Mercedes Marco Polo campervan – an introduction

What is the Mercedes Marco Polo, and why did we buy one?

We’ve owned lots of tents. We’ve owned a few caravans. We’ve drunkenly bought a Hiace campervan conversion off Ebay after a few too many whiskies, but that’s a story for another time! Each of these portable homes competently achieved most functions they were bought for, at the particular price point we could afford for each at that time of our lives. Looking back on them now, for sure they each served us well – even the Hiace! However, whether it was through our immaturity or our oversized expectations, we never felt totally satisfied at the time. We always felt that there must be something out there more suited to our needs as a small family. We therefore couldn’t stop eyeing the market over subsequent years, reading up on the latest developments, and, most frustratingly, continuing to dream about Utopia – a purpose-built campervan – that almost mythical like vehicle, flying above us at a stratospheric price point, but which would finally allow us to attain a perfect combination of camping flexibility, comfort, practicality, enjoyment and style.

Mercedes nails it

Enter the Mercedes Marco Polo…. As soon as we clapped eyes on it, we knew we’d found that ideal central intersection point within the Venn diagram. That perfect collision point where all the stars align. It’s a gorgeous looking thing for sure – an absolute ‘Catwalk Queen of Campervanning’, and while it could do with being slightly bigger and slightly cheaper (couldn’t everything?), we cannot think of another vehicle which can do everything quite so well without providing a compromise too far to what we (camping is so subjective) wish to achieve from our weekends and weeks away from home. This section of Camping Secrets is dedicated to the Marco Polo, and we hope to provide a repository of information which will help both prospective and existing owners learn more about this fantastic leisure vehicle. So let’s take a look in a little more detail…

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Marco Polo – Flexibility

Marco Polo side

Photo courtesy of MarcoPoloOnTour

We were a two car + caravan family for a long time. The final caravan of the bunch was a heavy beast, and needed a two tonne car to tow it. We went through a Ssangyong Rexton (oh dear), a Volvo XC70 (nice) and a Mercedes R320 (“taxi!”) and felt bogged down with it all. Our lives started to feel dictated to us by circumstance, rather than being defined by us – big heavy cars, towing big heavy caravans, bossing us around. And these caravans required constant attention – they felt very needy – whether it was cleaning, maintenance, storage or just simply use. Sat on our drive, we felt obliged to use them, which sort of took away from the experience of ownership. We had to go smaller. More flexible. Nippy. Exciting. Marco Polo.

Ideal proportions for the best of both worlds?

The Mercedes Marco Polo is currently based on the long wheelbase Mercedes V-Class van. It used to be based on the Viano (W639)  which was leaping off the production line from 2003 – 2014, but annoyingly we didn’t get that version exported to the UK. The current V-Class, known as the W447 took over in 2014 and the first Marco Polo based on the platform appeared officially on the shores of Albion in 2017, with the leisure portion of the vehicle separately designed, supplied and installed by Westfalia, a supplier of immense reputation within the campervan scene. The Marco Polo is 5.14m in length, 1.93m in width (excluding the cool , folding wing mirrors), and 1.98m in height.

Marco Polo vs VW California

Marco Polo vs VW California in the metal

The size of the van is key to it’s success as a camper – it is similarly sized to the Volkswagen California (similar in all aspects actually, to the point of emulation), with the Marco Polo being the slightly longer of the two. Both the Marco Polo and the California are the perfect size for combining two opposing requirements of any campervan a) useable camping accommodation and b) simple, stress-free driving. With the height nudging under 2m, the Marco Polo will fit in nearly all car parks, and can be easily parked in supermarkets. You can depart your campsite and go exploring the neighbourhood, blasting down those small, country lanes which are so prevalent (and lovely) in the UK. This is simply not possible in bigger campervans and motorhomes, and detracts from their flexibility in our view. We part exchanged one of our cars for the Marco Polo, and have not regretted it one bit – it now acts exceedingly well as a rather fancy second car.

What’s under the hood?

Engine-wise, it’s diesel all the way currently. Will they go electric at some point? Seems a no-brainer to us, and we’d be first in the queue. For 2021 there is a single 1950cc engine in two possible states of tune – the ‘standard’ V220d which has 163BHP, and the more powerful V300D which pumps out an eye-watering 239BHP. We plumped for the V220d back in 2018 and have not been disappointed. The bigger brother must have substantial poke! Our 2018 engine is coupled to a decent 7-speed automatic gearbox which is now increased to 9-speed for 2021. It’s a joy to drive, purely because you know you are not driving for speed or driving thrills. This is a leisure vehicle, and you’re most likely using it on holiday, pootling from place to place. Absolutely no need to be chucking the van around the corners like a bad episode of Top Gear.

All wheel drive?

Similarly, the option for all-wheel drive is available in the EU (but not the UK!), and if you’re living in a cold, inhospitable place then this may be the way for you to go. We haven’t missed it at all – the van has taken us up some 25% gradients without AWD, and really it’s not clear where the situation might arise when we need better traction.

Marco Polo – Comfort

And relax!

And relax!

The Marco Polo is gorgeous inside, and feels like a luxurious haven from the outside world. The front seats rotate around, and with the side table up, the subtle mood lighting on and a couple of glasses of red poured, it’s a very pleasant place to sit indeed. Seating for four is at least as comfortable as much larger campervans – the chairs are uber-supportive and can be reclined which is often not possible on ‘panel van’ conversions. As the wine flows, you often find a large rather inane grin appearing on your chops – life doesn’t get much better than this!

Top of the Pops

Of course, the pop-up roof is the star of the show. It takes around 20 seconds to fully raise and requires the ignition to be switched on. We will go into much more detail on the interior and exterior features in future articles, but suffice to say that the roof is major selling point of the Marco Polo. It offers ample standing room for cooking and dressing activities on the ‘ground floor’ whilst also opening up a comfy sleeping space for two above. The mechanism seems robust and we have not encountered any problems in two years of ownership (although some owners have reported issues with the microswitch which detects that the roof has closed properly – easily fixed).

All in all, the Marco Polo offers extreme comfort in a compact, practical space. 

Marco Polo – Style

Rock crystal white Marco Polo

Rock crystal white – photo courtesy of MarcoPoloOnTour

How sexy can a van be? Not a question I could envisage myself asking as I was growing up, but middle-age certainly does strange things to people! In fact did you hear the one about the man who got arrested for ‘servicing’ his car a little too intimately? Anyway, I digress…

Colour Me Good

The Marco Polo can be ordered in a range of quite arresting colours – check them out on page 38 of the official Mercedes brochure: pebble grey, jupiter red, hyacinth red, dark graphite grey, brilliant silver, cavansite blue, obsidian black and rock crystal white. The first two of these are non-metallic, whilst the remaining are metallic. The interior leather (of course it’s leather – this is Mercedes right? And not only leather, it’s nappa leather of course!) can be chosen in black or ‘silk beige’ – both look exquisite. The yacht-style ‘faux floorboard’ flooring can be chosen as dark ‘wood’ or light wood, and looks great against the leather upholstery.

Marco Polo Interior

We chose the cavansite blue for the exterior, coupled with beige leather and the contrasting dark yacht flooring. It is not a combination we have regretted at all, but obviously comes down to personal preference. They all look amazing in the photographs I’ve seen.

AMG bling – worth the extra?

The other major style decision is whether to go with the AMG version or the standard Sport as we did. AMG is the high performance wing of Mercedes-Benz, in a similar vein to the M-cars at BMW. For the Marco Polo, this translates to more ‘style’: you get 19” alloy wheels with a cool 7-twin spoke design (page 44 of the brochure), various bits of sporty trim such as front and rear aprons, side skirts and a rear spoiler (likey!) as well as chrome load sills, a diamond radiator grille, AMG sports pedals and a carbon-look trim. These extras cost £1760 as of 2020 and could well be worth it if you’re into the looks of your ride! We chose to spend that cash on the optional diesel air heater instead, but you pays your money and you makes your choice…

All in all, the Marco Polo is a stylish beast and really turns heads in the UK – however this could be because they’re relatively rare at the moment. Or because my wife likes to drive topless. I’m really not sure….

Marco Polo – Practicality

How practical is practical? On the surface of it, a camper based on a small van like the Marco Polo cannot possibly be that practical. However, it sleeps four adults on beds which are >2m (6ft 5”) in length – this is unheard of on much bigger motorhomes! I’m 6ft 3” (1.95m) and could not sleep in vans based on the much larger Fiat Ducato – this is because the beds in those vans are often transversely arranged. In contrast, in the Marco Polo the beds are longitudinal meaning you stretch out along the length of the van – a much better arrangement in our view. However it cannot be denied that the sleeping space is not available all of the time – it is created out of other space when it is required – the chairs which transport you around in the back fold down to form the lower bed. Any luggage which was in the top part of the boot (trunk) area must be relocated to allow the seats room to recline in this way (electrically operated though which feels like nice recompense!). As mentioned before, the upper bed is formed within the pop-up roof. This constant reorganisation of the van for different activities like driving, cooking and sleeping can sometimes be a bit of a bind – it means for example that if one person wants to go to bed first that they have to take the top bed, but that means there is no standing room for the downstairs occupants. However, we feel this is a small price to pay, and we often go to bed at similar times anyway. Your mileage may vary on this (is there an equivalent phrase using the metric system for our European readers? Your kilometres may vary I guess!).

boot loading

A half-laden boot. They often get more rammed!

A decent rear is important!

There’s plenty of windows in the van and of course the large, electrically operated side door for easy access to the rear space. Another nice touch is the rear boot glass window which opens independently of the boot door itself. The VW California doesn’t have this option, and it’s a nice distinction, meaning that items can be accessed in the bootspace without opening the whole rear door. 

The camper contains a reasonable amount of side cupboard and drawer space, and if wisely utilized can support a family of three quite comfortably. We have heard of families of four + dog surviving in these campers, but it must be said that as the numbers grow it will undoubtedly get more difficult. We find the use of a driveaway awning is extremely useful and enables a majority of the luggage and paraphernalia of camping to be transferred into what amounts to an extra room. We’ll be providing a whole article on the best awnings to buy in the near future – we’ve tried quite a few – watch this space!

A Multipurpose Swiss Army Knife of a Camper

Overall, you might describe the Mercedes Marco Polo as ‘compact and bijou’. It’s outwardly smallish but by great design allows a large amount of camping gear to be transported if you are sensible about space saving. Moreover, by allowing reorganization of the internal space into separate functions, the small van becomes capable of many activities. For us it is a sacrifice worth making versus the flexibility of the van size for driving and exploring.

Marco Polo – Summary

mountain view

Beautiful mountain view – courtesy of MarcoPoloOnTour

In summary, the Marco Polo is a great looking campervan, with a luxurious feel to all of its switches, controls, furniture and surfaces. The motorized elements such as doors and roof operate flawlessly, and it just feels well-designed. Prices could be considered high, starting at about £53000 for the base model. However it is possible to get them for less than that through discount sites such as Carwow.co.uk. We did this and found the process very simple and efficient, getting around 7% off including optional extras for £48000 in 2018. Still alot of money it must be said.  However, compared with vans such as the VW Transporter which companies often modify into campervans, the Marco Polo just feels better put-together, most likely due to the heritage and expertise of Westfalia. We have not seen a VW Transporter conversion which compares to the Marco Polo in terms of solidity and quality, even when paying upwards of £40000 for the former. If that’s your budget then we recommend stretching to the VW California or the Marco Polo. We will do a full comparison of the Cali vs the MP in a later article, but for us the Marco wins every day!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this introduction to the Mercedes Marco Polo then check out our detailed description of the dashboard area and the the rear living area. You can also peruse our reviews of our Top Ten Essential Extras for new Mercedes Marco Polo owners – this is essentially a list of the items we’ve bought for the MP which we’ve found most useful.

Many thanks also to marcopoloontour for some of the photographs used on the page! 

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