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Ford Transit vs. Mercedes Sprinter: Which is Best?

Updated: Jun 12

Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter vans face off. Which is the best platform for a custom adventure van conversion?

What is the best platform for an off-grid adventure van conversion–a Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit? This is a question we’re asked weekly, and for good reason! It’s probably the first–and maybe most important–decision you’ll make in the process of building your conversion van.

As a custom van build company, these are the two models we build on because they both make excellent off-grid adventure vehicles. In fact, our two most popular layouts can be built on either platform! So while there may not be a clear winner, each van has its own set of quirks and perks that should be considered when determining the right platform for you. Now before you get stuck in analysis paralysis, let's break down some key factors to consider.

Ford Transit campervan with Transit safari rack and lights.
Driftwood: a custom Ford Transit 148" Extended Long featuring our Gifford layout

What are Ford Transit Pros?

  • Engine Power: The 3.5 EcoBoost with 10-Speed Transmission is excellent. If you’re choosing a Transit, this is the engine we recommend. It handles heavy builds with ease, even on high elevation mountain passes. In comparison, the Mercedes Sprinter engine offers capable performance, but is simply not quite as powerful as the Transit EcoBoost.

  • Serviceability: Ford dealerships are abundant, and any Ford dealership can service a Transit. This means no matter where you travel in the country, you're likely not far from a qualified mechanic who can handle your van's needs. This can provide peace of mind on long trips, allowing you to focus on enjoying the journey. Equally importantly, oil changes are affordable, and parts are common, adding to the ease and convenience of maintaining your Ford Transit.

  • Headroom: Are you over 6’ tall? Choose the Transit. After floors and ceilings are installed, you have just over 6’5” of height for jumping jacks compared to the Sprinter’s 6’2”. And while it may be wise to save the exercises for outside the vehicle, it never feels good to be crouched over in your van.

  • Driveability: The Transit drives like a car, which some people prefer over the Sprinter’s more "truck-like" feel. If you’re not sure, give both a test drive!

What are Ford Transit Cons?

  • Extended Rear End: The extended length Transit doesn’t have an extended wheelbase, just an extended rear end. This makes it less capable off-road (than the Sprinter 170) due to its departure angle. If you’re sticking to paved roads and established campgrounds, this may not be an issue. This also doesn’t apply if you’re in the market for a Transit 148” Long or Sprinter 144.”

  • Expensive to Lift Properly: If you want bigger tires or a bit more ground clearance, lifting a Transit without compromising the CV axle can be costly. Ford has kind of addressed this issue with the Trail package, but it’s not cheap and the lift isn’t very impressive. Quigley’s QLift is another solution, and one we recommend, but it comes with a $5K price tag.  For more of our thoughts on this topic, check out our blog post: Transit Trail vs. AWD Transit.

  • Limited Suspension Options: After that expensive lift, you need some quality suspension! Although options are expanding, the Transit has fewer suspension upgrades compared to the Sprinter. While Falcon or Fox shocks can be installed in the rear, front options are typically limited to Bilstein struts and that's only if a Q-Lift has been installed (otherwise you're dangerously compromising the AWD Transit CV shafts). Newer companies like WeldTec offer King Coilover shock kits, but these come with a hefty price tag. Curious about van suspension? Check out our post "Do I Really Need an Upgraded Suspension?"

  • Fuel Consumption: At Limitless Van we joke that the EcoBoost engine is either Eco or Boost, never both. And since we add weight to these vans, they operate in “Boost Mode,” resulting in lower fuel economy. Expect around 12 mpg for a built-out adventure van.

A custom Mercedes Sprinter 170 van conversion garage with sliding tray.
Bugsy: A custom Mercedes Sprinter 170 featuring our Gifford layout

What are Mercedes Sprinter Pros?

  • 170 Wheelbase: The 170 inch wheelbase provides ample space and functionality while maintaining decent off-road capability. From a design perspective, the Mercedes Sprinter 170 is a dream to build on.

  • Higher-End Fit and Finish: The Sprinter boasts a higher-quality interior with a nicer dash, seats, steering wheel, and doors. It simply feels…nicer!

  • Factory Lifted AWD: The AWD Sprinter comes with a factory lift. Want to put some big tires on it… go right ahead. In fact, since you aren’t spending an extra $7K+ on a Trail or an extra $5K on a Q-Lift for a Ford, You’ve essentially EARNED money to spend on fancy suspension for the Mercedes! (That’s how it works, right?)

  • Decent Mileage: Being a diesel, the Sprinter can get 16-24 mpg depending on the build. It’s worth noting that this may not provide significant savings as diesel is sometimes pricier than conventional gasoline. However, if you upgrade to an extended range fuel tank, you can travel up to 700 miles between fills giving you the freedom to explore vast stretches of wilderness without worrying about constant gas station stops. And in case you’re thinking you can add an extended range fuel tank to your Ford, that’s not an option yet.

  • Aftermarket Accessories: The Sprinter has more aftermarket accessory options than the Transit, making it easy to personalize your van. However, basic options like bumpers, ladders, roof racks, and storage cases, are also readily available for the Transit. 

  • Drivability: The Sprinter provides a solid, heavy-duty truck feel that some drivers prefer over the minivan-like feel of the Transit. Personally, this is my preference.

What are Mercedes Sprinter Cons?

  • Service Availability: While my personal experience hasn't been too bad, some users report two-month long wait times, parts shortages, and difficulty finding service, especially in remote areas. Compared to Ford dealerships, there are fewer Mercedes dealerships, and even fewer with Sprinter service centers. Research your area's service options before choosing a Sprinter. 

Also, consider your travel plans. Are you planning to spend a lot of time

traveling south to Mexico and beyond? In that case, a gas engine may make

more sense since quality diesel can be difficult to find in some areas.

  • DEF Refill: The DEF tank needs frequent refills, which is def not cool. This is also just one more maintenance task to add to your checklist.

  • Engine Power: The new 4-cylinder 9-speed drivetrain is a significant improvement over the older 6-cylinder 7-speed, but it still doesn't quite match the power of the Ford's EcoBoost engine.

  • Interior Height: When fully built out, the Sprinter’s interior height is limited to 6’2”, which may be uncomfortable for taller individuals. 

The Choice is Yours!

We hope this breakdown helps you decide which platform best suits your needs. Both the Transit and Sprinter offer unique advantages and disadvantages. Consider your specific needs, preferences, and travel plans to make the perfect choice for you! The second decision you need to make, if opting for a professional build, is an easy one. Which van builder do I go with? Well, duh, Limitless Van. Who else? ;) If you want to chat about a Limitless Van build, get the conversation started by filling out our contact form.


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