The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo makes road trips cool again

The road trip is back.

Not that it ever went away entirely, but the emergence of cheap domestic airfares has meant many now hop on a plane for the annual family holiday or a weekend away.

But there are more and more Australians prepared to settle in for a long stint behind the wheel to see more of this vast country.

Plenty are prepared to pay big bucks for a bit more luxury, creating an upmarket home away from home.

Many are towing a caravan or trundling along in a campervan – registrations have grown 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016, according to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia – the latter a market Mercedes-Benz wants to muscle in on with its Marco Polo Activity.

The adventurous side

Adventurous name aside, the Marco Polo is more down to earth.

Mercedes-Benz is known for luxury, but the company also does a long line of commercial vehicles (about one in six Benzes sold is a commercial, such as a van or bus).

And it's that commercial side of the business that the Marco Polo – a $69,990 proposition – comes from.

Its bones are shared with the Valente people mover, a vehicle that also provides the basics for the Vito van.

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So, while you can option leather and the safety of blind spot warning and auto braking, it's clear the Marco Polo is more about functionality than pampering.

There are vast expanses of plastics across the dash and the colour screen is a piddly 5.8 inches in diameter; it's also not a touchscreen, so you have to muck around with the myriad buttons alongside.

Life of luxury

That said, the Marco Polo is comfortable and well specified for those looking for a comfy camper.

It's also a surprisingly car-like way to travel.

The suspension is relatively supple, although the rear could do with more damping and/or travel to stop the occasion pogo from the back as it launches out of a deep dip.

Excellent 18-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 also make for above average grip.

And it looks the business.

The 18-inch smoked alloys are stylish and there's dark tinted windows for a bit of a sinister look in the back.

Practical stuff

Practicality is a big one for the Marco Polo.

While there's no covered centre console there are binnacles and cubby holes aplenty.

The doors and dash have more than a dozen compartments that'll suit everything from maps and phones to a bottle of bubbly once you arrive at your destination.

It's a shame the cupholders on the dash don't fit most bottles, but the ones either side of the bed work perfectly for an evening water bottle – or a late night Scotch.

The electric sliding doors are a win for loading and unloading kids, although the basic radio – while providing respectable sound quality - is fiddly to operate.

Flip and fold

Innovative engineering is a mainstay of modern campervans and it's no different with the Marco Polo.

Popping the roof takes a matter of seconds; unclip the two handles and push it skywards.

The seats, on the other hand, take more practise.

It would pay to familiarise yourself with the various levers and slides before heading to the back of yonder.

Turning the front seats 180 degrees, for example, means positioning the steering wheel and seatbacks in a spot that allows the required spinning.

And the central table – which is great, at least before you eat up so much of the downstairs space by folding the bed – is clunky and quirky in the way it slides along the floor-mounted rails.

Home sweet home

The pop-top has some cool plastic springs and its own mattress and is designed to take up to 200kg.

Life downstairs gets fairly cramped with the lower bed folded, mainly because the space you were otherwise using a lounge/dining – complete with front seats spun around – is suddenly consumed by a bed.

That said, blending the three-person seat with a padded bench makes for ample space.

It's better suited to adults, mainly because of the extra width compared with the pop-up pod upstairs.

However a thin mattress would make all the difference from a comfort perspective, accounting for some of the lumps and ripples in the seat bolters.

And a sheet to drape over the front seats would better blank out the outside world, teaming with the side and rear blinds that give plenty of privacy.

The verdict

There's lots to like about the Marco Polo.

But it's compromised for everyday driving, lugging around the pop-top and other elements you won't need on the school run or when ducking down to the shops.

So it's the sort of vehicle you want to get out and about it regularly to take advantage of some of its clever additions.

While it will fit a family of four, things get pretty tight – mainly when it comes to living space.

So it's a better bet for single or couples looking for a good driving, good looking campervan that doesn't shy away from big adventures.

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