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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Spare: Full-size steel