Mercedes Marco Polo camper outsmarts the VW California with new tech
The Volkswagen California continues to captivate the imaginations of weathered van lifers and wanderlusting wannabes alike, but other camper vans with origins in Westphalia are now the ones pushing the envelope. The Ford Nugget impresses with its space-enhancing layout, and the Mercedes Marco Polo becomes the smartest small camper van on autobahns. Refreshed just last year, the Marco Polo follows the Sprinter in adding smart home-style control to its comfy, elegant #vanlife experience. Pop the sleeper roof, turn camp into a music-filled party, or dim the lights, all from the dashboard touchscreen or a smartphone.
With its expandable James Cook, Westfalia showed one of the first camper vans with Mercedes-Benz Advanced Control (MBAC) technology at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. Now the smaller Westfalia-built Marco Polo follows suit, gaining MBUX infotainment up front and MBAC all around.
MBAC technology ties together the driver cab, living area and Bluetooth-connected smart device in putting comprehensive mobile home control at your fingertips. In addition to simpler features like water level and battery power monitoring, the system makes full control of the pop-up roof, refrigerator temperature, auxiliary heating, lighting, sunroof and Jehnert sound system as easy as poking and swiping.
Notice that your breath has grown frosty as you sit outside after sunset? Preheat the camper cabin before bed without moving from your camping chair. And if it's not bedtime yet, set the heater timer.
Want a little acoustic folk to complement the crackle of campfire? Switch on the sound system without so much as rustling the chair fabric.
Until Mercedes adds a robotic butler to the Marco Polo MBAC ecosystem, you'll still have to get up and get your own beer out of the fridge. But if you notice it's a little warm when you sit back down, you can go right back to your MBAC app and lower the fridge temperature.
Along with a Bluetooth-connected smartphone, MBAC works through the 7- or 10.3-in MBUX infotainment touchscreen in the driver cab. This system also offers voice control for automotive and infotainment features, but not yet camper functions. Looking at the 2018 Concept Marco Polo, it seems it'll only be a matter of time before Mercedes voice control tech evolves to incorporate camper van components. With the concept, Mercedes showed how a statement as simple as "Hey Mercedes, I want to relax" could essentially set up the entire camp, with the vehicle setting about leveling its air suspension, popping the roof, deploying the awning, switching the ambient lighting on and putting on music.
Volkswagen seemed like it was ready to lead the smart camper van charge when it showed an impressive touchscreen/tablet command center on the 2017 California XXL Concept, but a year later it dropped that system in favor of a smaller, simpler control touchscreen on the the production Grand California, letting Mercedes pick up the dropped ball and roll out the robust MBAC system on both full-size and mid-size van campers.
Volkswagen added a touchscreen control system earlier this year on the California 6.1, but that system doesn't offer the same level of integration as Mercedes' design, either. So for now, those who want a seamless, high-tech connected camper van experience should be looking harder at Mercedes than VW vans, despite the big reputation that precedes the latter.
Mercedes did not release pricing details with this week's announcement, but the updated, MBAC-equipped Marco Polo and Marco Polo Horizon are set to go up for order this month. They'll also be on show at next month's CMT show in Stuttgart.