According to the Camping and Caravanning Club, 76 per cent of kids notice that their parents have more time for hugs when camping. That’s the sort of lovely, happy fact that ought to have you cancelling your holiday in the Maldives in favour of a week under canvas in the Lake District.
The problem with camping is that, most of the time, it’s a fairly dire activity. Sure, tents have come on since the post-war camping boom of the 50s, but the weather in the UK remains unreliable and you still have to traipse across the campsite at night if you need the loo. And no amount of hugs can compensate for being woken up by your neighbour’s snoring.
The answer could be a motorhome. Most people looking for a snazzy camper will default to a Volkswagen; the A303 towards the South West is full of VW Campers at the beginning of the school holidays. But if you want something a cut above, you need a Mercedes-Benz.
Nope, we’re not talking about getting your family to kip in the back of your E-Class (even if it’s an estate), but the new V-Class Marco Polo camper.
Named after the famous explorer, it might look like an upmarket airport shuttle, but it’s been converted by Westfalia, the same company that’s been doing up Volkswagens for decades. As such, it’s broadly similar to the equivalent VW inside. There’s a micro-kitchen featuring a double hob and a tiny fridge, two armchairs that turn into beds and, in the pop-up roof, an extra double bed. It all feels very upmarket: the seats are leather, of course, and yacht wood flooring is standard.
In the rear, there’s a table and chairs, while an optional awning pops out from the side, should you want a bit of extra cover (probably a good idea in the UK).
The best thing about the Marco Polo is the way it drives. It’s no bigger than a regular van, meaning you can slot in and out of traffic with little difficulty (we blended in with the Ubers at Heathrow Airport without a fuss). If you really needed to, you could drive one every day without your commute becoming an unimaginable nightmare. And should you wish to hit the road and drive to Spain for a family holiday, it’s easily comfortable and luxurious enough to do so.
Its standard seven-speed automatic gearbox contributes towards the pleasant drive, as does the 190hp diesel engine fitted to our V250d test vehicle (a 163hp V220d is also available). Clearly it’s not the last word in driving dynamics, but you can sit at 80mph on European motorways fairly easily.
Downsides? Well, its relatively compact dimensions means it’s not exactly spacious. Clever packaging crams everything in, but you’ll have to be fairly close to anyone you’re going away with.
Then there’s the price. The Sport model, tested here, starts at £56,670, but that soon edges towards £60,000 when you add a few options (the £1,345 diesel auxiliary water heater, for example). If all you’re after is a day van, Volkswagen sells a stripped-out California Beach model for less than £40,000.
Looking at it from another angle, a luxurious SUV with a four-berth caravan could easily cost you a combined £100,000. Plus the Marco Polo’s resale values ought to be pretty solid, too.
Camping isn’t for everyone. But with the faltering pound, staycations are on-trend, meaning you could do worse than investing in an alternative way to facilitate your holidays. And camping doesn’t get much more luxurious than the Mercedes-Benz V-Class Marco Polo.
• Andrew Brady works for motoringresearch.com