(and why we went with a Ford Transit Connect)
Any cargo van (or even minivan) can be converted for van life, but a few models tend to be most popular for various reasons. We outline the most popular options for van conversions and share considerations for selecting the best vans for conversion.
The Ford Transit is the best-selling van in the United States, and one of the most popular vans for conversion. It comes in 3 different lengths (regular, long and extended) and 3 different roof heights (low, medium and high). The medium-height roof features a 6-foot tall interior while the high roof has a 6’9.5” interior. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and AWD is available.
It’s a dependable van, and the popularity of the van and the breadth of the Ford dealership network means parts and service are easy to find, even when on the road.
This Sprinter is your choice when you want a van conversion, but you also want to say you have a Mercedes. Available in configurations similar to the Ford Transit, with two roof heights (standard and high), 3 lengths and available 4-wheel drive. However, the German engineering and Mercedes-Benz badge means the Sprinter commands a hefty ($10k+) premium over the Ford Transit.
The Ram Promaster is comparable in many ways to the Ford Transit, with 2 roof heights (standard and high) and 4 lengths. It’s not as common as the Ford Transit, but several companies, including Wayfarer Vans, make amazing conversion kits for the Promaster. So depending on your conversion plans, the Promaster could be the best van for you.
Compact vans and Eurovans
If you don’t need the space of a full size cargo van, or if you want something easier to drive and manoeuvre (including getting into underground parking garages), consider a compact minivan or Eurovan. They’re generally around 6-feet tall and approximately the size of a minivan (sometimes a bit smaller)… and often less long than large sedans.
The 3 most common compact vans include:
- Ford Transit Connect
- Ram Promaster City
- Mercedes-Benz Metris
The Transit Connect and Promaster City have similar specs and price, although the Transit Connect (as of 2020) offers much better infotainment and driver assistance features. While they both have smaller, more fuel efficient engines than their larger cargo van siblings, they still have sufficient payload for most conversions and can tow small trailers.
The Mercedes-Benz Metris is unique in that it maintains the larger, more powerful engine found in full-size vans and trucks. So if you need maximum payload or towing capacity in a small package, this might be your best bet. But the price tag will reflect that.
Standard minivans aren’t often the first thought when it comes to van conversions, but they’re serious contenders, especially if you want to blend in for stealth camping. They also come better insulated than a cargo van.
A used minivan might be a better option than buying new, because it’s a waste to pay for the second and third row seating that you’ll be discarding.
Several companies make conversion kits for common minivan models.
Our 2020 Ford Transit Connect
We live in a condo building with an underground parking garage. So for us it was important to have a van that would fit in the garage and our parking spot. We narrowed our search down to a compact van or Eurovan, and considered the Ford Transit Connect, Mercedes-Benz Metris and Ram Promaster City. We also briefly considered the Nissan SV200, but it really didn’t stack up against the others.
The Metris was an attractive contender, because it offered the most powerful engine and largest cargo space, being a full foot longer than the Transit Connect, and 5” wider inside the wheel wells. But at the end of the day, it was $10k more expensive than the Transit Connect and Promaster City, while offering fewer technology features (no Apple Carplay, cruise control not standard).
That left the Transit Connect and Promaster City. We wanted to move quickly, so we looked at local dealership inventory to see what vehicles were immediately available. (Being in the Greater Toronto Area, we’re fortunate to have several dealerships within a 100km radius and no shortage of selection.)
The Promaster City had the advantage of different colours in inventory, while the Transit Connect only had white vans in inventory. It would have been nice to get away from the standard white cargo van, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. (And white vans stay much cooler in the summer.)
The decision was made when we came across a single Transit Connect at Marigold Ford in Whitby. Most vehicles in inventory were base models, but this was an XLT trim with the optional side door and rear windows. While solid doors offer security and privacy, windows really brighten up the interior and are a must-have if you’re camping in stunning locations and want to enjoy the view. So we visited the dealership and bought ourselves a van!
By really analyzing our needs, we found the Ford Transit Connect (which isn’t necessarily the most popular option) to be the best van for our camper conversion.
Tell us about your van in the comments. Why did you choose your van? What do you love about it?