I’m often asked why I chose the RAM Promaster over the Ford Transit or the Mercedes Sprinter for my camper van. I drove them all and researched this question extensively. Ultimately, all of these vans are fantastic and there are aspects of all of them that I like but I’ll break down why I chose the Promaster despite its horrible name. I really don’t like the name. But, here’s why I love the van.
- How it drives. The Promaster is the only of these three choices that has front wheel drive and I like the way it drives, handles and parks.
- Width.The Promaster is also the only of these three that is wide enough across (on the passenger to driver side dimension) to fit a standard full-size bed that way versus needing to either cut down the length of the mattress or position it lengthwise (rear to front). This is a significant space saver in my layout.
- Ducato history. Even thought the Promaster is pretty new to North America it’s really just a re-badged Fiat Ducato which has a long history in Europe so the platform has been road tested for years. It’s also the number one base for camper conversions in Europe where there are a lot more suitable van choices.
- I like the way it looks. This one is simple, I just prefer the look of the Promaster the best. I especially like the front profile of the van. Somehow it reminds me of the “smile” shape that I would see in the front profile of my old Volkswagen campers. The Sprinter is nice too but I don’t like the look of the Transit. Sorry.
- Value. The cost of a Promaster is lower than the other vans – particularly the Sprinter. In addition, getting parts and service is easier and less expensive at the RAM/Dodge dealerships than the Mercedes dealerships.
Which Promaster Model To Get For A DIY Camper Conversion?
After I settled on the Promaster, I had to decide which version of it to use for this conversion. I had already decided that I wanted a new or nearly new van – since I was going to invest a ton of money and time into the build out, I wanted to be sure that there was plenty of life and a solid warranty on the van itself!
The Promaster comes in three “wheelbases” – there’s a 118″ wheelbase, a 136″ wheelbase and the 159″ wheelbase. But that’s just the distance between the wheels. The actual total length of the 118″ wheelbase van is 195″ (16.25 feet), the 136″ wheelbase model is 213″ (17.35 feet) and the total length of the “standard” 159″ wheelbase is 236″ (19.6 feet). Then there is an “extended version” of the 159″ wheelbase (EXT) which is 250″ long (20.83″). This is all illustrated in the image below.
Then there is the various suspensions which refer to the payload capacity of the vans and how beefy their suspensions are. These are referred to the same way as RAM trucks; 1500 (GVWR of 8500 pounds), 2500 (GVWR of 8900 pounds) and the 3500 (GVWR of 9350 pounds). Importantly, the “extended version” of the 159″ wheel base is only available on the 3500 versions of the van and seems to cost about $3000 more for that additional 16″ of length.
You also have to consider if you want the “low roof” or the “high roof” version of the Promaster. Each of the wheelbases/suspensions are available with the high roof except the smallest, 118″ wheelbase van. I think that the high roof is much better for a camper van that you’re going to be living in and also gives you the ability to elevate your bed/loft in a way that gives you space below the bed and adequate space for the bed area as well.
I built my van, Miles Van Camper, on the high roof version of the 159″ wheelbase with the 2500 suspension. While the extra 16″ inches of the “extended” version would have been nice, my design allowed me to fit everything I wanted into the standard 159″. It’s also easier to drive and fits perfectly into standard parking spaces! I also chose the gasoline engine over the diesel option. I would definitely recommend making sure the van you buy has the backup camera and cruise control which, believe it or not, is an “option”
My Experience with the Promaster
I’ll just start this off with a hearty knocking on wood. I’ve had great experience with the Promaster. If find it comfortable to drive, it has plenty of power and seems to ride better the more stuff you put in it and the heavier it is! It’s remarkably agile for such a large vehicle. The only issue I’ve had was a faulty airbag sensor that happened right after I purchased it. That took a few trips to the dealer to figure out but was not a major issue. There is a “feature” that I don’t love but I presume the engineers are smarter than me. When you’re driving downhill on grades or passes the van engages to provide some additional slowing/braking power. I wish that could be turned off sometimes. The stock speakers are lousy but that’s the case for all cars I think so I did upgrade them. So, overall, I’ve very pleased and hope that it holds up and continues to be awesome and reliable!
- This is a handy comparison page for the different versions of the Promaster on RAM’s site
- Sportsmobile has a really great page that details the dimensions of the Promaster, Sprinter and Transit vans here on their site.
- I made a PDF template document for planning the interior layout of a Promaster 2500 (either the standard 159″ wheelbase or the extended version). It’s designed to scale such that one inch in the document is one foot in the van. I used Adobe Illustrator to plan my layout because I come from a design/video/web background rather than a engineering background. So, if you open this document up in Adobe Illustrator you can use this “one inch to one foot scale”. Otherwise, there is a visible “grid” where each cell in the grid is equal to one foot. Download this Promaster Layout template here.
- I also have a detailed electrical plan/diagram for my camper van here in PDF format.
- When it comes to finding a van to buy, I found CarGurus way better than the other options like Craigslist, AutoTrader, etc.
- I wrote a blog post that details all the parts I used for my build outside of what you can find at any hardware store.