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Ford Transit Trail vs. Standard AWD Ford Transit

AWD Ford Transit with CaTuned Offroad Front Bumper and Limitless Van Safari Rack

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Finally, the time has come. After years of research, you’re ready to dive into the off-grid adventure van lifestyle! You’ve spent half a decade deciding between a Ford Transit and a Mercedes Sprinter, weighing the pros and cons of each size and model. Now, you’ve discovered the Transit Trail option, which promises to be so much better—but is it really? With a higher price tag, it must be, right? So many decisions to make. Don’t worry, I’m here to help clear things up.

First, let's address the issue of availability. As of Spring of 2024, the days of paying $5K over MSRP and waiting a year for a van are behind us. Both AWD Transits and Transit Trails are now available on the lot. Yes, you read that right—on the lot! Yes, you can choose your color! No, don’t pay over MSRP! Now, let’s get into the neety-greeeeety.

What are the differences between a Ford Transit Trail and a Standard AWD Ford Transit?

Here are the features that set the Ford Transit Trail apart from the standard AWD model:

  • Ford factory-warrantied lift

  • Larger tires

  • Stylish plastic fenders

  • Convenient side step

  • Plastic skid plate

  • Slightly wider stance

  • Optional MaxxAir fan

These are all great features, but they come at a cost—$7,000 to $10,000 more than a standard AWD Transit.

Why should you choose a standard AWD Transit vs. a Transit Trail?

Ford Transit van with Q-Lift and Bilstein Struts
An AWD Ford Transit with the Q-Lift, BFG K02 All-Terrain Tires, and Bilstein Struts

At first glance it may seem like the Transit Trail comes with all the features you would want, especially if you're trying to avoid professional installation of aftermarket parts. However, as van builders, we've had the opportunity to test both models, and with the right upgrades, the standard AWD Transit definitely comes out ahead in both performance and price. So let’s see what it takes to get a standard AWD Transit up to par with the Transit Trail.

Ford Transit Q-Lift

First, you’ll want to opt for the Ford factory-warrantied Q-Lift from Quigley. This lift is slightly higher than the one on the Trail and allows for the safe installation of Bilstein struts in the front (not recommended for AWD Transits without the Q-Lift), which greatly improves your suspension. It's best to install both at the same time for convenience. After comparing the Trail's lift to the Q-Lift, I found the Q-Lift to be of comparable, if not better, quality.

Ford Transit All-Terrain Tires

The Trail comes with larger tires than the non-Trail, but they’re not the best quality and still on the small side if you prefer a beefy stance. Worse yet, the Trail doesn’t include a full-size spare tire, which is unacceptable for an AWD vehicle. According to Ford, using a smaller spare for more than 30 miles could damage your vehicle. By opting out of the Trail, you can use the money saved to invest in better tires, like BFG K02s or Falken Wildpeaks.

Okay, at this point, you will have spent $5,000 for a Q-Lift, Bilstein struts, and five quality tires. You still have at least $2,000 left to spend!

MaxxAir Fan

Let's discuss the pre-installed MaxxAir fan. While it may seem like a good idea, it doesn't really benefit you or your upfitter if you're planning to convert your van. If you opt for the Trail, I recommend skipping this option. Personally, I’ve never installed a fan in the location where Ford places theirs. This placement can limit your design choices and, if working with a builder, might lead to higher customization fees to accommodate the fan. Instead, let your upfitter install the fan in a location that makes sense for your unique build; it's an easy and relatively inexpensive installation.

If you are upfitting the van yourself it may seem like the pre-installed MaxxAir fan will save you a step in your build process, but the Trail fan comes connected to the vehicle’s battery. This means anytime you run your fan, you will be draining your vehicle’s battery which seriously limits its intended use. 

Ford Transit Skid Plate

An AWD Ford Transit with a skid plate and front bumper
A Limitless Van skid plate

It's time to consider the skid plate. The Trail's plastic skid plate is purely cosmetic (and it's not particularly attractive). I strongly advise investing in an aluminum or steel skid plate for any Transit, especially considering how exposed the intercooler is. Limitless Van makes a great skid plate, and you can even customize the color!

With all these upgrades, you’ve now spent around $7K on your standard AWD Transit, and in my opinion have a better vehicle platform to begin your off-grid van conversion.

Upgraded Suspension

Finally, let's address suspension. It's important to note that the Transit Trail's suspension isn't upgraded. Therefore, both vehicles will still require suspension upgrades. It's time to invest in the Vancompass Stage 4 TOPO 2.0 System and treat your van to the ultimate suspension upgrade!

(If you’re wondering if you really need an upgraded suspension, check out our blog post “Do I Really Need an Upgraded Suspension?” for more on this topic.)

To summarize, here’s a rough breakdown of typical costs as of spring 2024:

AWD Transit Chassis Cost: $69,000

Q-Lift/Tires/Bilsteins: $5,000

MaxFan plus install: $1,070

Skid Plate plus install: $980

TOTAL: $76,050.00 

Average Price of the Transit Trail: $77,000

The winner is...

The AWD Transit comes out ahead in terms of price and performance in my book, but no matter which path you choose, both the standard AWD Transit and the Transit Trail offer a solid foundation for exploring the open road. Still deciding between a Transit and a Sprinter? Check out this post where we dig into the differences between two of the most popular van platforms.

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