Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

Last Updated: November 11, 2021

Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

Ford-Transit-VS-Mercedes-Sprinter-VS-Ram-Promaster-VS-Nissan-NV-Choosing-Van-(Heading-1920px)

1- Ford Transit


1.1- Overview


While the Sprinter draws a lot of attention in the campervan world, the Ford Transit dominates the commercial van market with close to 26% of total sales in the USA (source). Introduced in 2015 in North America, the Ford Transit is got an overhaul in 2020 with new engine options, a long awaited AWD (All Wheel Drive) drivetrain, and other high-tech upgrades (adaptive cruise control, pre-collision assist, etc.). 

Ford Transit Van Medium Front View
Ford Transit Van 250 Medium Roof Side View
Ford Transit Van Medium Rear View

1.2- Build ANd Price


Style
  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van
Length
  • Regular 18.5 ft (130″ WB)
  • Long 20 ft (148″ WB)
  • Extended 22 ft (148″ WB)
Height
  • Low Roof (83.2″)
  • Medium Roof (100.8″)
  • High Roof (110.2″)
Engines
  • 3.5L Direct Injection (Gas)
  • 3.5L EcoBoost (Gas)
  • 2.0L EcoBlue (Diesel)
Drivetrain
  • RWD
  • RWD LSD (Limited Slip Differential)
  • AWD (All Wheel Drive)

Use the Ford.com “Build & Price” interactive tool to build your own Ford Transit (and find out the price). Try it, it’s neat:

1.3- Exterior Dimensions


Ford-Transit-Van-Lengths-and-Heights-Variants-Dimensions

1.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions


All photos credit: https://www.adriansteel.com/item/cargo-vans/dimensions/

REGULAR LENGTH (130WB)

LOW ROOF
Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Regular-Length-130WB,-Low-Roof)
MEDIUM ROOF
Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Regular-Length-130WB,-Medium-Roof)

LONG LENGTH (148WB)

LOW ROOF
Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Long-Length-148WB,-Low-Roof)
MEDIUM ROOF
Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Long-Length-148WB,-Medium-Roof)
HIGH ROOF
Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Long-Length-148WB,-High-Roof 2)

EXTENDED LENGTH (148WB)
HIGH ROOF

Ford-Transit-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(Extended-Length-148WB,-High-Roof)

1.5- Repair & Maintenance


$866 USD ANNUAL REPAIR COST (SOURCE: REPAIRPAL.COM)

Ford, Mercedes, or Ram: regardless of makes and brands, repair and maintenance is inevitable in the long run. Sure, you might get a free espresso at the Mercedes dealer, but Ford dealers are all over the map (dealer locator), are way cheaper, and parts availability is VERY good. Knowing we live full time in our van and travel a lot to remote places, that’s a MASSIVE reason to go for the Ford Transit instead of the Mercedes Sprinter! 

How reliable is the Ford Transit? We’re tracking absolutely all the repair cost of our Transit; in 5 years of ownership (2016 to 2022), we spent $2400 USD (excluding tires & oil change). We’re very pleased with that! See our detailed repair log book:

1.6- Our Opinion


WHAT WE LIKE
  • Reasonable ownership cost.
  • Extensive dealership network.
  • Get parts cheap and fast.
  • Drives like a minivan.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
  • Rear brakes wear fast. Keep an eye on them.

INITIAL COST: We initially looked for a Sprinter (because that’s what everybody did back in 2015), and quickly realized we could get a brand new Ford Transit (full warranty, no previous owner, customized options, etc.) for pretty much the same price as a used Sprinter…

REPAIR & MAINTENANCE: Then we realized that even if the Sprinter is a high-end vehicle, they do break down a lot. Looking at the Mercedes dealership map (Mercedes dealer locator), it got us thinking: what would happen if we wanted to travel to Alaska or South America? Heck, even in the USA, there are no dealers outside of the major cities!

TEST-DRIVE: We then test-drove both a Transit and a Sprinter… we much preferred the Transit as it felt more like driving a minivan (nimble and predictable), whereas the Sprinter felt like driving a full-size cargo van.

COMMON SENSE: At very last, we asked ourselves this question: “If we had to buy a car, would we buy a Mercedes or a Ford?” Yep, it all made sense now: we much prefer spending money on mountain biking gear and adventures rather than on a luxury vehicle!

Needless to say, we went for a brand new Ford Transit 2016, and we’re glad we did!

1.7- Resources


2 YEARS OF WINTER VANLIFE
Winter-Vanlife-How-To-Tips-FarOutRide-Induction

REAL WORLD REPORT ON THE FORD TRANSIT: Traction Control System (TCS), Limited Slip Differential (LSD), 4×4 (lack of), RWD vs FWD, Tires, Snow Chains, Recovery Devices, How to Climb Like a Boss…

BUILD & PRICE YOUR OWN FORD TRANSIT
Ford-logo-2003-1366x768

Feel free to try any configuration and see the effect on the price…

2- Mercedes Sprinter


2.1- Overview


Until a few years ago, DIY campervan conversion (almost) necessarily meant Sprinter-van (in North America). Indeed, the Sprinter has been around since 2001 (branded back then as “Freightliner”, then re-branded as Dodge in 2003) way before the Transit or the ProMaster. Today, the Mercedes Sprinter takes 10% of the commercial van market in USA (source)

Mercedes Sprinter Van Side View
Mercedes Sprinter Van Rear View

2.2- Build ANd Price


Style
  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van
Length
  • Standard 19.5 ft (144″ WB)
  • Long 22.8 ft (170″ WB)
  • Extended 24.15 ft (170″ WB)
Height
  • Standard Roof (96.3″)
  • High Roof (110″)
  • Super-High Roof (120.1″)
Engines
  • 2.0L Turbo (Gas)
  • 3.0L Turbo (Diesel)
Drivetrain
  • RWD
  • 4×4

Use the MBvans.com “Build Your Van” interactive tool to build your own Sprinter van:

2.3- Exterior Dimensions


2.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions


All photos credit: https://www.adriansteel.com/item/cargo-vans/dimensions/

STANDARD LENGTH (144WB),
LOW ROOF:

Mercedes-Sprinter-Van-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(144WB,-Low-Roof)

LONG LENGTH (170WB),
HIGH ROOF:

Mercedes-Sprinter-Van-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(170WB,-High-Roof)

EXTENDED LENGTH (170WB), HIGH ROOF:

Mercedes-Sprinter-Van-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(170WB,-High-Roof-Extended)

2.5- Repair & Maintenance


$1,778 USD ANNUAL REPAIR COST (SOURCE: REPAIRPAL.COM)

Sprinter vans are great until things go wrong. Dealers are only located in major cities (see dealer locator), parts & labor are VERY costly, and parts availability is poor and can take time.

Vans are ALWAYS at the center of discussions when meeting other van people. And we met MANY vanlifers during our two years on the road.  There are just too many horror stories with the Sprinter: black death, limp mode, DEF heater failure, clogged DPF, etc. Whatever it is called, it seems every Sprinter owner had to deal with it at some point.

2.6- Our Opinion


WHAT WE LIKE
  • Good Mileage.
  • Free espresso at the dealer.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
  • High ownership cost.
  • High risk of turning into a money pit on wheels.

High initial cost, reliability issues, and massive maintenance/repair cost… For some reason, the Sprinter has a big appeal among campervan builders, but we don’t really know why. Is it the good mileage? The 4×4? The Mercedes name? Whatever it is, we think it’s not worth the risk. We personally know too many people wasting huge amounts of money trying to keep their Sprinter alive.

No thanks, we’ll pass.

2.7- Resources


BUILD & PRICE YOUR OWN MERCEDES SPRINTER
Mercedes-Logo
MODIFICATIONS & OEM GUIDELINES

Body And Equipment Guidelines (BEG) :

3- Ram ProMaster


3.1- Overview


The Fiat Ducato is marketed as the ProMaster in North-America since 2013.  With 11% of total commercial van sales in the USA (source), the Ram ProMaster is doing well. It is most notably known for its FWD drivetrain and for its “square” cargo area, which makes the life of campervan builders easier!

3.2- Build ANd Price


Style
  • Cargo Van
  • “Window” Van
Length
  • 136″ WB 17.75 ft
  • 159″ WB 19.75 ft
  • 159″ WB Extended 20.85 ft
Height
  • Low Roof (88″)
  • High Roof (99″)
Engines
  • 3.6L Pentastar (Gas)
Drivetrain
  • FWD

Use the RamTrucks.com “Build Your Van” interactive tool to build your own ProMaster van:

3.3- Exterior Dimensions


3.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions


All photos credit: https://www.adriansteel.com/item/cargo-vans/dimensions/

136″ WHEELBASE

LOW ROOF:
Ram-ProMaster-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(136WB,-Low-Roof)
HIGH ROOF:
Ram-ProMaster-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(136WB,-High-Roof)

159″ WHEELBASE,
HIGH ROOF:

Ram-ProMaster-Interior-Cargo-Dimensions-(159WB,-High-Roof)

159″ WHEELBASE EXTENDED,
HIGH ROOF:

3.5- Repair & Maintenance


$859 USD ANNUAL REPAIR COST (SOURCE: REPAIRPAL.COM)

We honestly don’t have much data on the ProMaster. Asking around, it seems very similar to the Ford Transit in terms of cost and dealership network.

Are you a ProMaster owner? Share your experience with us using the comment section below!

3.6- Our Opinion


WHAT WE LIKE
  • With its “square” cargo area, the ProMaster is the widest of all vans, and straight walls are easier to build in.
  • Reasonable ownership cost.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
  • Front Wheel Drive (thumbs down, that’s right). A converted van has more weight on its rear axle, which means more traction on the rear wheels. Here in British-Columbia, we frequently have to go up very steep 4WD high-clearance roads to get access to our favorite mountain-biking trails or backcountry skiing zones; a front wheel drive doesn’t have enough traction to do this. Seeing the astonished reaction of people when we arrive on top of what’s considered a rough 4WD road doesn’t get old 🙂 “Is that van four wheel drive?
Axle Weight Traction

Knowing that MORE WEIGHT = MORE TRACTION, we’re glad our van is RWD!

Weight Traction Uphill

We get more traction when climbing a steep incline, because there is even more weight on the rear axle!

3.7 REality Check


We reached out to a friend who lived in his Sprinter van for 4 years and just switched to a ProMaster (full time as well). Keeping the same habits, he says that he got stuck as much in 3 months as he did in 4 years in his Sprinter. So while we have nothing against the ProMaster (we have absolutely no affiliation with any brand), it might not be the best vehicle to take on the back roads.

3.8- Resources


BUILD & PRICE YOUR OWN RAM PROMASTER
MODIFICATIONS & OEM GUIDELINES

Design Recommendation

Frame Alterations

Wiring

Etc.

4- Nissan NV


4.1- Our Opinion


While we should stay objective and look at the specifications and be rational in making a decision, we just can’t handle how this thing looks. Sorry, but that’s how we feel. So we’ll leave it here for now.

————————- EDIT 2020: LOOKS LIKE NISSAN IS ABOUT TO DISCONTINUE THE NV VAN: https://www.thetorquereport.com/nissan/nissan-nv-vans-are-likely-being-discontinued/ —————————–

Nissan NV Cargo Van Front View
Nissan NV Cargo Van Side View
Nissan NV Cargo Van Rear View

4.2- Build ANd Price


Style
  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van
Length
  • 146″ Wheelbase (20 ft exterior length)
Height
  • Standard Roof (84″)
  • High Roof (105″)
Engines
  • 4.0L V6 (Gas)
  • 5.6L V8 (Gas)
Drivetrain
  • RWD

Use the NissanUSA.com “Build & Price” interactive tool to build your own NV van:

4.3- Exterior Dimensions


Nissan NV Cargo Van Exterior Dimensions

4.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions


All photos credit: https://www.adriansteel.com/item/cargo-vans/dimensions/

NISSAN NV LOW ROOF:

Nissan-NV-Cargo-Van-Interior-Dimensions-(Low-Roof)

NISSAN NV HIGH ROOF:

Nissan-NV-Cargo-Van-Interior-Dimensions-(High-Roof)

4.5- Repair & Maintenance


$859 USD ANNUAL REPAIR COST (SOURCE: REPAIRPAL.COM)

5- BEST VAN FOR CAMPER BUILD: Our Humble Opinion


We have to be totally transparent here. We’re biased towards the Ford Transit. Not because we have any affiliation with Ford; we’re biased because we’ve owned our Transit since 2016, and living in it full time since 2017 and we’re still totally in love with it.

We were looking for a reasonably priced van that’s easy & cheap to maintain and that would not let us down no matter what. And that’s exactly what our Transit has delivered. For this reason, if we totaled our van tomorrow, we would buy another Transit in a split second without any hesitation.

Van-Tour-Heading

VAN TOUR, 3D MODEL, COST & LABOR, BUILD JOURNAL, WEIGHT, ETC.

THAT’S IT FOLKS, HOPE THAT HELPS!


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About us


NICE TO MEET YOU.

About-Us-Narrow

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then, and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!