Mercedes-Benz is having a crack at the camper van market with its luxury recreational vehicle, the Marco Polo Activity. Not quite a van, not quite a camper van, this compact pop-top is aimed at appealing to those members of the ever-growing van-life sub-culture who prefer clamping over camping.
We put an Activity through its paces on daily family duties for a week, as well as a 200km loop of bitumen and dirt roads, in order to see how well it fared as an Adventure mobile.
The Activity manages to avoid appearing too straight-up-and-down and boxy and for something based on its Vito stablemate, a van, that’s a mighty achievement. For an RV the Activity has plenty of presence without any undue bulkiness.
The pop-up roof with roof bed folds down to the roof-line quite neatly on its rear hinge for when the Activity is in motion, so it’s not an eyesore at all.
The Activity has plenty of presence without any undue bulkiness.
Of note is the fact the front seats swivel around to face the rear – obviously you only do that when the vehicle is stationary – and the three-seater bench at the very rear of the cabin lays flat, along with the second row, to make a double bed.
Overall, the Activity is a pleasant-looking vehicle, inside and out.
How practical is the space inside?
For starters, opening and closing the side doors is a breeze; the two sliding doors are both electric so once you have lifted the handle, the doors do the rest of the work for you.
There’s plenty of room inside – for front and rear passengers. The interior is all durable plastic, hard-wearing cloth and leather-trim (on the armrests etc) – well suited to a life of day-to-day family duties and touring fun.
There's plenty of room on the inside, and opening and closing the doors is a breeze.
Driver and front-seat passengers get adjustable armrests and some storage space – glove box, door pockets with a space each for a bottle – but, annoyingly, there is no centre console at all – but its absence is so the front seats can swivel around, as mentioned.
There are four bottle holders – two brackets, two indents – for rear passengers. Looking for more storage space? Check under the second-row seats for handy tucked-away recesses.
There is no centre console, but this is so that the front seats can swivel around.
The media/entertainment system is not a touchscreen unit and is a real let-down; the 5.8-inch screen is small and the controls are via knobs and counter-intuitive.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Our Activity was $71,709 (as tested, with $8082 worth of optional extras on top of the base vehicle price, $63,627).
The optional equipment included: 'Cavansite Blue' metallic paint ($1355), the aforementioned 'Driving Assistance Package' ($1345), fog lights ($309), 17-inch alloy wheels ($627), electrical sliding doors (left and right, $2264), seven seats ($1500), and a side-mounted silver awning ($682).
As standard it has two large double beds – the pop-up roof bed and the seats-folded-flat one – and you get the usual array of gear you’d expect in something like this – audio system (but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), daytime running lights, air con, etc – but you don’t get other stuff, such as a kitchenette, fridge or stove, that you might assume to be in something touted to be campervan-like.
You do, however, have access to two batteries so you’re able to run your own fridge off of one battery, without laying awake at night in your roof-top bed worried about the main battery running out of juice.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The Activity's engine produces 120kW/380Nm.
This Activity has a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (120kW at 3800rpm and 380Nm between 1400-2400rpm) with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
What's it like as a daily driver?
Pretty damn good. For a big unit – 5140mm long (3200mm wheelbase), 1928mm wide, 1980mm high with a kerb weight of 2380kg – the rear-wheel drive Activity doesn't feel unwieldy on city or urban streets.
Its turning circle is 11.8m, which is better than plenty of large SUVs – and it can fairly punt along the open road, egged along by that 2.2-litre turbo-diesel.
The Activity’s seven-speed auto has a three-on-the-tree (Reverse-Neutral-Drive) and Park shifter stalk on the right-hand side of the tilt-and-reach-adjustable steering column.
I haven’t spent a lot of time in Mercs of any sort, but once you’ve become used to the positioning of the shifter – and the fact your indicator and windscreen wiper stalks are one and the same, and to the left of the steering column – then it’s simple enough to work out how to get this Merc moving. Once you’ve used your hand to release the foot-engaged parking brake with the park-brake release handle below and to the right of the steering wheel, that is. (Exhale.)
On road, the Activity is a smooth sailor. Steering is light and responsive; the driver’s seating position is high and offers plenty of visibility out any window – as long as you don’t have the privacy curtains pulled shut.
The driver and front passenger seats could, however, do with more under-thigh support. Our test example had five seats for travelling, with a bench seat for two or three people at the rear for when you are stationary; all seats are cloth.
Niggle: Lane-wander warning, part of the optional equipment list on our tester, is a bit touchy – it doesn’t allow for taking the race line through a corner – and sends a juddering sensation through the steering wheel to alert you.
What’s it like as a tourer?
It’s a solid attempt at doing all things for all people and comes into its own, mostly, when you reach your campsite.
On the way to camp it remains a smooth rider; its suspension is well suited to light-duty country road touring with no thumping through surprise potholes in this thing.
There’s also little in the way of body-roll; in fact, it’s a tight, well-controlled drive in something you’d assume was a bit cumbersome to ride in around town and in the country.
Once the Activity is stopped, its front seats can be swivelled rearwards to face the back row and establish a nice little communal area. A console in front of the second-row can be slid forwards and backwards on a recessed track and it raises and unfolds to become a table, recreational centre-piece (cards anyone?) or a handy food-prep area.
It's a solid attempt at doing all things for all people.
The side-mounted silver awning – a $682 option and fitted to the driver’s side of the van – is easy enough to put up even if only one person is willing to do the job, but it’s a two-person job to roll it back into its recess because both top struts need to be bent inwards at the same time for ease of execution, which I discovered is not possible to do by yourself unless you have the arm-span of Shaquille O’Neal.
When it comes time for bed, the second row folds flat, as does the rear bench seat, thus combining to make a comfy-enough double. The pop-top’s sides are made of water-resistant fabric and have zips to allow fresh air in.
The roof-top bed has its own mattress and is on a sturdy platform – able to cop two adults with maximum total weight of 200kg – and it’s easy to push up and, when you’re ready to get back on the road, it’s simple enough to fold back down to the roof.
The roof top bed is sturdy and easy to use.
Just remember to clip it down securely inside before you set off – we’ve heard a horror story of one being severely damaged because it lifted up once the camper reached open-road speed because the unit hadn’t been properly stowed away.
There are two 12-volt sockets in the front and rear. Payload is a claimed 720kg. Maximum towing capacity is 2500kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked). GVM is 3100kg.
The second-row folds flat to a comfortable enough double.
How much fuel does it consume?
Because the Activity is a rear-wheel drive van, we didn’t venture onto anything more serious than well-maintained gravel roads, and even then we took it very gently.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 6.3L/100km – we recorded 9.3L/100km over 150km of mostly bitumen with a smattering of easy gravel track. It has a 70-litre fuel tank.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Activity has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, based on crash tests of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class in 2014. There are airbags up front, but none for rear passengers, and the Activity has a reversing camera and parking sensors, front and rear, and forward collision alert as standard gear.
Our tester also had the $1345 Driving Assistance Package ('Collision Prevention Assist', 'Blind Spot Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', rain-sensing wipers).
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
It has a three-year/200,000km warranty and a 24-hour roadside assist support package. Service intervals are scheduled for every 12 months or 25,000km.
The Activity is a smooth-riding, comfortable tourer with a real touch of class, but it’s let down by the old-school entertainment system, its sometimes clunky and counter-intuitive design and engineering, and the lack of a kitchenette.
Having said that, this compact campervan is a more than adequate and classy introduction to the world of touring for those who want to dabble in the adventure-travel culture but not necessarily immerse themselves in it just yet.