Analysis & rating of 30+ cars best for a car camping conversion

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sharan camping car bed for sleeping

What do you imagine when you hear (estate) car camping? Big caravans, campervans and trailers? Expensive high-tech vans with furniture inside? It used to be like that. But the days of car camping are changing: it’s now more accessible and cheaper than ever – you can easily turn your everyday car into a part-time camper. This post will give you a list of the best cars to choose for the best car camping experience with their measurements, consumption and in-depth reviews for the top ones. And this website will show you how to convert them into microcampers or what gear to get for car camping.

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

Car camping is also used to describe a way how to get out there – drive to a camp, hire a cottage and sleep in it, but there’s nothing new about it. It’s just standard camping. What we like here is car camping that utilizes your current standard car. No need to buy a campervan (VW Multivan and similar) or a caravan/trailer. If you have a standard size car (i.e. anything above mid-size), you can make it into a camping car and comfortably sleep in it. If you are thinking along the lines of any station wagon, MPV, minivan, combi, SUV, crossover SUV type of cars, your thinking is correct :).

Now to the burning question:

What car is best for sleeping in (microcamper conversion)?


All you need is a bit of creativity and skill to make a bed in your standard car – or in the case of many cars, the only thing separating you from an outdoor car camping adventure is an inflatable car bed/mattress.

Start with a car that’s long enough for you to stretch your legs when you fold down its rear seats and lie down. For better comfort, the higher the car, the better (more headroom – you want to be able to sit on your bed without hunching down).

fiat punto car camping greece
Sleeping in a Fiat Punto – it was good fun nevertheless! Not much sleeping-wise, but fit-anywhere-wise 😀

Most cars fit these criteria – except the smaller city cars and 3 door cars. Of course, you can make do in almost any car (I’ve camped around Greece in an old Fiat Punto and explored Spain in a rented Fiat 500 – the new version. But we slept in the front, the back wasn’t much of an option. These cars, however, are not very comfortable for sleeping especially for more than 1 night.

sleeping in fiat 500
Sleeping in Fiat 500 – we slept on the front seats – does the job, but you wouldn’t want to do that for too long!

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.

(I update the table often – some of the data is hard to come by, some of it I just have to measure myself… by asking strangers if I can measure their car :D…)

What cars are best for car camping?

It’s basically any car – it all depends on your desired level of comfort. The smaller the car, the lower the comfort. Let’s focus on the cars that fit our criteria and break them into categories:

Personal (family) cars, MPVs (people carriers), SUVs, estate (station wagons / combis)

Basically any car for daily life. Easiest if you are new to the world of camping and have a limited budget – you can find a good used 6-8 years old car for under 10K and turn it into a microcamper.

  • MPVs (EU) / Minivans (US) – by far the best (and most commonly converted to microcampers) category you should look into. The cars might not be the sexiest, but they make up for it in the available room department. The list is long, also depending on what part of the world you live and whether you want more of a van feel or nicer finish to your interior – the best picks are:
    • Volkswagen Sharan / Seat Alhambra
    • Volkswagen Caddy Life & Caddy Maxi Life
    • Citroën Berlingo (Long) / Peugeot Partner
    • Citroën C4 (Grand) Spacetourer (formerly the Citroën C4 Picasso)
    • Renault Espace or Kangoo
    • Opel Combo (XL)
    • Ford Galaxy, S-Max
  • SUVs – plenty of options here too, SUVs tend to be a bit shorter at the back, but should still fit within the criteria + they have a hidden bonus of a higher wheelbase – allowing you to find the perfect spot even further off the road. The most common are:
    • Toyota RAV4
    • Honda CR-V
    • Subaru Outback
  • Station wagon (US) / Estate (UK) / Combi (EU) – this car body type is long enough, with a lower roof, hence less headroom. But it’s the easiest to drive and manoeuvre/park. The most common ones are:
    • Audi A4
    • Skoda Octavia Estate
    • Volkswagen Passat Estate
    • BMW 3 Series
    • Volvo V70 / V60
    • Mazda6 Tourer estate
    • Kia Ceed Sportswagon estate

Vans – small, medium and big and/or passenger / panel vans

Bigger, stronger, higher wheelbase – the main benefit being plenty of room. But harder to park and manoeuvre + can’t be used as stealth campers that well. Their price varies depending on the model and type. All VW T(3,4,5,6) types keep their value very well – expect to pay 10K for a 20-year old car with a huge mileage. But standard vans are sometimes cheaper than normal cars (might have a high mileage though).

  • We can split them into two groups – the ones with seats at the back – Passenger vans – usually 7+ seaters like the VW Multivan (Transporter, Caravelle), Peugeot Traveller, Ford Tourneo Custom, Vauxhall Vivaro Life, Citroen SpaceTourer, Toyota Proace Verso, Mercedes Vito Tourer
  • and the ones with no seats / windows at the back also called Panel vans. You won’t be able to use them as your day-to-day family car, but on the other hand, they offer more room and customisation options. They are bare at the back so the best option for serious DIY car camping conversions.
    • small vans (Caddy van, Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner (now Rifter)/Toyota Proace City/Vauxhall Combo, Fiat Doblo Cargo, Renault Kangoo/Nissan NV250/Mercedes Citan etc.)
    • medium vans (Ford Transit Custom, Volkswagen Transporter, Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Vivaro, Citroen Dispatch, Peugeot Expert, Mercedes Vito, Toyota Proace, Fiat Talento
    • big panel vans – Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, VW Crafter, Man TGE (it’s basically the Crafter), Renault Master, Open (Vauxhall) Movano, Peugeot Boxer (Citroen Relay), Fiat Ducato

Purpose made campers (motorhomes), luxury campers

Made for the car camping connoisseur – with all the bells and whistles, they tend to cost 20K and upwards.

  • Factory built motorhomes – brands like Hymer, Dethleffs – basically homes on wheels, with plenty of room, fully integrated kitchens, toilets and bedrooms + plenty more.
  • Hobby / DIY campers – anything that people build – from cheaper DIY conversions of smaller vans or MPVs to expensive luxurious conversions of big trucks.

As you can see in the table, the top ones offer the longest & tallest boot space (lots of headroom and legroom for sleeping and erm… playing cards…). Of course, some of you might accept a slightly shorter car if it offers a higher level of comfort/safety. Others will prefer space over comfort.


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What car do I recommend for car camping trip?

…or:

What to consider if you can’t decide whether to go for more space or more comfort?

First, you should think about how are you going to spend most of your time in the car:

  • Is it driving for many hours (long trips) and then just sleeping? You probably want a car that offers more comfort – you want the drive to be safe and comfy if that’s what you are going to use it for most of the time. Look for 1.5 – 2 in the comfort grade column. Ford Galaxy offers good comfort and still is quite spacious, followed by Skoda Octavia or Volvo V70.
  • Or is it actually living in the car (not just sleeping, but also doing things – spending time reading, preparing the trip, relaxing, moving about inside the car). Then you should choose a car with the longest & tallest boot space. VW Caddy Maxi Life is a winner in this category.
  • If you want something in the middle, go for VW Sharan or Seat Alhambra – they offer plenty of space, but also good level of comfort.

I chose a VW Sharan – although I was considering VW Caddy Maxi Life before that, until a well priced and kept Sharan crossed my path :).

REVIEWS OF OUR TOP CARS FOR CAMPING (MICROCAMPERS)

VW Caddy (Maxi) Camper
(top pick for size)

One of the biggest – small cars, best suited for car camping conversions. Find all about that here – dimensions, review, images, gear, useful links.

VW Sharan Camper
(top pick for size+comfort)

Spacious and great comfort. Choose the Sharan/Alhambra if you plan long drives and want comfort.

Citroen Berlingo (top pick for DIY conversions)

Top pick for DIY conversion enthusiasts according to our survey. Cheaper, no problem to drill holes into 🙂

What is the criteria for a good car camper?

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 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).

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 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.

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.

What’s next? Some camping essentials to make your trip marvellous!

Depending on the car you have chosen, you’ll need to kit it out – primarily something comfy to sleep on, some storage, something for privacy and useful tools for camping.

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What car did / will you choose for your next adventure?

Find this helpful? Help this blog by sharing, thanks!

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LIKE AIRBNB, BUT WITH CAMPERS!

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

Adventure anywhere - Experience van life, in the UK!
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
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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

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