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 options 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 – suv camping – “microcamper” all about?
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 car camping definition as it gets :). You might have also heard the phrases “boondocking”, “dry camping” or “wild camping” associated with car camping. They are all a specific version of car camping, each with its own characteristics. Check out our post about car camping for more details + a database of 30+ cars.
Car camping / microcamper criteria – how we selected these cars
1. It needs to be spacious and comfortable
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. 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 180cm (5.9ft) 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).
2. It should be affordable – (car price max 10,000 EUR / 11,700 USD)*
This isn’t about buying a 70K campervan with everything ready for sleeping and just driving around. It’s about being creative with what you have and low cost. There’s no need to invest a lot into car camping. If you have an average size car (most sedans will do, a station wagon (combi in EU) or an SUV are even better, and the best is an MPV/Minivan – which is specifically aimed at providing more space inside.
*I understand this might be too subjective – you can set your own threshold of what’s affordable. These values should work well enough in EU / US.
3. Car camping gear that’s easily removable – portable & minimalist
One car is enough to work as your standard day-to-day car and also as your camping car. Having two cars (one for day-to-day, another for camping is an unnecessary luxury). The setup shouldn’t require a whole car rebuild – where you throw seats out and make it a camper forever. Nowadays, it’s easy enough to just fold down rear seats and throw a mattress in (in the most minimalist way), or add a few creative touches and handy gear to turn any standard car / suv into a useful and comfortable camper. And then take this gear out to have a standard car back again. A removable camper conversion is the goal.
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 (US, 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||31.6|
|MPV/Minivan||Volkswagen||Sharan (review)||208||113||1.5||2 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||One of the biggest + most comfortable car in this list, breakdown score is a bit too high||source||21||7.1||33.2|
|MPV/Minivan||Seat||Alhambra||208||113||1.5||3 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||It's basically a Sharan||source||23||7.4||31.9|
|StationWagon/Estate||Skoda||Octavia||185||85||2||4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||not as tall, but long, comfortable and great breakdown score||source||8||6.9||34.2|
|MPV/Minivan||Peugeot||5008||186||97||2||7 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||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||29.3|
|MPV/Minivan||Peugeot||3008||186||97||2||7 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source 1 - source 2||8.1||29|
|MPV/Minivan||Volkswagen||Caddy Life||178||113||1||9 ⭐⭐⭐⭐||source||9||7.4||31.6|
|MPV/Minivan||Peugeot||Partner (L2 - Long) (review)||217||113||1||10 ⭐⭐⭐||6.8||34.4|
|MPV/Minivan||Citroën||Berlingo (Long) (review)||180||112||1||11 ⭐⭐⭐||11||6.3||37.2|
|StationWagon/Estate||BMW||3 Series||179||70||2||12 ⭐⭐⭐||source||4||9.1||25.8|
|StationWagon/Estate||Audi||A4 Avant||176||71||2||14 ⭐⭐⭐||source||4||8.3||28.5|
|MPV/Minivan||Volkswagen||Touran||179||94||1.5||15 ⭐⭐⭐||It's just a bit smaller Sharan - easier to park, but less space inside, rest is about the same||source||11||7.5||31.5|
|MPV/Minivan||Chrysler||Grand Voyager (long cut)||230||115||0.5||16 ⭐⭐⭐||Big, comfy (at places too much - fold up TV), 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||19|
|MPV/Minivan||Renault||Grand Scenic||183||93||1.5||17 ⭐⭐⭐||source||18||6.7||35.1|
|MPV/Minivan||Renault||Grand Kangoo||221||113||0.5||18 ⭐⭐⭐||Big, good storage, but low comfort & quality of drive||source||24||8.3||28.2|
|StationWagon/Estate||Kia||Ceed Sportswagon||186||69||2||20 ⭐⭐⭐||source||17||6.5||35.9|
|MPV/Minivan||Peugeot||Partner (L1) (review)||182||113||1||21 ⭐⭐⭐||6.8||34.4|
|MPV/Minivan||Opel (Vauxhall)||Zafira||180||82||1.5||22 ⭐⭐⭐||source||16||7||33.8|
|MPV/Minivan||Citroën||C4 (Grand) Spacetourer (Picasso)||177||91||1.5||25 ⭐⭐||key difference vs C4 Picasso is 7 seats||source||6.4||36.6|
|MPV/Minivan||Citroën||C4 Spacetourer (Picasso)||176||90||1.5||26 ⭐⭐||source||6.4||36.6|
|SUV||Hyundai||Santa Fe||185||82||1.5||30 ⭐⭐||source||11||21.5|
|MPV/Minivan||Skoda||Roomster (review)||150||100||1||31 ⭐⭐||13||6.9||34|
|StationWagon/Estate||Mazda||6 Tourer||197||75||1.5||32 ⭐⭐||source||8||29.5|
|SUV||Honda||CR-V||162||91||1.5||33 ⭐⭐||should be ok with front seats pushed forward||source||8.3||28.4|
|MPV/Minivan||Opel (Vauxhall)||Combo XL||176||100||1||34 ⭐⭐||source||5.7||41.5|
|MPV/Minivan||Renault||(Grand) Espace||180||79||1.5||37 ⭐||source||11.3||20.9|
We then calculate a weighted score. The logic of weighing length (35%) & height (35%) higher than comfort (20%) and breakdown score (10%) 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.
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 car camping 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 🙂
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