Comparison of the 3 most popular van life vans

A van comparison of Sprinter vs Transit vs Promaster. Including vehicle overview, pros, cons, dimensions, and additional resources.

Sprinter vs Transit vs Promaster

After my last post you may have decided a cargo van is right for you. The Sprinter, Transit and Promaster are three of the most popular van life cargo vans. But which is the best one for you? In this comparison I’ll cover the different van sizes available, and the pros and cons of each. Dimensions stated are for 2019 models. The interior dimensions are the usable build space according to Sportsmobile.

Mercedes/Dodge/Freightliner Sprinter 

You can find a Sprinter badged as a Mercedes, Dodge or Freightliner, but they are one in the same. Until recently, you could only find diesel Sprinters apart from a rare gas Dodge. But in 2018 they started making gas ones. A common misconception is the dealership must service a Sprinter. However, there are many certified diesel mechanics who can work on them. This is the more affordable maintenance and repair option next to DIY.

Sprinters are available as a cargo, crew, or passenger van. Dimensions listed below are for the cargo van.

sprinter van comparison

Pros

  • Only cargo van available with 4×4
  • Best fuel economy next to the Transit (diesel engine, excluding 4×4)
  • Handles well
  • Tied for highest alternator output (250A for gas only)
  • Highest resale value
  • RWD
  • Longest of the vans compared

Cons

  • Expensive to buy
  • More expensive to maintain (diesel mechanics aren’t cheap)
  • Curvy interior
  • Older models have serious rust issues

Additional reading/resources

Dimensions

Length 

BodyExteriorInteriorWheelbase
Standard19′ 4″123″144″
Extended22′ 9″165″170″
Extra long24′180″170″

Height

RoofExteriorInterior
Low (standard body only)7′ 10″5′ 4″
High9′6′ 3″
Super high (hard to find)9′ 7″7′ 3″
* add 4″ to exterior height for 4×4

Width (exterior/interior)

•           80”/69” (interior width is widest part of curved wall)

Ford Transit

The Ford Transit replaced the Econoline in 2014. They are available in both gas and diesel. However, the diesels are harder to come by. Transits offer three different lengths and three different roof heights. Therefore, they are plenty of options depending on the amount of cargo space you require. Until 2020 all Transits came with rear wheel drive. But in 2020 Ford introduced an all-wheel drive version.

Transits are available as a cargo and passenger van. Dimensions listed below are for the cargo van. 

ford transit

Pros

  • Repairs are more affordable than a Sprinter
  • Tallest available interior
  • Highest torque (gas Eco Boost and diesel engines)
  • Tied for highest alternator output (250A for both gas engines)
  • Interior is squarer than the Sprinter
  • Handles well
  • RWD

Cons

  • Because they are newer to the US market:
    • Used ones are harder to find
    • Reliability is unknown
  • Extended length body has long rear overhang

Additional reading/resources

Dimensions

Length

BodyExteriorInteriorWheelbase
Regular18′ 4″106″130″
Long19′ 8″124″148″
Extended length22′ 2″154″148″

Height

RoofExteriorInterior*
Low (regular and long body only)7′4′ 9″
Medium8′ 5″6′
High9′ 2″7′ 9.5″
* Specs came from Ford Product Summary for a 2015 Transit

Width (exterior/interior)

  • 83”/69” (interior width is widest part of curved wall)

Dodge Ram Promaster/Fiat Ducato

These shovel-faced vans aren’t the most attractive. However, their affordability makes them an attractive option. Promasters are available in both gas and diesel. But Dodge dropped the diesel Promaster in 2019. So, you can only buy a used diesel.

Promasters are available as a cargo or passenger van. Dimensions listed below are for the cargo van.

dodge promaster-fiat ducato comparison

Pros

  • Most affordable to buy
  • More affordable to maintain than a Sprinter
  • Widest (can easily fit a bed crosswise)
  • Most square interior
  • Great fuel economy (diesel)

Cons

  • Some say it feels like you are forced to almost stand when seated in the cab
  • The transmission pauses slightly when changing gears (diesel only)
  • Steering and handling aren’t as good as the others
  • Front wheel drive – not good when there’s more weight in the rear
  • Lowest ground clearance

Dimensions

Length

BodyExteriorInteriorWheelbase
Regular17′ 9″106″136″
Extended19′ 8″126″159″
Long20′ 10″140″159″

Height

RoofExteriorInterior
Low (standard body only)7′ 6″5′ 4″
High8′ 4″6′ 2″

Width (exterior/interior)

  • 106”/73” (interior width is widest part of curved wall)

Additional reading/resources

Additional comparisons

Here are a couple van comparisons not geared towards van life.

Bonus – Nissan NV

Although the NV isn’t popular compared to the other three vans, I had to throw it in. The NV is one of those “live out of” instead of “live in” kind of vehicles. There’s only one wheelbase length, but they have low and high roof options. Also, the NV is only available in gas.

NVs are available as a cargo or passenger van (3500 only).

Nissan NV

Pros

  • 120V outlets in the cab (also in cargo area depending on trim)
  • Can get a V8
  • Tall cargo area for its size
  • Great fuel economy
  • Comfortable seats

Cons

  • Small cargo area compared to the other vans

Dimensions

Length (exterior/interior)

  • 20’ 7”/120” with 146” wheelbase

Height

RoofExteriorInterior
Low7′4′ 8″
High8′ 9″6′ 5″

Width (exterior/interior)

  • 80”/70” (interior width is widest part of curved wall)

Closing thoughts

I tried to be as objective as possible with this van life van comparison even though Mark is a Sprinter. After researching these four vans, would I choose a different one next time? Maybe… The Transit is quite appealing. However, I do like the extra length offered by the Sprinter. Also, the wider Promaster body with its straighter walls is enticing. But I can’t get past the poor handling and uncomfortable seating.

Remember, these aren’t the only van options out there. On the vandwellers subreddit I ask folks about their van life vehicles. Find out what they had to say.

Which van do you plan to use for your conversion? What were your deciding factors? Let us know in the comments!

Need more help getting started with van life? Check out our How to Start Van Life guide!

* Featured image is courtesey of Van Specialties

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Christina

Christina

I served 11 years in the Navy, and in 2014 I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail. These experiences helped prepare me for vanlife. My husband and I now live in our self-converted van, Mark.

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About Us

We left “normal” life behind and now live in our self-converted van, Mark. Our time in the military and backpacking adventures made vanlife an easy choice. The leap into vanlife and a self-conversion can be exciting yet daunting. We want to share our experiences and provide resources to give you vanlife your way, and the highway.

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