With the camper van sector one of the fastest-growing segments of the motorhome market, Mercedes-Benz has launched its new Marco Polo, to tempt buyers looking for luxury on a compact footprint.

Can it succeed? After all, the latest T6-based version of the iconic VW camper van is hardly proving unpopular…

We grabbed our first opportunity to take a look around this upmarket camper van, to see if it measures up.

The basics

Let’s start with the essentials. This is a four-berth camper van with four belted travel seats, based on the Mercedes-Benz long-wheelbase V-Class.

It stands 5.140m long, is 1.278m tall (2.839m with the roof raised) and has a licence-friendly MTPLM of 3200kg.

Power comes from a 2143cc, four-cylinder, turbodiesel engine in two states of tune. You can either get the 220 d variant with 161bhp and 280lb ft torque, or the 250 d (as pictured) with 187bhp and 324lb ft torque.

Whichever engine you opt for, it’s mated to Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission, which means you also get cruise control and a variable speed limiter.

All of which should make it a comfortable companion on longer drives, as will its speed-sensitive power steering. And everyone will enjoy the three-zone automatic climate control.

Sadly, access to the habitation area is via an electric sliding door on the UK offside, so if you’re touring on this side of the Channel, passengers need to take care when entering and exiting the camper.

Step aboard

Inside and the striking cabin design instantly sets the Marco Polo apart. Compared to the more utilitarian cabins of the Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer and, to an extent, the Volkswagen Transporter T6, it’s far more aesthetically rewarding.

The cabin is pretty much standard Mercedes-Benz, meaning it is tried and tested. So it doesn’t just look great, it ought to be hard-wearing, too. And you get two USB ports and an SD card slot.

It rather sets the tone for the rest of the vehicle. Because while there is nothing revolutionary in the Marco Polo’s traditional camper van layout, it has a very smart, polished feel.

Doubtless the yacht wood flooring contributes to this. And that’s not a special, add-on feature, it’s fitted whether you choose the standard Sport or £2140-extra AMG Line trim. There’s also leather upholstery throughout.

Tried and trusted layout

Mercedes’ take on the camper van layout puts the kitchen along the nearside, equipping it with a two-burner gas hob, a circular, stainless-steel sink with fold-away tap, and a top-loading fridge.

These all have lids which securely close shut with a pleasing action, to give a long stretch of workspace.

Cupboards beneath provide storage, while the table is of the fold-out variety. Fancy dining al fresco? A camping table and two chairs come as standard, packed in a fabric bag.

There’s additional wardrobe and storage space elsewhere.

At night, it’s the usual rock ‘n’ roll double bed downstairs, with a second double in the roof. Black-out blinds should help ensure a good night’s sleep and there’s ambient lighting.

The lower double bed is 2.03m x 1.13m (6’ 7” x 3’ 8”), while the bed in the roof is 2.05m x 1.13m (6’ 8” x 3’ 8”).

Keeping safe on tour

Service points for the hook-up and water are on the nearside, plus the Marco Polo has a useful split tailgate – and it is electrically operated.

Being a Mercedes-Benz, standard safety kit is impressive, too, including an Adaptive Brake System with hold function and brake drying in wet conditions, as well as Collision Prevention Assist.

Sat-nav and a reversing camera are fitted to all models, too. However, you need to add £1345 for a diesel auxiliary water heater.

Is it worth it?

On first encounter, this certainly feels like a very suave camper van. Its Cavansite blue metallic paint (£645), 19-inch alloys (£595) and awning (£695) no doubt contribute to this.

But while it is not a case of style over substance, is it worth its premium price-tag?

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo range starts at £53,180 OTR, for the 220 d with Sport trim. The 250 d, Sport spec ’van pictured starts at £55,055 OTR, £62,110 as tested. And Mercedes is keen to point out that PCP options are available to help finance your home-from-home.

Its most obvious rival must be the Volkswagen California, which is priced from £39,651 for the Beach version, or from £50,175 for the higher-spec Ocean, which is its more natural competitor.

Granted, the cabin feels far less snazzy, and an automatic gearbox, cruise control, sat-nav, a reversing camera and an electric sliding door aren’t on the standard kit list.

But what price can you put on that VW camper van cachet? Can the three-pointed star outshine it?

Indeed, the starting price for the VW California Ocean is over £3000 less than that of the entry-level Marco Polo. That’s a figure that can buy an awful lot of kit – and they can be extras of your choosing, not a manufacturer’s – or many tanks of diesel.

We look forward to spending more time in the new Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo in an attempt to find out which is the more canny camper.