So you have decided to try it out? Enjoy the freedom of microcamping? Well done you! Now just that little detail of what car is best to convert into your microcamper and back to a normal car when you need it*. This post will give you a set of criteria to help you narrow your search + a table of 30 best cars for car camping with their dimensions, comfort and consumption data and ranking.
*(Yep, because I think that’s one of the best features of a microcamper – you’re not stuck with a camper, you have both – a car for the whole family or bunch of friends when needed, and a camper when you feel like it).
I’ve looked at many camping car candidates out there and did a lot of research before I bought my microcamper. During that search, I relied on simple criteria to ensure I get the most for my buck.
Car camping / microcamper criteria – How to select the best car for camping
(I was looking for a microcamper – an everyday car I can also use for camping. You might want to change these criteria if you are looking for a camping van or anything bigger than a VW Caddy (one of the biggest small cars out there).
1. Car boot length – for a comfortable sleep (with your legs stretched out)
Have you ever tried to sleep in a car? It’s not the most comfortable of experiences if you don’t have the right equipment and your car isn’t prepared for it – meaning you sleep in the front or back seat. That’s not what you want to be doing whilst car camping. What we are going to focus on is comfortable sleeping in your car – so that you can travel, explore > rest > continue exploring. And comfortable means the ability to stretch your legs when you lie down in the back, without bumping your head into the front seats. A general rule of thumb – you’ll need about 170cm (5.57ft) boot length with rear seats folded down. I’ll allow some buffer as you can always move the front seats forward and easily gain about 20cm. That should give enough comfortable space for the average man (~175cm / 5.74ft) and woman (~163cm / 5.34ft). The best camping cars are ones with at least 200cm long boot or more.
Look, there’s plenty room at the back – and that’s just a tiny sample of all the cars and SUVs available:
Toyota RAV4 image: Reddit
2. Car boot height – the higher, the more headroom you’ll have, the more comfortable it is
No one likes to feel claustrophobic – even if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, you probably don’t like to have to crawl into your bed or crawl out at night when you need the loo. Bumping your head into the roof (although padded) isn’t your aim in the morning either. The higher the car, the more comfortable your car camping trip will be. Aim for at least 90cm from the boot floor to the roof, the more, the better. You really want to be able to sit inside, on the bed, without having to crouch or bend your head. The best cars are of course the tallest ones – MPVs, vans or custom roof extensions.
This also depends on your camping style of course – if you are into stealth camping, you might want to have a small and inconspicuous car. But if you are after comfort – you want a tall and long car.
3. Good storage options
The more bare the interior of a car, the harder it will be to live inside. If you have plenty of compartments, hooks, holders, lights, 12V sockets – it’s easy to keep your day-to-day things handy. If you only have some small compartments in the front (not in the back, where you’ll spend most of the time car camping), you’ll either have to create your own storage compartments or have to settle with things lying on the bed all the time. The best cars will have plenty of small compartments, especially in the boot, where you will spend most of your car camping time.
Best camping cars to sleep in 2021: The comparison table
On mobile? Scroll the table to the right for more info (MPG, l/100km…) >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
|Body type||Make||Type / Model||Folded seats boot length (cm)||boot (trunk) height (cm)||Comfort & driving score (equipment, furnishings, handling, safety, costs)*||Car Camping Rating||Comment||Dimensions Information source||ADAC breakdown** average score (2013-2018 - lower = better)||l/100km (average 2017 or closest match, Fuelly.com***)||MPG (UK, average 2017 or closest match, Fuelly.com***)|
|MPV / Minivan||Volkswagen||Caddy Maxi Life (review)||225||113||1||1 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Longer and taller than Sharan, not as comfy but much better breakdown score||source||9||7.4||40|
|MPV / Minivan||Nissan||NV200 van||204||135||1||2 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||width 122cm at wheel arches, 150cm doors||source||10.6||26.5|
|MPV / Minivan||Citroën||Berlingo (Long) (review)||217||112||1||3 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Partner + Berlingo are the same||11||6.3||40|
|MPV / Minivan||Peugeot||Partner (L2 - Long) (review)||217||113||1||4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Long + tall, cheap and good for DIY custom camper builds||11||6.8||41|
|MPV / Minivan||Volkswagen||Sharan (review)||209||113||1.5||5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||One of the biggest + most comfortable car in this list||source||21||7.1||36|
|MPV / Minivan||Seat||Alhambra||209||113||1.5||6 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||It's basically a Sharan, worse breakdown score||source||23||7.4||38|
|MPV / Minivan||Dacia||Dokker||190||127||0.5||7 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Shorter but taller, also a good option for a DIY camping conversion||source||5.7||5.7||41|
|MPV / Minivan||Renault||Grand Kangoo||221||113||0.5||8 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Big, good storage, but quite bad breakdown score, especially since 2016||source||24||8.3||28.2|
|MPV / Minivan||Chrysler||Grand Voyager (long cut)||230||115||0.5||9 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||Big, comfy (at places too much - a fold up TV isn't really necessary), but expensive to run||source Every source I found had different height and sometimes length, so values here are an average of those||12.4||27|
|MPV / Minivan||Peugeot||Partner (L1) (review)||182||113||1||10 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||6.8||41|
|MPV / Minivan||Ford||Galaxy||204||90||2||11 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source||7.6||39|
|MPV / Minivan||Volkswagen||Caddy Life (review)||178||113||1||12 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||Shorter version of the Caddy - I don't see why you'd go for short if there's long with everything else being the same 🙂||source||9||7.4||40|
|MPV / Minivan||Ford||S-Max||199||94||1.5||13 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source||17||7.2||39|
|MPV / Minivan||Nissan||NV200 passenger||157||135||1||14 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||157 is the length with rear seats lifted, but not removed. If removed, it's as long as the van. width 122cm at wheel arches, 150cm doors||source||10.6||26.5|
|MPV / Minivan||Peugeot||5008||186||97||2||15 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||slightly bigger version than 3008 (outside measurements, but all inside measurements I found are the same). 5008 is a 7-seater, has 17mm more ground clearance. See this comparison||source||8||37|
|MPV / Minivan||Peugeot||3008||186||97||2||16 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source 1 - source 2||8.1||38|
|MPV / Minivan||Dacia||Lodgy||193||96||1||17 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source||7||42|
|MPV / Minivan||Renault||Kangoo||180||112||0.5||18 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source||24||8.3||28.2|
|MPV / Minivan||Opel (Vauxhall)||Combo XL||176||100||1||19 ⭐⭐⭐||source||5.7||42|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Volkswagen||Passat||195||89||1.5||20 ⭐⭐⭐||source||9||8.1||35|
|MPV / Minivan||Renault||Grand Scenic||183||93||1.5||21 ⭐⭐⭐||source||18||6.7||42|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Skoda||Octavia||185||85||2||22 ⭐⭐⭐||not as tall, but long, comfortable and great breakdown score||source||8||6.9||41|
|MPV / Minivan||Volkswagen||Touran||179||94||1.5||23 ⭐⭐⭐||It's just a bit smaller Sharan - easier to park, but less space inside, rest is about the same||source||11||7.5||41|
|MPV / Minivan||Citroën||C4 (Grand) Spacetourer (Picasso)||177||91||1.5||24 ⭐⭐⭐||key difference vs C4 Picasso is 7 seats||source||6.4||43|
|MPV / Minivan||Citroën||C4 Spacetourer (Picasso)||176||90||1.5||25 ⭐⭐⭐||source||6.4||43|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Volvo||V70||194||77||2||26 ⭐⭐⭐||source||7.9||39|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Mazda||6 Tourer||197||75||1.5||29 ⭐⭐||source||8||35|
|MPV / Minivan||Opel (Vauxhall)||Zafira||180||82||1.5||30 ⭐⭐||source||16||7||38|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Kia||Ceed Sportswagon||186||69||2||32 ⭐⭐||source||17||6.5||43|
|MPV / Minivan||Kia||Carens||181||79||1.5||33 ⭐⭐||source||7.8||42|
|MPV / Minivan||Skoda||Roomster (review)||150||100||1||34 ⭐⭐||13||6.9||40|
|SUV||Honda||CR-V||162||91||1.5||35 ⭐⭐||should be ok with front seats pushed forward||source||8.3||34|
|SUV||Hyundai||Santa Fe||185||82||1.5||36 ⭐⭐||source||11||26|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Volvo||V60||175||74||2||38 ⭐⭐||source||8.6||33|
|Station Wagon / Estate||Audi||A4 Avant||176||71||2||39 ⭐⭐||source||4||8.3||34|
|Station Wagon / Estate||BMW||3 Series||179||70||2||40 ⭐⭐||source||4||9.1||34|
|MPV / Minivan||Renault||(Grand) Espace||180||79||1.5||41 ⭐⭐||source||11.3||35|
|MPV / Minivan||GMC||Terrain||tbc||tbc||tbc||tbc|
|MPV / Minivan||Chrysler||Pacifica||tbc||tbc||tbc||tbc|
|MPV / Minivan||Dodge||Grand Caravan||tbc||tbc||tbc||tbc|
We then calculate a weighted score. The logic of weighing length (45%) & height (40%) higher than consumption (10%) and comfort (5%) being - headroom is important when you sleep in the back of the car, so is the length. A comfy ride is a factor, but you can sleep in a big car that's not that comfy, however, you can't sleep in a comfy car that's too small. The breakdown score is an indicator of build quality, but can still differ on car-by-car basis + see note below.**
You can see the calculation in this spreadsheet, 2nd tab.
**Note that the ADAC breakdown score is 46% battery replacements - according to their report, it's linked to the lockdown period, cars not being used and the batteries losing their charge.
***If there's not enough cars for a single year, I calculated an average from several years on fuelly.com. If there's not enough information on fuelly.com, I've scoured the internet and calculated an average from several reliable sources - real users data (not manufacturers, which tends to be way too optimistic).
Prices source: https://www.carsite.co.uk/used-car-price-guide/volkswagen/sharan (or change the URL to any other brand or car model). If none were found, I manually looked up a certain model on autotrader.co.uk or autoscout24.com.
Which are the best cars for microcamping conversions then?
My top pick – VW Sharan (or Seat Alhambra)
Obviously! I put my money where my mouth is as I have bought this one in 2020 and thoroughly tested it all summer. I was deciding between a VW Caddy Maxi Life and a Sharan, eventually found a Sharan sooner and really enjoyed the good balance between space and comfort.
- it is very spacious – long and tall, easy to sit in even when converted to a camping car at the back – it’s the biggest small car you can find out there if you want size, but not a van
- easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
- good level of comfort for long journeys, well equipped
- good price on models up to 10 years old (they still drive very well at an affordable price + will last for years to come)
- sliding middle doors
- 7 seater is easy – just fold all the seats and your flat surface for a car bed is ready
- the 5 seat version needs additional work to prepare the flat surface for a car bed – see how I did that easily under 106€
- not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
- you might hear some people complaining that they don’t see the front of the car when driving – leaving them feeling a bit uneasy about where exactly does the car end, especially navigating tight spaces. But 2010+ models have parking sensors that should alleviate that
Other good microcamper candidates
VW Caddy Maxi Life
The VW Caddy Maxi Life version is extra long & tall and therefore perfectly suited for car camping purposes. You won’t get as much comfort out of the ride and interior as you would in a Sharan, but it’s still a good level.
- has the longest boot – most space at the back
- seats can be taken out or just folded and lifted – adding on its usability
- has a very cool shelf above-head adding on storage options
- boot “doorstep” is flatter than most other cars
- more of a van – offers less comfort than a Sharan for long drives
- not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
Other things to think about
To make sure you pick the best car for your needs, think about these points:
- do you need a 4×4 – SUV type? You do if you plan to go offroad properly
- do you want a car for long journeys – are you going to spend a lot of time driving as well as camping? Then pick a car with higher comfort rating. If not, you should be good with a lower comfort rating, but better other attributes like boot size
- in terms of storage – if you plan to carry a lot of stuff, think about getting a roof box / cargo carrier
- if you’re a single person – you might have more fun with a 4×4, there’s plenty of room for one person (as seen in this Subaru Outback camping conversion)
- there are shorter cars (boot under 170cm) that aren’t in our table – you can still fit a 180cm person in them if you push the front seats all the way to the front + tilt the backrests. Not ideal, but if you find a car that you love with a boot like this – go for it
- for most of car camping, you don’t need a proper 4×4 offroad vehicle – there’s a good enough road going to so many places nowadays + a standard car can handle quite a bit of rough terrain too 🙂