Analysis & rating of 30+ cars – best for camping conversion

Best cars for car camping | Sleeping in car | SUV camping
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. This post sums up the easiest ways to sleep in your car and what car to choose for the best car camping experience.

What is (estate) 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 “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.

Image

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 car camping / sleeping in (microcamper conversion)?


All you need is a bit of creativity and skill to make a car camping bed in your standard car – or in 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).

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, don’t fit our criteria above – it’s not very comfortable.

I’ve also left out many shorter options like Dacia Dokker (folded seats boot length 1.57 m (5.2 ft)) and cars with similar boot lengths.

fiat punto car camping greece
But it was good fun nevertheless! Not much sleeping-wise, but fit-anywhere-wise 😀

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 (US, 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 scoresource97.431.6
MPV/MinivanVolkswagenSharan (review)2081131.52 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐One of the biggest + most comfortable car in this list, breakdown score is a bit too highsource217.133.2
MPV/MinivanSeatAlhambra2081131.53 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐It's basically a Sharansource237.431.9
StationWagon/EstateSkodaOctavia1858524 ⭐⭐⭐⭐not as tall, but long, comfortable and great breakdown scoresource86.934.2
MPV/MinivanFordGalaxy2049025 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source7.630.9
StationWagon/EstateVolkswagenPassat195891.56 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source98.129.1
MPV/MinivanPeugeot50081869727 ⭐⭐⭐⭐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 comparisonsource829.3
MPV/MinivanPeugeot30081869727 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source 1 - source 28.129
MPV/MinivanVolkswagenCaddy Life17811319 ⭐⭐⭐⭐source97.431.6
MPV/MinivanPeugeotPartner (L2 - Long) (review)217113110 ⭐⭐⭐6.834.4
MPV/MinivanCitroënBerlingo (Long) (review)180112111 ⭐⭐⭐116.337.2
StationWagon/EstateBMW3 Series17970212 ⭐⭐⭐source49.125.8
MPV/MinivanFordS-Max199941.513 ⭐⭐⭐source177.232.6
StationWagon/EstateAudiA4 Avant17671214 ⭐⭐⭐source48.328.5
MPV/MinivanVolkswagenTouran179941.515 ⭐⭐⭐It's just a bit smaller Sharan - easier to park, but less space inside, rest is about the samesource117.531.5
MPV/MinivanChryslerGrand Voyager (long cut)2301150.516 ⭐⭐⭐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 those12.419
MPV/MinivanRenaultGrand Scenic183931.517 ⭐⭐⭐source186.735.1
MPV/MinivanRenaultGrand Kangoo2211130.518 ⭐⭐⭐Big, good storage, but low comfort & quality of drivesource248.328.2
StationWagon/EstateVolvoV7019477219 ⭐⭐⭐source7.929.8
StationWagon/EstateKiaCeed Sportswagon18669220 ⭐⭐⭐source176.535.9
MPV/MinivanPeugeotPartner (L1) (review)182113121 ⭐⭐⭐6.834.4
MPV/MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)Zafira180821.522 ⭐⭐⭐source16733.8
SUVSubaruForester200811.523 ⭐⭐⭐source9.325.3
SUVToyotaRAV4189861.524 ⭐⭐⭐source8.727
MPV/MinivanCitroënC4 (Grand) Spacetourer (Picasso)177911.525 ⭐⭐key difference vs C4 Picasso is 7 seatssource6.436.6
MPV/MinivanCitroënC4 Spacetourer (Picasso)176901.526 ⭐⭐source6.436.6
StationWagon/EstateVolvoV6017574227 ⭐⭐source8.627.5
MPV/MinivanDaciaLodgy19396128 ⭐⭐source733.4
SUVSubaruOutback190801.529 ⭐⭐source9.724.4
SUVHyundaiSanta Fe185821.530 ⭐⭐source1121.5
MPV/MinivanSkodaRoomster (review)150100131 ⭐⭐136.934
StationWagon/EstateMazda6 Tourer197751.532 ⭐⭐source829.5
SUVHondaCR-V162911.533 ⭐⭐should be ok with front seats pushed forwardsource8.328.4
MPV/MinivanOpel (Vauxhall)Combo XL176100134 ⭐⭐source5.741.5
MPV/MinivanKiaCarens181791.535 ⭐⭐source7.830.3
MPV/MinivanRenaultKangoo1801120.536 ⭐⭐source248.328.2
MPV/MinivanRenault(Grand) Espace180791.537 ⭐source11.320.9
SUVNissanX-trail170791.538 ⭐source9.624.5
SUVFiatFreemont18582139 ⭐source9.824
*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 (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.

(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…)

  • 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 C4 (Grand) Spacetourer (formerly the Citroën C4 Picasso)
    • Citroën Berlingo (Long) / Peugeot Partner
    • 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 higher wheelbase – allowing you to find the perfect spot even further off the road. The most common in the US and EU 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 in the US and EU are:
    • Audi A4
    • Skoda Octavia Estate
    • Volkswagen Passat Estate
    • BMW 3 Series
    • Volvo V70 / V60
    • Mazda6 Tourer estate
    • Kia Ceed Sportswagon estate

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.

What car do I recommend for car camping?

…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 :).

Nimble Camper – (suv / estate) car camping – criteria

1. Car camping that is comfortable (a car long enough to stretch in)

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 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 camping that’s 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. Anyone with 50K+ can be a happy car camper easy. This isn’t about easy – but about creative and DIY. It’s flashpacking vs backpacking. Anything is easy with money, we prefer things not being as easy, but a lot more interesting and challenging :). 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 reversible – portable & minimalist

One car is enough to work as your standard day-to-day car and also as your camping car. 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.

Check out this page for a more details overview of our criteria:

What’s next? Some car 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.

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

These might come in handy...

...and you'll help keep this website going too - thanks! :)

🤠 Hey fellow camper! Get the latest posts and tips into your inbox:
Subscribe to our newsletter


Marketing permission: I give my consent to NimbleCamper Newsletter to be in touch with me via email using the information I have provided in this form for the purpose of news, updates and marketing.

What to expect: If you wish to withdraw your consent and stop hearing from us, simply click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email we send or contact us at lukas@nimblecamper.com. We value and respect your personal data and privacy. To view our privacy policy, please visit our website. By submitting this form, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *