• Ten years of the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo

    mercedes marco polo
Whether it be a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend a sunny weekend away, a planned holiday trip, the daily commute or the weekly supermarket run, the compact Mercedes-Benz Viano Marco Polo camper van is a vehicle for all occasions. It is compact enough for standard-sized garages or multi-storeys and feels equally at home in the city and on the campsite. Now the Vito Marco Polo – Mercedes’ best-selling camper van – is celebrating its tenth birthday.

Innovative details right from the start

Launched in 1996, the Vito Marco Polo was Mercedes-Benz’ first compact camper van – a younger brother for the legendary Sprinter James Cook. It was modelled on the recently introduced Vito van whose dynamic design, car-like dimensions and excellent manoeuvrability made it the ideal platform for a compact camper van with high everyday practicality. The interior of the Vito Marco Polo was laid out in the classical manner: a fully fitted kitchen with cupboards on the left-hand side plus a seating area comprising swivelling front seats, a table and a folding seat bench. A further sleeping area in the pop-up roof was available as an option.

Innovative details made the Vito Marco Polo stand out right from the start. For instance, the rail-mounted bench seat was movable whilst the cupboards were fitted with practical roll-fronts and the table could be stowed in the sliding door panelling when not in use.

Space-saving features included a dashboard-mounted shift lever. Plus the installation of a foot-operated parking brake facilitated access to the rear. A cheerful decor, including yellow and grey furniture, added to the holiday ambience. A few simple moves were all it took to reposition or remove the bench seat, transforming the Vito Marco Polo into a spacious van in next to no time. The diesel versions proved most popular, especially the economical yet powerful CDI-engined models with an output of up to 90 kW (122 hp), which were introduced in 1999.

The trendsetter in its segment

The next-generation Marco Polo arrived in summer 2003, now based on the new Viano MPV. Once again, the camper van lived up to its reputation as a trendsetter: the individual seat-style rear bench was electrically adjustable and foldable with an infinite number of settings. Further highlights of the seat included electro-pneumatic cushioning and a luggage drawer. The standard-fit raised roof came with the option of an electro-hydraulic system ("Easy-up") for effortless opening and featured a bellows which contracted automatically whilst the roof was being closed. A further touch of elegance was provided by the furniture’s aluminium-style highlights.

The floor plan remained the same while the dimensions of the new Viano Marco Polo again proved ideal for everyday use. What is more, the camper van could now boast better handling dynamics than ever before, not to mention an exemplary level of safety. There was a choice of powerful CDI engines with four or six cylinders and an output of up to 150 kW (204 hp) or, alternatively, refined V6 petrol engines developing up to 170 kW (231 hp). Thanks to its rear-wheel drive configuration, the Viano Marco Polo benefited from balanced weight distribution and, therefore, outstanding handling.

Unrivalled safety equipment

The standard safety equipment package featured an unrivalled combination of the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), anti-lock braking system (ABS), acceleration skid control (ASR), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BAS). Powerful disc brakes all round as well as driver and front-passenger air-bags were also part of the standard specification. These are some of the main reasons why the Viano passed a EURO-NCAP-style crash test with flying colours last autumn, posting scores on a par with a five-star rating and thus matching the best passenger cars.

The new Viano Marco Polo again attracted new followers at an impressive rate, the number of registrations rising to a record level in just a short time. A total of 1,364 models were sold in the camper van’s first full year of production in 2004. Last year, the Viano Marco Polo broke the record again with a total of 1,450 units leaving the showroom. This figure is set to rise once more in 2006, the camper van’s 10th anniversary year. Around 7,000 Vito and Viano Marco Polo models have been produced to date, more than half of which are from the current model series. It is easily the most popular Mercedes camper van.

Marco Polo makes a successful return to China

The Marco Polo’s popularity has extended beyond Germany for some time. Almost two thirds of the models produced are now exported, the most important markets being Spain, Italy, France and Europe’s German-speaking countries. Even China recently joined this list as around 100 Marco Polo vehicles have now been sold there, mostly featuring top-of-the-line equipment and appointments such as a V6 petrol engine and leather upholstery. In China, the Viano Marco Polo is viewed more as a top-of-the-range mobile office than a camper van. This export success is especially apt, since the explorer whose name the Marco Polo camper van bears was the first European to successfully travel around China in the 13th century.

Now even more attractive: V6 CDI, all-wheel drive, special-edition "Activity" model

Much of the success is attributable to the highly effective design and the on-going model enhancement programme.

For instance, since spring 2005 the optionally available roof bed has a mattress with flexible, independent spring elements, which has been awarded the seal of approval by "Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V.", a German organisation formed to promote back health. In the summer of last year, the Viano Marco Polo became the only vehicle in this category to feature a particulate filter as standard for all diesel models. New additions to the line-up include the Viano Marco Polo with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, which puts even the most remote of destinations within easy reach, and the Viano Marco Polo 3.0 CDI with its powerful yet smooth and economical V6 CDI engine developing 150 kW (204 hp). Last but not least, the highly impressive special-edition "Activity" model offers a wealth of equipment at an attractive price.

Produced by Westfalia Van Conversion

From the start, the Viano Marco Polo has been produced by Westfalia Van Con-version, a fully-owned DaimlerChrysler subsidiary of five years. Westfalia Van Conversion boasts an impressive track record, having produced more than 500,000 recreational vehicles and camper vans during the course of the past 55 years. The resultant expertise is clear to see in each individual Mercedes-Benz Viano Marco Polo.

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