Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

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.

What is car camping all about? What’s a microcamper?

For our purposes, it is literally camping and sleeping in your car. I don’t mean just driving in your car, pulling into a campsite and/or sleeping in a tent. It is taking your car – driving to a nice spot and sleeping in your car on that spot. As simple a definition as it gets :). You might have also heard the phrases “estate car camping”, “suv camping”, “boondocking”, “dry camping” or “wild camping” associated with car camping. They are all a specific version of car camping, each with its own characteristics. A microcamper is either a small car you can camp in or a small trailer, see the difference here.

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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 typeMakeType / ModelFolded seats boot length (cm)boot (trunk) height (cm)Comfort & driving score (equipment, furnishings, handling, safety, costs)*Car Camping RatingCommentDimensions Information sourceADAC 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 / MinivanVolkswagenCaddy Maxi Life (review)22511311 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Longer and taller than Sharan, not as comfy but much better breakdown scoresource97.440
MPV / MinivanNissanNV200 van20413512 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐width 122cm at wheel arches, 150cm doorssource10.626.5
MPV / MinivanCitroënBerlingo (Long) (review)21711213 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Partner + Berlingo are the same116.340
MPV / MinivanPeugeotPartner (L2 - Long) (review)21711314 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Long + tall, cheap and good for DIY custom camper builds116.841
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenSharan (review)2091131.55 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐One of the biggest + most comfortable car in this listsource217.136
MPV / MinivanSeatAlhambra2091131.56 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐It's basically a Sharan, worse breakdown scoresource237.438
MPV / MinivanDaciaDokker1901270.57 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Shorter but taller, also a good option for a DIY camping conversionsource5.75.741
MPV / MinivanRenaultGrand Kangoo2211130.58 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Big, good storage, but quite bad breakdown score, especially since 2016source248.328.2
MPV / MinivanChryslerGrand Voyager (long cut)2301150.59 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Big, comfy (at places too much - a fold up TV isn't really necessary), but expensive to runsource Every source I found had different height and sometimes length, so values here are an average of those12.427
MPV / MinivanPeugeotPartner (L1) (review)182113110 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐6.841
MPV / MinivanFordGalaxy20490211 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source7.639
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenCaddy Life (review)178113112 ⭐⭐⭐⭐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 🙂source97.440
MPV / MinivanFordS-Max199941.513 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source177.239
MPV / MinivanNissanNV200 passenger157135114 ⭐⭐⭐⭐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 doorssource10.626.5
MPV / MinivanPeugeot500818697215 ⭐⭐⭐⭐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 comparisonsource837
MPV / MinivanPeugeot300818697216 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source 1 - source 28.138
MPV / MinivanDaciaLodgy19396117 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source742
MPV / MinivanRenaultKangoo1801120.518 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source248.328.2
MPV / MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)Combo XL176100119 ⭐⭐⭐source5.742
Station Wagon / EstateVolkswagenPassat195891.520 ⭐⭐⭐source98.135
MPV / MinivanRenaultGrand Scenic183931.521 ⭐⭐⭐source186.742
Station Wagon / EstateSkodaOctavia18585222 ⭐⭐⭐not as tall, but long, comfortable and great breakdown scoresource86.941
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenTouran179941.523 ⭐⭐⭐It's just a bit smaller Sharan - easier to park, but less space inside, rest is about the samesource117.541
MPV / MinivanCitroënC4 (Grand) Spacetourer (Picasso)177911.524 ⭐⭐⭐key difference vs C4 Picasso is 7 seatssource6.443
MPV / MinivanCitroënC4 Spacetourer (Picasso)176901.525 ⭐⭐⭐source6.443
Station Wagon / EstateVolvoV7019477226 ⭐⭐⭐source7.939
SUVSubaruForester200811.527 ⭐⭐⭐source9.330
SUVToyotaRAV4189861.528 ⭐⭐⭐source8.732
Station Wagon / EstateMazda6 Tourer197751.529 ⭐⭐source835
MPV / MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)Zafira180821.530 ⭐⭐source16738
SUVSubaruOutback190801.531 ⭐⭐source9.729
Station Wagon / EstateKiaCeed Sportswagon18669232 ⭐⭐source176.543
MPV / MinivanKiaCarens181791.533 ⭐⭐source7.842
MPV / MinivanSkodaRoomster (review)150100134 ⭐⭐136.940
SUVHondaCR-V162911.535 ⭐⭐should be ok with front seats pushed forwardsource8.334
SUVHyundaiSanta Fe185821.536 ⭐⭐source1126
SUVFiatFreemont18582137 ⭐⭐source9.828
Station Wagon / EstateVolvoV6017574238 ⭐⭐source8.633
Station Wagon / EstateAudiA4 Avant17671239 ⭐⭐source48.334
Station Wagon / EstateBMW3 Series17970240 ⭐⭐source49.134
MPV / MinivanRenault(Grand) Espace180791.541 ⭐⭐source11.335
SUVNissanX-trail170791.542 ⭐⭐source9.630
MPV / MinivanGMCTerraintbctbctbctbc
MPV / MinivanChryslerPacificatbctbctbctbc
MPV / MinivanDodgeGrand Caravantbctbctbctbc
*interior grades are used as one of the factors for the final rating (additionally to the boot length and height). Based on the rating from carbuyer.co.uk (includes interior, running costs, driving quality etc). 1= basic car that does the job, 1.5 = hey, that's nice to have!, 2 = oooh, comfyyyy.
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.

Benefits
  • it is very spaciouslong 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
Disadvantages
  • 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


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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.

Benefits
  • 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
Disadvantages
  • 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 🙂
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These might come in handy...

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Or - list your camper for hire and earn whilst you don't need it.

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Inflatable luxury for 6 people (3 bedrooms)
+ 170cm opening for any tailgate

Fits MPVs, SUVs, Bedrooms:140x210 cm | Stand-up living room:7,1 sqm with zipped basin groundsheet
Fresh fabric: reduces heat inside your tent in the sun

6 person inflatable tent £549.99 - BUY NOW
at Decathlon UK
SUP? Paddle for the entire family (max load 320kg)

Inflatable paddle board for any weight: less than 60 kg: ultra-stable board - 60 to 80 kg : very stable board - over 80 kg: ideal board for easily starting out

stand up paddle sup BUY NOW
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