Are you ready to start your van life adventure? Choosing the right van for your needs might look like a daunting task. After all, there are several great van models out there: Sprinter, Transit, and Promaster – each with its own fierce community of fans and supporters. Not only that, but you’ve also probably seen hundreds of amazing custom van builds online showing off that #vanlife.
We get it. It can be hard to know where to start.
But when it comes to the most popular adventure vans on the market, three vehicles stand out. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Ram Promaster all have excellent features that make them great picks for van builds and conversions. We’ll dive into all three options below to help you weigh up their pros and cons.
A Few Tips
Before you get started, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions to help narrow down your selection. You could even realize that one or two of these vans don’t fit your essential criteria by answering these questions.
If that’s the case, then your decision-making process just got a lot easier! Either way, it’s helpful to know your priorities before embarking on your decision journey.
What’s your budget?
We’ll go in-depth into this topic later, but a budget should always be your first task. Otherwise, it’s easy to get carried away by all the cool features that some vans have to offer. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Establish a reasonable budget and work from there.
You may find that some vans may be out of your price range from the get-go. If so, consider other models instead of expanding your budget. Even if you stretch your budget to accommodate a higher price, you won’t be left with much money for interior fittings or exterior upgrades.
Also, think about how accessible van repair parts are in your area. Different models require different maintenance schedules, so it’s important to factor this in as well.
Are you looking for a new or used van?
A new van is definitely more expensive. However, a new van under warranty is the most reliable option, which can save you substantial repair costs down the line. Also, it may be easier to get financing to help you pay in installments.
If a new model is outside your budget, used vans are perfectly fine – as long as you do a careful inspection beforehand. If you can find a lightly used van that still has a warranty (highly unlikely right now, but thought we'd mention it), then you might end up with a steal.
What size van do you need?
Are you over 6 feet tall? Then you might want to take advantage of the extra 4” of ceiling height that the Transit offers compared to the Mercedes Sprinter.
However, if you need more horizontal space, then Sprinters offer the longest van sizes. So if you’re carrying extra passengers or need to haul a lot of bulky gear, the Sprinter may be a better option over the Ford Transit and Ram Promaster.
How long do you plan to use the van?
Are you planning to keep your adventure van for a long time? Or are you just planning to use it for a few years before selling it?
Sprinter vans are diesel vehicles, so they have a much longer lifespan than gas vehicles like the Ford Transit or Promaster. Therefore, if you plan to sell your van, the Sprinter will likely have a higher resale value down the line.
What will you use the van for?
Do you expect to encounter rugged terrain as you chase fresh powder on the snowy slopes? Then a 4x4 van is probably a necessity. On the other hand, if you’re just driving up and down the coast in search of the best surfing spots, an all-wheel-drive van might not be a requirement.
Also, consider how you plan to camp out in the van or live your van life. For example, if you want to prioritize interior space for cooking and sleeping, look for a van that gives you a more spacious layout and increased cargo volume.
How much maintenance are you willing to put up with?
We’ll get into the specifics below, but different vans require different maintenance levels. If you’re handy with a wrench and don’t mind getting under the hood, you might be able to handle more minor repairs yourself. But more extensive repairs can get expensive quickly.
Read reviews from van owners to see what kind of issues they encounter most frequently. If you think these kinds of repairs will send you too far over budget, consider a more reliable cargo van option, or one with an extended warranty that doesn’t need specialized attention.
Transit vs. Sprinter vs. Promaster Overview
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a tried and tested favorite. Over the years, it has become a leader in the adventure van space. While the Sprinter’s high MSRP doesn’t fit everyone’s budget, it’s by far the most refined van in its category.
People have converted these cargo vans into mobile adventure machines for decades, and they are still the most popular option. As a daily driver and weekend warrior, the Sprinter beats out competitors like the Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster.
The Sprinter comes in diesel, gas, 2WD, or 4WD options. This flexibility, combined with next-level safety technology and a plethora of upgrades and accessories, makes Sprinters an easy choice for van lifers looking for the best. It's also the longest option available. So if you are looking for maximum space inside your van conversion, the Sprinter will accommodate lots of extra gear with room to spare.
The Sprinter comes in a few different wheelbase options, with two roof heights (that we recommend) and three body length options. The different options are:
- 144" wheelbase with a Standard Roof
- 144" wheelbase with a High Roof
- 170" wheelbase with a High Roof
- 170" wheelbase with an Extended High Roof
Sprinter Van Model Dimensions
Best Features of Mercedes Sprinter Vans
- The Sprinter is the only van on this list with a factory 4x4 option. So if you live in a cold climate, plan to overland, or just want the extra assurance of having a four-wheel-drive when needed, then the Sprinter beats the competition.
- Just like other Mercedes vehicles, the Sprinter van maintains a high resale value. True, you’ll probably pay more upfront. But the demand for Sprinters is high and resale values are typically excellent.
- The Sprinter has more clearance than the Transit or ProMaster. This is a significant advantage when going off-roading or driving in the snow.
- The Sprinter beats both the Transit and ProMaster for driver and front-seat comfort. There is significantly more legroom and headroom in the Sprinter. Plus, it has a more ergonomic seat position.
- Diesel Sprinters allow you to use the popular Espar or Webasto heating systems without an auxiliary diesel tank. That’s because diesel-powered heaters connect directly to the fuel tank.
- Sprinters have the largest aftermarket for parts, accessories, and upgrades. Shop for all our Sprinter upgrades here.
- Various interior and exterior color and material upgrades are available, so you can customize your Sprinter van to your desired aesthetic.
- Sprinters have an above-average MPG for 6-cyl diesel.
- Cost. Sprinters have the highest MSRP price of all van options. In addition, one could argue that they have a higher cost of ownership than other vans due to the cost of maintenance and replacement parts.
- Compared to Ford, it can be harder to find a Mercedes-Benz service center. With fewer service locations, be sure to check local availability before making a purchasing decision.
The Ford Transit van is becoming an increasingly popular option for conversion vans. One of the biggest reasons for the recent boost in popularity is that newer models (2020 and above) have a AWD All-Wheel Drive option. 4WD was one of the main reasons people opted for Sprinters in the past, so it looks like the Transit is capturing some of this market.
The new Ford Transits offer users a ton of great features. For example, top-end models include power inverters for AC hookups in the cargo area (something Sprinters still lack). In addition, they come with Ford’s newest infotainment system, the SYNC3. In comparison, most modern Sprinters will feature the capable MBUX infotainment system.
When it comes to fuel sources, Ford Transit's are available in both diesel and gas. In addition, its Ecoboost motor has won over many fans for a zippy ride and fuel efficiency comparable to the Sprinter.
The Ford Transit comes in a few different wheelbase options. It offers two roof heights (that we recommend) and two body length options. The different Transit options are:
- 148" wheelbase with a Mid Roof
- 148" wheelbase with a High Roof
- 148" extended wheelbase with a High Roof
The 148" High Roof and 148" High Roof Extended are the most popular options for van conversions. Still, the 148" Mid Roof is quickly gaining popularity.
Ford Transit Van Model Dimensions
Best Features of Ford Transit Vans
- Transits have the tallest roof option available on the market. This comes in handy if you’re tall or have bulky gear to store.
- A Ford Transit has a familiar driving feel. It drives more like a standard truck or small SUV than other cargo van conversions on the market.
- Transits have a wider interior than Sprinter vans. As a result, it’s possible for shorter people to sleep sideways without flares.
- Ford has an extensive service center network. As a result, it’s easier and less expensive to get your Transit serviced.
- The Ecoboost option achieves good gas mileage. The driving performance is also good, especially for a cargo van.
- Compared to the Sprinter, Transits have fewer upgrade options for interior and exterior colors and materials. But, there are still plenty of aftermarket accessories for the Transit. Shop our Transit products here.
- Used AWD Transits are harder to find. Ford only started offering an AWD option in 2020, compared to Sprinter, which has had a 4WD option for many years.
- Transit vans feature less clearance than the Sprinter. This makes them less suitable for rugged terrain.
- Transits are typically less fuel-efficient than Sprinters.
The Dodge (Ram) Promaster might trail Mercedes and Ford in terms of its share of the van conversion market. However, it does have some solid selling points. Most notably, its "square-like" interior space makes it pretty straightforward to build out. It even provides enough room for most people to sleep sideways without flares.
One of the significant downsides to the Promaster platform is the limited number of aftermarket upgrades. It also has a relatively low clearance and a lack of 4WD options.
On the plus side, the Promaster is easy to get serviced and has more accessible parts than the Mercedes Sprinter. It has less dealership coverage than the Ford Transit, but most US cities have a Dodge dealership and service center.
The overall aesthetic of the Promaster tends to divide opinion, but if you’re looking for an affordable conversion option that won’t be needed in off-roading or heavy-duty lifting, then consider this model.
The Dodge Promaster comes in a few different wheelbase options. The different Promaster options are:
- Promaster High Roof 136”
- Promaster High Roof 159”
- Promaster High Roof 159” Extended
The 136" and 159" are the most popular options for van conversions.
Dodge Promaster Van Model Dimensions
Best Features of Ram Promaster Vans
- The square-shaped interior makes it easier to build and plan than interiors with curved walls.
- The Promaster is more affordable than the Transit or Sprinter.
- It has a wide body that is convenient for sideways sleeping layouts.
- ProMaster’s have a tight turning radius.
- A small, but growing selection of roof racks and accessories. Shop for Ram Promaster upgrades here.
- No 4WD or AWD option. The Promaster only comes in 2WD, front-wheel drive. This places it at a disadvantage when it comes to rough terrain or steeper slopes. It’s best suited to flatter elevations.
- Lower power than other vans in this category. Promasters aren’t suitable for towing heavy loads.
What’s Your Budget - How the Sprinter vs. Transit vs. Promaster stack up price wise
Your budget is one of the most significant factors when it comes to choosing which van you want to use for your adventure conversion. If you just compare the MSRP prices, the Promaster and Transit are more affordable than the Sprinter. However, they lack some interior features and aftermarket upgrades compared to the Sprinter. Therefore, it’s essential to compare the features that come with the price tag before making your final decision.
Mercedes Sprinter - $$$
The Sprinter has the highest MSRP of the three options. They generally start at $5,000+ more than Transits with similar features. While this isn’t the case for every model, it gives you a good frame of reference to keep in mind.
Besides bearing the premium Mercedes brand name, Sprinters justify their price by offering a ton of features. They have advanced safety technology functions, extra comfort amenities, and the largest aftermarket for (links) interior and exterior upgrades and accessories. With a Sprinter as a base, you can modify your van with professionally-made parts until it fits the picture you have in your head. As long as you have the budget, of course.
If you want all the bells and whistles, the Sprinter should probably be your platform of choice. It’s great for people who want to work with their van right from the start. But, on the other hand, if you pick a Ford Transit or Dodge Promaster, you'll have fewer aftermarket options and upgrades.
Ford Transit - $$
The Transit has a more affordable starting MSRP than the Sprinter. It also has fewer aftermarket modifications available right out of the box. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t customize Transit vans. There are still plenty of options to upgrade and outfit your Transit van into an adventure machine. (Link) Check out all our parts and accessories for the Ford Transit here >>
In addition, if you opt for the top-tier Transit models, they offer a lot of the same features as comparable Sprinters. Seeing as Ford launched a new AWD Transit model in 2020, the gap between Transit and Sprinters appears to be shrinking.
Ram Promaster - $
The Promaster has a similar MSRP to the Transit. It's typically in line with any of the 2WD Transit models in terms of price. However, it’s less expensive than any AWD option from Ford or 4WD option from Mercedes.
From a technology standpoint, the Promaster can battle it out with Mercedes and Ford. Its new infotainment center in 2022 models is full of advanced features that rival the two other vans.
Overall, the Sprinter justifies its price tag by being the more sophisticated machine. It has built-in luxury amenities and more comfort features than the Transit or ProMaster and thus continues to be the leader for van life.
Sprinter vs. Transit vs. Promaster - Engine, Transmission, and MPG Comparison
The Sprinter comes in both gas and diesel options. Buyers can choose between a 4-cylinder gas model, a 4-cylinder diesel model, and a 6-cylinder diesel model.
The 6-cylinder diesel 4x4 model has gained popularity in recent years, and a new 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel option is set for release in 2022.
The new model will feature a new torque-on-demand AWD system that distributes torque to either the front or the rear when needed, thanks to its electronic clutch. It can detect wheel-spin and automatically adjusts the torque accordingly. In addition, the new model will feature an innovative speed delivery door that can detect movement and open doors automatically.
The 6-cylinder diesel model features a 7-speed auto transmission that achieves around 20 mpg. In comparison, the 4-cylinder gas model has a 9-speed auto transmission that reaches approximately 17 mpg.
|6 Cyl 3.0L Diesel||20||7 Speed Auto||188||325|
|4 Cyl 2.0L Gas||17||9 Speed Auto||188||258|
The Ford Transit is available in both gas and diesel options as well. The 3.5L V6 Eco Boost, 3.5L V6, and the 2.0L Turbo-Diesel are all available in North America, but the Eco Boost is the most popular option we see on the market.
The Eco Boost gives Transit drivers a powerful but nimble driving experience. Some tests report a 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds – not bad for a camper van. It performs equally well in the city and out on the highway, its 10-speed automatic transmission switching up the gears with ease. The Eco Boost and 3.5L V6 model can achieve around 17 mpg, while the 2.0L Turbo-Diesel does about 20 mpg.
Gas 3.5L V6 Eco Boost
|17||10 Speed Auto||
|3.5L V6 Gas||17||10 Speed Auto||271||260|
2.0L Turbo Diesel
10 Speed Auto
The Promaster is only available in a gasoline model, and it's underpowered when you compare it to the options for Sprinter and Transit. Its 3.6L V6 engine has a 7-speed automatic transmission that gets up to 17 mpg.
Since the Promaster doesn’t have a diesel option and features lower torque than comparable Sprinters and Transits, you shouldn’t use it for towing heavy loads. On the plus side, they have an excellent turning radius, which can be helpful in some situations.
|3.6L V6 Gas||17||7 Speed Auto||280||260|
4WD Sprinter vs. AWD Transit vs. FWD Promaster - Which One Do You Need?
Now that we’ve covered the affordability aspect and the engine specs, let’s take a further look at the drive systems.
- Sprinter offers both 2WD and 4WD models
- Transit is available in an AWD or RWD (rear-wheel drive) configuration
- Promaster is currently only available in 2WD
Both the Sprinter and Transit offer solid ground clearance. However, the Sprinter beats out the Transit when it comes to clearance. So even though all three can go off-road with the right wheels and tires, none of them will win any rock crawling competitions.
The Sprinter van is labeled (and badged) as a 4x4, but that’s not entirely accurate. Functionally speaking, it's more of an all-wheel-drive system that sends 33% of its engine torque to the front wheels and 67% to the rear.
A button allows the AWD to be turned off. However, it can’t be done while driving. The system requires the vehicle to be stopped, shifted into neutral, activated, then placed back into gear. On the other hand, the Transit can shift between standard and AWD on the fly – a big win over the Sprinter.
The Ford Transit AWD system made a huge splash when it landed in 2020. For years, people had been waiting for Ford to come out with a factory AWD system, and their wait was worth it. 2020+ Ford Transits can intelligently transfer power where it’s needed. In addition, it can send 100 percent of available torque to the front or rear wheels, which is a significant upgrade and a selling point.
When it comes to the Promaster, a lack of other options like 4WD or AWD is a deal-breaker for many owners. While it’s an affordable vehicle that does a good job on paved roads and highways, you’ll want to think twice before hitting the trails or driving in the snow.
Sprinter vs. Transit vs. Promaster Reliability - Warranty and Service Centers
If you purchase a new Sprinter, Transit, or Promaster, it will come with a factory warranty. This is the best way to ensure that repairs are covered and will help you avoid costly maintenance issues.
If you decide to buy used, try to find a more recent model that still has some validity on the warranty. If you find one, be sure to double-check whether it's transferable before signing off on the deal.
Mercedes Sprinters have basic coverage for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. The warranty excludes routine maintenance and wear items. In terms of the Powertrain, the warranty period is 5 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
They also come with a Limited Outer-Body Warranty that's good for 5-years or 100,000-miles. All panels are covered for three years regardless of mileage. Further protection for the outer, finish-painted, metal panels against corrosion and perforation lasts five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Extended Warranty Options are also available if you want to be extra safe. Check in with your local dealer for options and pricing.
Servicing your Sprinter van can be tricky if you don't live in or close to a metropolitan area. Mercedes has fewer service centers than Ford, and only specific dealerships can handle cargo vans.
Ford Transit vans have a warranty period of three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. The Powertrain warranty is 5 years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Getting work done on your Transit van is usually pretty straightforward. It seems like every town in America has a Ford Dealership. This makes it simple to find a dealership that can handle warranty claims or essential maintenance work.
Ram Promaster vans have a nearly identical warranty to the Ford Transit. The warranty period covers three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. And the Powertrain warranty is 5 years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Getting work done on your Promaster van is much easier than for a Sprinter. Like Ford, it seems like every town in America also has a Dodge Dealership. So it’s easy to find a dealership to handle any warranty claims or basic maintenance work.
The Wrap Up
Now that you know the differences between the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, and the Ram Promaster vans, it might be time to decide on the right vehicle for your next van life adventure.
We hope the information we shared has helped you narrow down your search for an adventure van and made your decision-making process easier! Let us know which van you ended up choosing in the comments section below.