Why a Ford Transit vs Sprinter?
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
Building over 250 vans and owning 20+ personally I have an unique perspective in weekender style family builds. We built a few of these for sale because in our opinion they offer an unique value and are really nice vans/daily drivers in the AWD Crew Trim especially.
Ford Transit is kinda the step child of the vanlife community mainly because most people are not familiar with them because they came into the campervan scene behind Sprinter and Promaster. They are however, a great alternative to the Sprinter 4WD and we will touch on some of those key points that make it a great alternative.
PRICE- Bottom line, the Transit Crew on average is about 8-12k less expensive to a Sprinter. Crew. Its a bit misleading however because the Ford Crew doesn't come with the back end of the van built out. No floor, no headliner. This will cost extra to build out. Its not exactly as "turn key" as the Sprinter. Like the Sprinter however there are no upper rear quarter panels and the lower Transit panels will have to likely be replaced once removed due to how they are. All this results in build costs that are/can be significantly higher.
SAFETY- You purchased a crew so likely you have a family. Unlike the Sprinter the Transit Crew has full curtain rear air bags for the back passenger bench seat. This is a huge safety feature that is not available with any other brand. However with this safety feature this means you cannot put upper cabinets in front of the van as the airbags have to be kept clear to deploy.
SEATING- As stock the van seats 5 using the stock 3 seater bench seat above. This is a very wide bench seat which is nice, however it does not allow you to go to the rear of the van when slider door is closed. It has ~20" wide seats vs 18" on a sprinter which tend to be on the narrow side. The good news however is a 2 seater out of a passenger van can be swapped with the stock 3 seater giving you more room and option if you get the right seat to recline a bit. Unlike the Sprinter Crew however adding seats behind this row is problematic as there are no floor brackets as well as the air bags are specifically designed for the seats to be in this position only from the factory.
See photo below with factory OEM two seater giving you a lot more interior room. This is a quick release seat, can be taken out in just a few seconds and this particular has a recline feature.
AWD vs 4WD - The Transit is AWD vs Sprinter is 4WD. For 99% of the people AWD is preferred due to the fact is easy to use. Once you hit slippery conditions its already active. No stopping to go into 4WD or going into reverse to get out of it. Basically it works just like a Subaru system. There is a good reason Sprinter in 2023 is going to AWD, its just a more practical system for the normal van user. Having said that its LOW to the ground so suspension mods and tires are needed to get enough ground clearance for mild off road use and dirt road use. Once that is done however you have as much if not more clearance than a stock 4WD Sprinter. You do not however have as great of a range of travel in the front suspension which for hardcore off road use the Sprinter would be optimal as well as the Sprinter has more aftermarket suspension options for the hardcore off-roader.
Van on right has larger tires and a suspension kit greatly upgrading the ride quality and ground clearance. Van on left is a stock.
Gas vs Diesel-Most people want diesel engines but they have no idea why. The engines last longer? Generally yes, however the issue with modern diesels is emissions systems once you get to high miles. They can really be problematic maintenance wise due to the complexity of the systems. In addition states are slowing increasing taxes on diesel and doing there best to eliminate this as a fuel alternative even more so than regular gas. Also people think you get better gas mileage as well with a diesel. In the case of a Transit with an EcoBoost Engine in an AWD vs 4WD Sprinter that is not true. In fact I find MPG is very similar and the gas engine gives you WAY more power with a lot less turbo lag, especially at high altitude. The downside? Adding a aux heater is a bit more work and costly with a gas engine as you need a proper fuel pipe diameter so that your gas heater works at altitude. (did not know that did you?) Outside of this small issue (its $) the Ecoboost engine is really exceptionally nice and drives in my opinion way nicer than the Sprinter 6cyl. Being gas its also WAY easier finding fuel.
INTERIOR-I find the Transit to be similar in comfort to the Sprinter but with greater visibility as the front door windows are lower. The upgraded audio system package (it actually sounds ok) is nicer as well and navigation package is superior to the Sprinter. You have a very good 360 camera option and cup holders are nicely placed as well. Its like basically being in a normal ford truck, what you would expect in an American Car. You can see convenient usb and cig lighter outlet as well. None of that funky German layout.
DRIVABILITY- Transit has a really nice drive, smooth and much quieter in stock form vs a Sprinter. Its stable at high speeds and drives similar in cross winds to a Sprinter as it also has cross wind stablity. Once insulated the Transit is crazy quiet much more so than even the Sprinter with insulation and sound deadening. The turning radius is however not as tight, its not bad its similar to a truck or SUV by a Ford, but the Sprinter turning radius is really exceptional. For most this would not be a concern but worth mentioning as a side by side comparison.
BUILD COMPARISON TO A SPRINTER
A nice video of a Mid Roof Transit Pop Top vs a Sprinter High Roof Pop Top
Our objective in the Transit Mid - Roof build was to offer an alternative to a Sprinter High Roof at a cost that would be 20k or more less. Having said that there would be a few compromises in what we can do, but as mentioned above there are clear advantages in Safety, comfort, and the size seems to be "just right" with a Mid Roof.
POP TOP - There is NO question for a family of 3 or more or someone who wants more room due to gear or living space layout requirements its superior. Its like the difference between a studio apt vs a one bedroom, there is so much more space and with a Colorado Campervan Pop Top there is no compromise in the sleeping area above. It's huge and totally comfortable. (read blog on pop tops). The Sprinter really tapers in as it goes up so the Pop Top on the Sprinter is narrow on the high roof vs the Transit Mid Roof is significantly wider because the roof is wider. This is what is nice about the Mid-Roof, its in between a low roof and high roof..."just right". You can stand up in the front part of the van if you are six feet tall where the opening is to the Pop Top. You still have fully functioning air bags as well. Most importantly you have room for gear and none of your family members will outgrow the van. It truly is a van you will not outgrow.
Upper PoP Top- huge open space with lots of windows, fully insulated with clear windows, bug screens (that are replaceable easily if damaged) and all automatic. Yes it as well has a fan for ventilation
On the roof 200w of solar panels, roof rack rails (so you can add a load rail if you wanted) and a automatic fan to get hot air out of the van. Oh yes of course a Fiamma Awning. This all has to be done when top gets put on. Its as well painted using two stage paint so that it color matches and will last as long as your OG paint job. This top with the options as shown is $28k! This is one of the reasons for cost of this van is that just with the top alone you are spending $100k including the van as optioned.
SUSPENSION AND GROUND CLEARANCE - To make the Transit as capable as the Sprinter 4WD we added on a Stage 1 Van Compass lift kit. This kit lifts the van 1.5 inches, any higher you can cause excessive wear on the front CV joint. (did not know that huh). Its why we don't go higher. Bigger is not always better. :) In addition we relocate the rear shock mount getting it higher so it doesn't catch on any rocks or other items that can break the shock mount. Its now not the low point under the van. We as well go to a larger tire. We could go bigger but we chose this specific size because it very common, gives you more clearance for snow use (like if you used snow cables) and required no additional cutting. Oh yeh, when you go to a larger tire it will not fit under the van without compromising departure angle so we put a rear tire carrier and ladder combo on the back. Most would skip this item but I have to have a full size spare otherwise you can damage your drive train by running a different size tire. Its not cheap, this is $2k just for the part.
WINDOWS FOR VENTILATION - We added ventilated windows all around in this van. I get the question how many is needed...the short answer is as many as possible is ideal. This usually is more of question how little can I get a way with. ;) More windows = better cross ventilation, cooler van in the heat, and of course a a view outside. I have had vans with various combinations and ideally 4 is ideal or at least two large ones. With The pop top and the fan in front its ideal for sure to have windows in the rear to pull the hot air through the van to the outside. Inside of cars get really hot, its no different in a van.
INSULATION AND SOUND DEADENING- This is where a lot of builders take a short cut because frankly you don't see it. Its make huge difference. Quieter on those long drives, cooler in summer, warmer in winter. We use only the best - 3M Thinsulate (automotive specific) and Dynamat Extreme. We put it everywhere possible and don't skimp. Max effort=maximum results. Its one of those things that's that its difficult to think its important because you don't see it, but just ask yourself how does it get in your car? How quickly? You get the idea then how important this is to keep temperature in your van as comfortable as possible. In this build we did floor, walls, headliner, and of course ALL of the doors, not just the rear ones.
REAR WALLS and FLOOR- The crew has no rear walls for floor so we have to build them in. To keep costs down we use the stock front floor and leveled the rear floor to the front. Insulated below and eventually we put interwoven vinyl to finish it out. This is not your vinyl floor you get at Home Depot, its specific for marine use and has nylon strands. Easy to clean and very durable. We also put in a totally removable bed. This is where you store your gear under the bed as well as the panels remove so you can put large items in the van and use it like a truck. We could not do the bed high enough for bikes...then you would loose the upper storage as the bed would be to high for a Mid Roof.
UPPER STORAGE- You have lots of gear, we put upper removable semi rigid storage bags above the bed. Again if we made the bed high we could not use these nor could you "sit up" on the bed and relax. The mid roof gives you space but not that much. You also as well add bags below the bed if you wanted to for more organized storage. I find you never have enough storage space on trips. Just like our Sprinter builds this is a must have feature.
AUX POWER-I wanted to be able to run a fridge, fan, heater, charge a lap top, add a kitchenette or sink, and other items without risking draining the starter battery. There is more than enough power in this van to do that for days. Charged by not only solar but the alternator you are set. We also opted to do heater batteries so when its cold...they still can be charged. A lot of builds don't use heated batteries due to cost. They are lithium brand name batteries so no shortcuts here. You can get thousands of power cycles on a lithium but they need to be inside because they don't handle high heat well like in an engine compartment. Its all DC power, however due to location it would be easy to add an inverter for AC power. There is a specific reason we do not use off grid power banks. They have significant compromises and this build is a not compromise build. This system is actually a significant upgrade to what we typically do in our Sprinter builds but also at a cost of floor space and a much higher costs.
Easy access to power system, batteries, fuse panel, and solar controller. All tucked away in a tight space in the bed cubbie.
HEATER-For sure a luxury item but in a build like this we wanted to have a heater just like a Sprinter. It runs off the gas tank. Can warm the van to be crazy hot. The Pop top since it is up in the top is a bit cooler, about 6 or so degrees compared to below, but you can certainly get the van warm during snow conditions. We put it in the seat area to keep it out of the way. High altitude sensor and the correct fuel pick up allow it to function at altitude properly.
DINETTE AND EATING AREA-One of the big challenges is being able to store your gear, have sleep areas, and a place to eat or cook prep out of the weather WITHOUT moving everything outside of your van. We do this like in our Sprinter builds with swivels seats and a Lagun table system. A bit challenging to add swivel seats in a Transit especially one with a floor e brake but we again make this a must have in our builds. (with no floor e brake)
SIMPLE IS NOT SO SIMPLE-A build like this represents hundreds of hours of build time not even taking in account locating parts, tools, and specialty installation services that might be required for a DIYer. This build has over 75k in parts and build time at professional speed with a DIYer duplicating this build figure easily 300-400 hours between research, assembly of materials, and build time. Its is however a very complete foundation; add cabinets easily or use one of our modular systems and you have a fully built dry self contained campervan. All the hardwork is done.
Example of our Sprinter Van with a sink and fridge behind it. The Transit could by repositioning seat could be configured this way or a bit differently, but its tight regardless with rear seating. Most pics you see with kitchenettes and seating are on extra long wheel base vans 2-3 feet LONGER than a 144 or 148 LB transit but can be done. The crew Transit as it comes from factory cannot shift seats to the passenger side w/o seat track modification, but this can help picture different layout. Most just need a fridge...the Transit we build fits that easily w/o any modification or moving things around. Easily can handle with lithium system 50-75 quart high quality chest fridge/freezer.