Mobile home provides perfect accommodation – even at a blustery Welsh race circuit – MERCEDES-BENZ MARCO POLO –
Regulars will already have read on these pages of the adventures enjoyed by editor Nick Trott and me taking part in the annual Race of Remembrance at the Anglesey Circuit in November. I won’t repeat the details, but what seemed at first like an excellent opportunity for some late-season racing in a good cause turned into one of the most memorable weekends of our lives. For those who missed the report, all I’ll say is that there were many heroes over those few days – men and women who’d given more than they had to give in the service of their country, and to race with them was one of the greatest privileges of my life.
So while writing this, I’d been toying with various ways of segueing from them to the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo that took me to Anglesey. And I’d be lying if I said the sentence “But it is the hero I parked in the paddock that I want to talk about this week” had not occurred to me. But then I thought that would be to compare the actions of soldiers blown up by IEDs in Afghanistan to those of a camper van and felt slightly sick. So I’ll just accept the gulf is too big for even the most excruciating analogy to bridge and leave it at that.
The Marco Polo is not any kind of hero, but it is simply phenomenal at the job it is designed to do, and for those of you who regularly spend weekends camped out at race meetings, there may be some important stuff here.
It is not in any way ground-breaking. The traditional arme de choixfor such events has always been the Volkswagen California which, like the Marco Polo, is based on an MPV/van platform (the Caravelle in the case of the VW, the V-Class for the Marco Polo). Both have sinks and gas hobs, plenty of storage space, water tanks and sleeping space for four, two downstairs and two on the reinforced base of the extendable roof.
However, in three distinct ways the Marco Polo proved itself to be a remarkable weapon for this very particular job. First and I guess most importantly, it’s the most comfortable conveyance in which I’ve ever slept, and that includes every train, bus, boat and plane on which I’ve travelled. Inside the roof is a single-piece mattress resting on what I believe is called a Froli sprung base. Basically, instead of slats you get individual little springs – think of the difference between fully independent coil-sprung suspension and transverse leaf-sprung live axle and you’ll get the idea – and as a result the only reason I was not as comfortable as I am at home is that some sod had nicked the blackout blinds for the windscreen downstairs. It even has two dimmable reading lights. At home I don’t even have one.
Second, it just doesn’t look or feel like a van, let alone one converted into living quarters. The quality of fit and finish are those of any other Mercedes-Benz and it comes with the full suite of safety systems, infotainment options and as many gadgets as your wallet will allow. I drove it up to Anglesey on the motorway network and back straight through the middle of Wales and whether I was enjoying radar-monitored active cruise control or watching it fling itself down the lanes with unlikely elan, it was never less than an entirely pleasant experience.
The final point is one of perception which may or may not over time prove correct, but the way the whole rig operated conveyed an extraordinary sense of strength and resolutely rattle-free solidity. I’d be disappointed if, 10 years and 100,000 miles down the road, it didn’t seem just the same.
Is there a price – apart from the fact that it only carries four people (a fifth seat is an option) – to pay for all this? You bet, and it starts at just over £53,000 for the lower-powered version with the lesser of two available equipment levels. Add a few extras like an auxiliary heater and an awning and you’ll be staring down the barrel of a £60,000 bill very quickly. A base-spec VW California – albeit with a far less powerful engine and a manual gearbox – starts below £40,000.
But I still think the Marco Polo makes sense if you’re in it for the long term. If you’re a regular race competitor, or just like cruising around Europe, going wherever the road takes you, it is a near-perfect partner.
I have a brother who, when explaining his priorities in life, once held that you can’t drive a house but you can live in a car. He was, of course, talking rubbish, or at least I always thought so. But then I drove the Marco Polo and had to think again. I don’t know whether it better represents driving a house or living in a car; what I do know is that it’s damn good at both.
Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo V250D AMG Line
Price £58,875 Engine 2.1 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged Power [email protected] Torque 324lb [email protected] Weight 2440kg Power to weight 77bhp per tonne Transmission seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 0-60mph 9.8sec Top speed 124mph Economy 45.6mpg CO2 169g/km