You have to admire Mercedes-Benz. The three-pointed star features prominently on everything from hyper, sports and luxury cars, to the lorry that collects your bins, the buses around town and vans that deliver your packages.
There’s no brand with a bandwidth that’s as expansive, here premium encompasses hoi polloi, seemingly losing none of its lustre and appeal by being so widely inclusive.
You’ll have seen its V-Class, then. It’s the posher spin-off of the Vito van, though not sold as a commercial vehicle. There are seated versions of the Vito, in partially seated Crew and Tourer versions; Mercedes-Benz, of course, also building a taxi version, which means there’s every chance you might have ridden in one sometime.
Vans, by definition, are versatile, which means if you’re after space then the V-Class has it covered, with seating for as many as eight.
There’s the option of a pair of second row massaging, air-conditioned luxury seats that are pinched from the S-Class saloon, their situation in the back of the V even more luxurious thanks to the generosity of the space around them.
The fit and finish inside is more upmarket than commercial, too, the V-Class only betraying its more humble relations with the odd harder feeling trim plastics inside – even then you’ll have to be looking for them pretty hard.
Then there’s the V-Class we’re driving now. It’s literally fitted with the kitchen sink. Outwardly there’s not a huge number of clues to point out this is a Mercedes-Benz you can literally call home, but there’s a few hints to the well informed.
The roof sits marginally higher, and on the back of it you’ll see a decal saying Westfalia, a company which originated in 1844 building horse-drawn carts and arguably the inventor of the camper van with its early VW conversions. Mercedes-Benz’s parent company Daimler wholly owned Westfalia briefly early this century, and while the ownership has shifted, the relationship remains.
There are two Marco Polos. The one we’re driving here comes with that kitchen sink (and the necessary fresh and waste water tanks it requires), a fridge, a wardrobe, cupboards, gas burners, camping seats, a fold-out table and beds. The main sleeping area is in that pop up roof, pressing a button seeing it raise above you to give you a decent sized double bed.
You’ll need to be fairly limber to get up there. Standing on the driver or passenger seats helps – these swivelling around to face into the interior when parked up – but even so there’s some effort required to get to the ‘upstairs’ bed. If that’s too much hassle then the rear seat folds flat to create a bed, too, it narrower thanks to all the furniture down there, but comfortable enough for one, or two, if you’re really friendly. Mercedes-Benz reckons it’ll sleep four, but we’d suggest that you’d not want more than a couple of adults in it at any one time, the extra space fine for children.
If sleeping space is more important than anything else, the Marco Polo can be had as the Horizon model, which does without that neat cupboard, wardrobe, cooker, sink and fridge area, and instead comes with a wider rear seat that adds an additional pew – allowing five inside over the normal Marco Polo’s four – as well as allowing sliding doors on both sides. If you’re after an MPV with beds then that’s the one to choose.
We’re in the full-spec Marco Polo today, which like the V-Class it’s based on has benefitted from a few upgrades. Outwardly the changes are scant, centred around a new grille and that’s about it. Underneath the bonnet there’s a new 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, it replacing the old 2.1-litre unit, and allowing the fitment of a 9G Tronic automatic transmission.
It’s quieter than the engine it replaces, comes with either 163hp in 220 guise or 239hp in 300 form, the later sounding like the better proposition thanks to its additional turbo, but the reality being that for most the that 220 engine is more than enough.
It’ll reach 62mph in around 11 seconds so fitted (that 300d being a brisker 8.6 seconds), though, really, it’s the refinement gains, as well as the improved economy and emissions that count here, as even with Mercedes-Benz’s standard fitment of Agility Control suspension, the Marco Polo and the V-Class it’s based on aren’t vehicles you’ll be seeking out corners for.
Not that it doesn’t drive well, the suspension retains decent body control, the ride sometimes unsettled in that unladen van like manner with the odd shimmy and shake, that not so obvious when it’s fully loaded. In the Marco Polo though the fun is in the opportunity, the possibility of adventure, it being the very definition of a Multi Purpose Vehicle, which during our brief time with it gave us somewhere to boil up a pot of coffee, cook some pasta, do some work and, yes, get some sleep.
Mercedes-Benz isn’t alone in offering a camper, VW does with its popular California model, based on its own Transporter van, and like the VW the Mercedes-Benz isn’t cheap. Exact UK pricing will be confirmed when the new Marco Polo arrives later this year, but expect it to start at £55,000, and rise to closer, and beyond £60,000.
There are plenty firms out there that will convert pretty much any van into something you can sleep in, but the Marco Polo comes with a Mercedes-Benz warranty, and can be had with all of its latest safety equipment. Residual values are extremely strong, too, so running one isn’t as expensive as you might imagine.
Compare that price to a luxury SUV that many might buy as a family vehicle, too, and it makes even more sense. It has all the ‘commanding’ driving position of an SUV, even more so in fact, and the boot is, to use the cliché, van-like, because, it actually is. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of a more versatile, useful family vehicle, which is why very soon we’ll be adding one to The Telegraph Long Term Fleet to see if life with a wheeled bedroom really is all it promises to be, but on early impressions, it looks really rather good indeed.
*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 02/05/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.
Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo 300d
TESTED 1,950cc, turbodiesel, nine-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE from £55,000 tbc/now
POWER/TORQUE 239hp @ 4,200rpm/368lb ft @ 1,600-2,400rpm
TOP SPEED 133mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.6sec
FUEL ECONOMY 46.3mpg/ 41.5 mpg (EU Combined/Urban)
CO2 EMISSIONS 215g/km
VED £1,815 first year, then £465
VERDICT More multi-purpose than any conventional vehicle, the Marco Polo is perhaps the perfect all-round family machine, though if you don’t plan on cooking in it then save some money, gain some sleeping space (or just an extra seat) and choose the Horizon model.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Volkswagen California Ocean, from £56,080
Volkswagen’s history of campers is envious, its appeal huge, its California something of an institution that’s arguably got a cooler image than its Mercedes-Benz alternative. Like the Marco Polo, there are various choices, including a four-wheel drive version.
Seat Alhambra, from £27,605
It’s not a camper, but it seats seven, has a decent-sized boot and is half the price of a Marco Polo which leaves a lot of spending money for a huge tent.
Any number of van-based third-party camper conversions, from around £40,000 (new)
Start searching for a van-based camper and the opportunities are endless. There are plenty VW-based conversions to rival its own California, with the Ford Transit, Toyota Proace and many, many more forming the base for vehicles you can sleep in.