Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo campervan. Picture: Supplied
Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo campervan. Picture: Supplied

Glamping on four wheels with Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo van

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo puts glamping on four wheels with its pop-top roof and two double beds inside. Based on Merc's Vito van, it's a rare thing - a factory-built camper with prestige badge.

First impressions

Jules: A Benz camper van? Glamping here we come!

Iain: Wouldn't you prefer to pitch a tent for a closer-to-nature camping experience?

Jules: Er, no. Give me a luxury cabin, leather seats, European style and zero set-up time, please.

Iain: The Marco Polo is class personified with its edgy body, halogen headlamps and stylish grille. The optional 18-inch graphite wheels ($991) help too.

Jules: It's rare to see a pop-top van these days. It's expensive?

Iain: Not bad for a Merc. $72,090 before on-roads but ours is $82,681 with options ticked. Competition? The far smaller $47,000 VW Caddy Beach, which sleeps two: ours accommodates four or even five if pushed.

The Marco Polo is perfect for a short getaway, but is let down by the lack of cooking gear.
The Marco Polo is perfect for a short getaway, but is let down by the lack of cooking gear.

The living space

Jules: Am I missing something? It's plush in here but where's the sink, stove and fridge for my getaway?

Iain: Well spotted. We only get one grade of Marco Polo - the Activity - and it lacks a kitchenette, unlike the versions sold in Europe.

Jules: Not much of a camper van then. And where's the socket for my Nespresso machine?

Iain: You weren't joking about glamping. Sorry, 12V sockets only in here, enough for a cool box.

Jules: The leather seats ($1400 option) feel firm but classy, it's gigantic inside and build quality looks excellent.

Iain: It's still very van-like up front. Hard plastics abound and the dashboard is incredibly dated compared to modern Mercs.

Jules: The screen's tiny, there's no modern smartphone pairing and there's a footbrake rather than handbrake.

Iain: The latest Mercedes cabins - the Sprinter van included - are so advanced it makes this Marco Polo feel a generation or two past its sell-by-date.

The pop-up roof ped is great for the kids.
The pop-up roof ped is great for the kids.

The commute

Jules: The last van I drove was when moving to university. Things have moved on in 20 years. It drives surprisingly easily.

Iain: The turbo diesel has loads of torque, and it cruises quietly and effortlessly on the highway with seamless shifts from the seven-speed auto.

Jules: Outward vision is far better than a large SUV's. There's no giant bonnet to look over.

Iain: True, plus side widows are huge, you sit really high and manoeuvring is easy enough for such a long van.

The shopping

Jules: It's cumbersome for supermarket parking. Front are rear sensors prevent little bumps but the rear camera needs an update.

Iain: You could fit groceries and supplies for a month away in the back. The boot's huge but it's crying out for an electric tailgate.

Sunday run

Jules: We bravely ventured to an eco camping ground with premium lake frontage site. Fitting for our fancy camper.

Iain: As Marco Polo ownership should be. Throw in your gear, bedding and kids and you're all set. Effortless.

Jules: It didn't enjoy the 2km of dirt road leading to the campgrounds.

Iain: No. Skinny tyres and 18-inch alloys look good but standard 16-inch wheels with fatter rubber would make unsealed road travel more tolerable.

Jules: I timed us. Four minutes total to have two double beds folded out ready for sleeping. Brilliant.

The Marco Polo’s interior is due for an update.
The Marco Polo’s interior is due for an update.

Iain: There are two heavy-duty clips to undo the pop-top, you unhook two little straps and push the roof up, a 10-second job. It needs a bit of muscle to pull down again and you've got to be quick so as not to bump your head.

Jules: The kids loved how you stand on the seat armrests to clamber up to the pop-top. There's no ladder, so less mobile campers may struggle.

Iain: The rear seat bench needs a firm pull to slide forwards before folding flat. This makes for a massive bed but you need a mattress topper or it's too firm for comfortable sleeping.

Jules: There's a bit of manual labour needed for set-up, including spinning the front seats round so you can use the clever rear table. Call me lazy but electrifying some of these tasks would be more typically Mercedes.

Iain: It's brilliant though. For those sleeping upstairs, the neat side-zipper windows let breezes flow through. Awesome until it starts raining. Otherwise, a blissful, comfy night's sleep.

Jules: And the sunrise through the windscreen? Majestic. All it needed was that Nespresso coffee.

The family

Iain: Brilliantly versatile. Unlike most SUVs, we got two child seats in the back with space for an adult in between.

Jules: The kids loved it, especially the electric sliding side doors. I know they're a $2260 option but for the convenience that's a bargain.

Iain: You just walk inside to strap kids into seats. I just lifted all our bikes into the van-like space. So practical.

Jules: Storage under the rear seats and up front is vast. The Marco Polo serves as a brilliant people-mover too.

Iain: Modern active safety gear is lacking and there are no rear airbags, not helping family credentials. Fuel-wise, we returned a reasonable 8.7L/100km.

The verdict

Jules: I'm sold on the Marco Polo. I can use it as a luxury daily driver people-mover as well as adventurer for stress-free weekends away. Give me one with a kitchenette, the latest safety and connectivity and it'd be near perfect.

Iain: It's crying out for an update. Merc's new dashboards and technology are incredible and would justify the Marco Polo's price tag. This one is still a luxury delight, smartly built, easy to drive and has excellent space for touring and sleeping a family of four. But wait for an updated version for true Benz glamping.

Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo Activity

Price: $72,090 plus on-roads

Warranty/servicing: 3 years/200,000km, $2138 for 3 years

Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 120kW/380Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, rear camera, driver attention assist, crosswind assist, front and rear parking sensors (collision prevention, blind spot and lane keep assist add $1345)

Thirst: 6.3L/100km

Spare: Full-size steel

Boot: 670L

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