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

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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).

Which are the best cars for microcamping conversions?

Hey – before you continue

This post goes into more detail of my top picks for car camping. I have also built a bigger database of the best campers that’s
very easy to filter by boot length, width, consumption and more…

My personal 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 great microcamper candidates

VW Caddy Maxi Life

The VW Caddy Maxi Life is the second biggest MPV out there (as of 2021) and probably the best small camper van option out there. If boot size is your primary criteria – you can’t go wrong with a Caddy. The car drives good too. Where it lacks a bit is comfort – it takes after its van origins and offers a more basic interior. But it makes up for it in storage – it really has a lot of compartments all over the place. It’s not the best car to take off the road completely – but you can take it down a good enough mud road without any big problems. A very good car camping / microcamping conversion candidate, unless you are planning to drive through forests and very much offroad – or you prefer a higher class interior comfort.
VW Caddy Maxi Life is one of the top cars in our 30+ cars for car camping table.

PROs
  • big above head storage on top of other standard compartments
  • 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
  • flat boot door floor (loading area – easier to put a camping box / boot jump in and out)
  • easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
  • Volkswagen quality standard & reliability
  • 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
  • middle seats can be lifted up or removed
  • you can fold the middle row of seats and keep the rear ones up – and put your feet up (or use the middle row as a table)
CONs
  • more van-like – lower interior comfort
  • louder at higher speeds
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
  • 3rd row rear seats have to be removed, can’t be folded like in a 7 seater Sharan. On the plus side – the car is so long you might not need to remove them as there’s additional storage space behind the 3rd row of seats

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Nissan NV200

The Nissan NV200 is a very spacious car for its size. It is one of the tallest and offers a lot of headroom for a DIY camping conversion. Where it lacks behind is drive and interior comfort. It’s not a vehicle you would choose for long journeys – but of course, if you are not used to the comfort of higher class MPVs like a Sharan or your previous car, this won’t be a problem. It will get you there and you’ll be happily camping in its big boot, especially if you want to do your own DIY camper conversion or buy a camping box. For a simple conversion (not putting many storage options in) it doesn’t offer many built-in storage compartments in the back, you better come up with some good solutions yourself.
Nissan NV200 camper still ranks quite high in our 30+ cars for car camping table – mainly because of its boot height.

PROs
  • it is very spaciouslong and tall, easy to sit in even when converted to a camping car at the back – it’s one of the biggest small cars you can find out there if you want size
  • boot floor is flat + lower than most MPVs
  • good price on models from 2016 – around 13,000 GBP
  • sliding middle doors + tailgate (why is this important)
  • front passenger back rest can be folded down horizontally to form a table
  • 7 seater offers many seat configurations – you can either take them all, or fold them individually (good for temporary camping or 1 person)
  • good for DIY conversions (doesn’t come with too many built in compartments, therefore offers more room for your own, without having to take the original ones out)

CONs
  • not as comfortable for long journeys, motorways (louder, cheaper interior)
  • limited built-in storage options at the back
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much
  • many reviews mention good consumption, but actual reports on fuelly.com report worse actual consumption than other MPVs Caddy, Berlingo or Sharan. I have found other claims of 40+ MPG (UK) from some users and or HonestJohn.co.uk, so there’s some mixed info out there.

Citroen Berlingo (Peugeot Partner) – Long / XL version

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

“The Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner/Rifter are almost identical panel vans and leisure activity vehicles produced by PSA Peugeot Citroën since 1996”

Wikipedia

The Berlingo is one of the most often converted cars for camping, Peugeot Partner is close behind it. Despite both not being the biggest – very likely because of their affordability and availability. The Berlingo (and its similar cousins) is a good car for car camping, but not as good for general driving & comfort during long journeys. It’s not the biggest MPV out there (Sharan or Caddy are bigger) but offers very good mileage and low maintenance costs. It’s also very well priced – there’s plenty of used van or MPV versions out there. It’s best suited to fill the role of your second car that you can rebuild for camping. If you want it as your main car, it’s good if your budget is low, but otherwise, you’re better off with a more comfy and reliable Sharan or Caddy. The upgraded Peugeot Rifter (that replaces Peugeot Partner) might be a better option too – higher comfort and better features, but it’s only available since 2019 so don’t expect to find cheap used ones until a few years from now. It’s not an offroad car so don’t expect a thrilling offroad ride, yet still, you can take it down a not too steep/rough dirt track or through a meadow.
Because of it’s shorter boot length and lower interior & drive comfort, the Berlingo is lower in our 30+ cars for car camping table.

PROs
  • one of the cheapest cars with good camping capabilities on the market
  • easy to maintain, no expensive or hard to get parts
  • sliding middle doors
  • front passenger backrest can be folded down horizontally to form a table
  • roof window (some models)
  • roof shelf (some models)
  • split tailgate opening (some models – open just the window or the entire tailgate – see demonstration here)
  • front seat folds down to form a table if needed
  • flat tailgate (boot) loading area
CONs
  • boot length is only 180cm in the long model – meaning you have to push the front seats forward each time you have the bed extended, which reduces storage space.
  • lower level of interior comfort – lower-quality materials
  • not a 4×4 – ok for some off-road, but not too much (some 4×4 models are available as used too)

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 / ModelAvailable inFolded 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 / MinivanHyundaiStariaEU/US24213621 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐very spacious and comfortable. All you need is deeper pockets...8.234
MPV / MinivanFiatDoblo Combi Maxi XL (High Roof) (review)EU21715012 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐width 126 - this car is the biggest out there! The rear seats can be folded (backrests) or lifted up & tilted forward, or easily removed - even more flexibilitysource6.246
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenCaddy Maxi Life (review)EU22512613 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Longer and taller than Sharan, not as comfy but much better breakdown scoresource97.440
MPV / MinivanKiaSedona / CarnivalUS2441201.54 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Boot height is ESTIMATED, length comes from Youtubesource1224
MPV / MinivanDodgeGrand CaravanUS23011515 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Big, comfy (at places too much - a fold up TV isn't really necessary), but expensive to run, harder to drive. Dimensions - Every source I found had different height and sometimes length, so values here are an average of thosesource12.427
MPV / MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)Combo XLEU22611316 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐source5.742
MPV / MinivanPeugeotRifter (Long)EU2231121.57 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐source6.941
MPV / MinivanNissanNV200 passenger (review)EU20413518 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Width 122cm at wheel arches, 150cm doorssource9.430
MPV / MinivanCitroënBerlingo (Long) (review)EU21711219 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Partner + Berlingo are the same116.340
MPV / MinivanPeugeotPartner (L2 - Long) (review)EU217113110 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Long + tall, cheap and good for DIY custom camper builds116.841
MPV / MinivanChryslerPacificaUS230115111 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐source10.726
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenSharan (review)EU2091131.512 ⭐⭐⭐⭐One of the biggest + most comfortable car in this listsource217.136
MPV / MinivanToyotaSiennaUS220115113 ⭐⭐⭐⭐EDUCATED GUESS LENGTH & HEIGHT as no info available931
MPV / MinivanSeatAlhambraEU2091131.514 ⭐⭐⭐⭐It's basically a Sharan, worse breakdown scoresource237.438
MPV / MinivanChryslerGrand Voyager (long cut)EU230115115 ⭐⭐⭐⭐Big, comfy (at places too much - a fold up TV isn't really necessary), but expensive to run, harder to drive. Dimensions - Every source I found had different height and sometimes length, so values here are an average of thosesource12.427
MPV / MinivanRenaultGrand KangooEU2211130.516 ⭐⭐⭐⭐Big, good storage, but quite bad breakdown score, especially since 2016source248.328.2
MPV / MinivanFiatDoblo Combi Maxi (long)EU182125117 ⭐⭐⭐⭐a good candidate, but go for the High Roof version if possible: +20cm head space!source6.246
MPV / MinivanNissanQuestUS220102218 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source12.523
MPV / MinivanMercedesR350EU22290219 ⭐⭐⭐discontinued in 20171126
MPV / MinivanFordS-MaxEU19994220 ⭐⭐⭐source177.239
MPV / MinivanPeugeotPartner (L1) (review)EU182113121 ⭐⭐⭐6.841
MPV / MinivanFordGalaxyEU20490222 ⭐⭐⭐source7.637
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenCaddy Life (review)EU178113123 ⭐⭐⭐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 / MinivanToyotaProace CityEU176112124 ⭐⭐⭐source6.940.9
MPV / MinivanPeugeot5008EU18697225 ⭐⭐⭐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 / MinivanPeugeot3008EU18697226 ⭐⭐⭐source 1 - source 28.138
MPV / MinivanDaciaLodgyEU19396127 ⭐⭐⭐source742
MPV / MinivanFiatDoblo CombiEU147125128 ⭐⭐⭐source6.246
MPV / MinivanRenaultKangooEU1801120.529 ⭐⭐⭐source248.328.2
Station Wagon / EstateVolkswagenPassatEU195891.530 ⭐⭐⭐source98.135
MPV / MinivanRenaultGrand ScenicEU183931.531 ⭐⭐source186.742
Station Wagon / EstateSkodaOctaviaEU18585232 ⭐⭐not as tall, but long, comfortable and great breakdown scoresource86.941
MPV / MinivanMercedesCitan Tourer (L2)EU1591140.533 ⭐⭐Basically a Renault Kangoo, better trim.647
MPV / MinivanVolkswagenTouranEU179941.534 ⭐⭐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)EU177911.535 ⭐⭐key difference vs C4 Picasso is 7 seatssource6.443
MPV / MinivanCitroënC4 Spacetourer (Picasso)EU176901.536 ⭐⭐source6.443
Station Wagon / EstateVolvoV70EU19477237 ⭐⭐source7.939
SUVSubaruForesterEU/US200811.538 ⭐⭐source9.330
SUVToyotaRAV4EU189861.539 ⭐⭐source8.732
MPV / MinivanDaciaDokker / StepwayEU157105140 ⭐⭐6.842
Station Wagon / EstateMazda6 TourerEU197751.541 ⭐⭐source835
MPV / MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)ZafiraEU180821.542 ⭐⭐source16738
MPV / MinivanMazda5EU17786243 ⭐⭐source9.629
Station Wagon / EstateKiaCeed SportswagonEU18669244 ⭐⭐source176.543
SUVSubaruOutbackEU/US190801.545 ⭐⭐source9.729
MPV / MinivanKiaCarensEU181791.546 ⭐⭐source7.842
SUVDaciaDuster (more info)EU176900.547 ⭐⭐surprisingly spacious + high ground clearance (200mm) and 4x4 make it a great microcamper7.438
MPV / MinivanSkodaRoomster (review)EU150100148 ⭐136.940
SUVHondaCR-VEU162911.549 ⭐should be ok with front seats pushed forwardsource8.334
SUVHyundaiSanta FeEU185821.550 ⭐source1126
SUVFiatFreemontEU18582151 ⭐source9.828
Station Wagon / EstateVolvoV60EU17574252 ⭐source8.633
Station Wagon / EstateAudiA4 AvantEU17671253 ⭐source48.334
Station Wagon / EstateBMW3 SeriesEU17970254 ⭐source49.134
MPV / MinivanRenault(Grand) EspaceEU180791.555 ⭐source11.335
SUVNissanX-trailEU170791.556 ⭐source9.630
MPV / MinivanToyotaPrevia / Estima / TaragoEU2131251.5discontinued in 200611.624
MPV / MinivanPeugeot807EU227100discontinued in 2010
SUVSsangyongRextonEU213Boot length ESTIMATED
MPV / MinivanSsangyongTurismo (prev. Rodius)EU226tbctbctbcBoot length ESTIMATED
SUVPeugeot4007EU204tbctbctbcBoot length ESTIMATED
MPV / MinivanDaciaJoggerEU
*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.
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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 🙂

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.

nimblecamper hero 1 1024x576 1 - Best cars for car camping (microcamping) & DIY camping conversions

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.

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