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Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo on long-term test: does the world's poshest camper van measure up?

Mercedes Marco Polo - long-term test
Home from home: the Marco Polo in its element

Our readers appear  to have a special fascination for camper vans, so when the opportunity arose to test the new upmarket version from Mercedes we jumped at it. The Marco Polo currently leads the premium camper class, but is it large enough for serious travellers?

Our car:Mercedes-Benz V250d Marco Polo Sport Horizon

List price when new: £53,095

Price as tested: £61,460

Official fuel economy: 44.1mpg (EU Combined)

First impressions

Average fuel economy: 33.5mpg

To be honest, I didn’t really expect anything less than be be immediately smitten, but even so I’m a little surprised just how much my wife has embraced this vehicle. If space is the ultimate luxury then the Marco Polo is as luxurious as they come. 

All that makes the Marco Polo an extraordinarily useful as a family vehicle. That’s aided by the access to its huge interior space, via the twin, electrically-opening sliding side doors and huge electrically-opening tailgate, which make the loading of kids, buggies, shopping and everything else an absolute cinch.

If it’s raining, as it was heavily last week, it’s possible to get the kids in their jackets while still inside, standing up, it even possible to pop our youngest into his buggy while still in the vehicle. That’s just not possible in ordinary cars, or even most MPVs.   

Huge sliding doors each side aid access

If there’s a trade-off for that voluminous space it’s the ultimate lack of seats. There are only five, which surprises most people, until you point to the ability to turn the rear one into a double bed, and the additional double berth in the roof. If we’d wanted more seats we could have simply opted for a V-Class rather than the Marco Polo, which is exactly what my brother- and sister-in-law did. With four children, they’ve quickly found it significantly more useful than the SUVs they used to own. 

We wanted the camper, though, and have now had a couple of nights away in it over the weekend. Packing it was easy, the boot more than able to carry all the bedding, food and equipment needed for a couple of comfortable nights away.

We opted not to specify the optional side awning when we ordered it; instead we simply took a cheap gazebo for shade, making it easier to drive off during the day as and when we needed to. I’ll admit here that I was a touch envious of my brother-in-law’s ability to drive off in his white V-Class without having to pack it up first - the drawback of using your vehicle as a sleeping area being that when you need to drive it you need to convert it back. 

A relative's V-Class (foreground) provides greater space and more seating, but it's not a camper...

Doing so takes a bit of time, retracting the roof, folding the seats back into position and taking down all/opening the blackout curtains. Throw in the need to re-fit the kid’s seats and you’re not leaving in a hurry. 

To sleep in it was perfectly comfortable, the upstairs bed being the sleeping area of choice because it’s got a proper sprung base and soft mattress, the rear seat double being a bit harder, and contoured due to its double use. Great for a weekend away, but if I were to go any longer I’d look at an additional tent to leave things in, and add some flexibility around where to sleep and store things. 

A good camper, then, as anticipated, but it’s the day-to-day usability that’s really impressing. All this use has seen it cover about 1,300 miles, a few longer journeys meaning its consumption is improving to an average of 33.5mpg.

On a long run it’ll creep up into the 40mpg sphere, our short-hop trips around town at home bringing that average down a bit. It’s also looking a bit filthy after its short time with us, so a wash (and a vac inside) are required, which given its size is not going to be a quick job… 

Fit for family life

Average economy: 33.2mpg

No camping this week with the Marco Polo, but with the boot so vast we’ve taken to leaving things like the camp table and chairs in the back, rather than unloading the into the garage. A good thing too, as at the weekend we all jumped in it to a large, deserted local car park to teach my daughter how to ride her bike. The initial plan had just been me and my daughter, but the whole family, dog included, decided to come, too, turning the whole thing into an impromptu picnic. 

I’m not about to say that you can’t so such things with ordinary cars, you can, but with the Marco Polo it’s just so easy. We unpacked those chairs, our folding table on arrival, and in between sessions of and shouts of “don’t let go” as my daughter wobbled about on her bike, we had a lovely lunch. Impromptu fun, and something we’ll do again.

The impromptu picnic wagon par excellence

Indeed, the Marco Polo is really fitting in with family life. We didn’t even need to pop the kid’s bikes on the rear-mounted bike rack, instead just lobbing them in the boot on the platform that doubles up as part of the bed when the seats are folded down. The kids love sitting up there when the tailgate is open, too, the area underneath fitting the buggy for our 5 month old. The wide rear seat fits all three, Isofixed in, too, the kids as much as me and my wife liking the height of the Marco Polo, it giving you a completely different view of the world. 

It still needs cleaned inside and out, but with the largely flat floor getting the vacuum cleaner in it should be a cinch, though instead of paying the local hand car wash a double fee for such a big vehicle I’ll break out the sponges, jet wash and step ladders myself.

A lithe Alpine A110 sports car and the family-friendly Marco Polo comprise the ideal two-car garage

We’ve a few jobs, that big scrub aside, needing doing first. I’m going to pop the towbar on it and borrow a towbar-mounted rack for our bikes, as the tailgate-mounted one makes opening the boot with bikes on rather tricky. It also means we can’t open the rear window separately for access, too. I’m looking into solutions now, though in the meantime, the Merc was joined by a small French sports car on the driveway, the pair representing pretty much my ideal two-car garage.

The drawbacks

Average economy: 32.4mpg

Height restrictions. Not something that’s usually a concern in a family car, but it does need consideration when you drive a Marco Polo. There’s a little sticker under the dash highlighting that the Marco Polo is 1.99m high - that 6ft 5 inches if you measure in old money - but when you’re sat up in the driver’s seat it always takes a leap of faith when approaching a height limitation barrier. 

In fairness it’s not too often I do, but heading down to Junior Parkrun with the kids on Sunday I was faced with one of those ‘deep breath’ moments. Yes, the sign says 2.1m, but that’s a scant 10cm (around 4 inches) of clearance. Pop a speed bump under that, as well as the double-whammy of alligator’s teeth and there’s no backing out if it should touch. Thankfully there was no frightful scraping from the roof above, though from the driver’s seat it all seemed a little bit close for comfort. 

Height restrictions aren't for the faint-hearted

Most closed parking structures are high enough to accommodate the Marco Polo, and while I understand the need for height restrictions on outdoor parking structures, I do wish they were a little bit more generous.

That’s particularly true, as since we’ve been driving the Marco Polo we’ve noticed that there are loads of people driving converted vans, whether official machines like the Marco Polo or Volkswagen’s California, or specialist or even DIY-converted day vans and campers - many with bike racks, surf boards and the likes on the roof which might limit their access to height-restricted car parks.  

The roof rises on hydraulic struts - how convenient

It seems we’re not alone in finding the luxury in the practicality it delivers, then, the convenience on offer just making life so much simpler, even if those car parks might be a touch restrictive at times.   

Having been with us a couple of months it’s ticked over 2,000 miles. A long trip to France will near double that odometer reading, and I can’t deny I’m rather looking forward to spending so much time on the road in it. It should feel like a big adventure, the tickets for the Channel Tunnel being booked - in the high carriages with the trucks, vans and other tall vehicles, of course… 

Conclusion

Average economy: 34.1mpg

I remember the conversation with the Mercedes-Benz PR person well. “Wouldn’t you just be better off having a V-Class?” they asked. In many regards, yes, a V-Class would have suited perfectly, indeed, in many ways it might well have been the better option. I’ve long hankered after a camper though, and while the Marco Polo Horizon has a couple of double beds in it when you park it up and do some seat fiddling and roof raising, the rest of the time it’s just a big MPV - albeit with only five seats. 

The one concession, beds aside, to that camper ability is the addition of the optional diesel auxiliary night heater, which added a not inconsiderable £2,700 to the list price. When I’ve previously borrowed campers the addition of a night heater has been a welcome one, though living with it day-to-day hasn’t proven quite as good. 

The auxiliary heater controls are located in the centre console between the front seats

It works well enough via the additional remote control, the ability, when in bed, to simply switch it on for a period to add heat is quite useful. What’s more perplexing, read - downright frustrating - is the incomprehensible means of programming it. I’ve tried, countless times, to work it out, using the manuals, and lying on the floor between the seats to try to see the absolutely tiny LCD display that it features.

I’m still none-the-wiser, it utterly baffling me. I ‘think’ I’ve set it to only switch on for a few minutes a day, though to be totally honest I’m still not sure. What I’d like is a simple off switch, something that it doesn’t appear to have. 

All that means for the first few weeks of ‘ownership’ we’d sometimes get in the Marco Polo to find the heater blowing, which is fine until you consider that to do so it’s using diesel. When I added it to the specification I thought it’d be useful, and while it can, undeniably, provide warmth at night, the complexity of the operating system, and the impossibly small screen, warrant it a real frustration most of the time. 

The MarcoPolo's vast interior made it the perfect changing room during a track test

That its fitment also precluded the fitment of DAB within the entertainment system and a pair of cup holders in the lower console impact on the Marco Polo’s regular day-to-day usefulness. The £2,700 it costs would buy a lot of warm sleeping bags or duvets.

If you’re thinking of buying a Marco Polo you really ought to consider what you think is more important; for us that night heater was definitely something that we really didn’t need.  

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