juggle space for luggage or limbs, which is neat, but we found a lot of grass and camping detritus fell into the rails even after one night.
Other gripes? Like the VW, the sliding door on the right is on the wrong side for RHD traffic, as it deposits occupants into the road when you pull over; DAB digital radio should really be standard at this price; the control panel for the rooftop compartment looks very aftermarket (above); the fire extinguisher by the passenger seat was continually fouled by their feet; and the flap above the rear wheelarch masking the water and electricity hook-up looks like an after-thought (especially on bright metallics).
Does it feel like a van or a quality camper?
The Merc’s strongest card is its interior quality. Notwithstanding a few quibbles above, this is a lovely interior to spend time in - by day or night. It’s sprinkled with details from Merc’s car range, from the easy-to-use Comand infotainment and iPad-style screen to the metalicised heating controls and classy round air vents.
We loved the grippy leather-bound steering wheel with paddle-shifters, and the dashboard materials and design feel a million miles from a commercial vehicle’s.
The Mercedes-Benz V-class Marco Polo is a deeply desirable camper van. It’s hard not to be seduced by the go-anywhere, do-anything vibe of vehicles like this - and Merc’s take on the genre is typically classy and well thought-through.
I’d have one of these in my dream garage, alongside more practical everyday cars and a thrilling sports car for weekends. And that’s exactly the kind of customer they’re targeting - affluent types who may indulge in a spot of motorsport or outdoor activity and need a premium posh tent on wheels to accommodate them wherever they go. It's glamping on four wheels. We’re sold on the dream.
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