Many adventurers enjoy getting as far away as humanly possible from society. However, your vehicle type can significantly impact your ability to access some places on the weekend while also blending into everyday life during the week. This is why we think that 4×4 vans are the ultimate vehicle for modern adventurers.
Modern nomads stay anywhere from RV parks and remote public lands to everywhere in between. If you’re shopping for a vehicle for your future adventures, a 4×4 van is one you should seriously consider.
Today, we will make a case for these vehicles as some of the best options for many travelers. Buckle your seat belt, and let’s get started!
What Are 4×4 Vans?
While 4×4 vans have similar features to a typical van, they’re unique. A 4×4 van must has a four-wheel drive system, which means they can get into and out of more situations and terrain than two-wheel-drive vans. They may also have several modifications that improve their traction, stability, and ability to go off-road.
The 4×4 feature allows the drivetrain to send power to all four wheels simultaneously. Four-wheel drive helps improve traction, especially during slippery, uneven off-roading experiences. While it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get stuck, it can be helpful in many dicey scenarios.
In addition to four-wheel drive, these vans typically have a lift kit, providing a few extra inches of ground clearance. This feature can be helpful when navigating rough and uneven terrain. It helps avoid damage from rocks, ruts, and other obstacles, especially in rugged areas.
Owners of these vehicles will often make additional upgrades to improve the vehicle’s performance and usability. You’ll often find beefier tires, upgraded suspensions, roof racks, winches, and solar panels mounted to the top. Some adventurers have everything they need inside their vehicle to spend several days or weeks off-grid.
Pro Tip: Owning a 4×4 vehicle means you will find this guide on What You Need to Know About Your Front Differential useful.
Can You Convert A Van to 4×4?
Technically, it is possible to convert a van to a 4×4, but the level of difficulty and cost involved can vary greatly depending on the specific make and model of the van, as well as the desired level of off-road capability. There are only a handful of models that can be converted, like the Ford Econoline (now discontinued).
For these, there are some conversion kits available in the market that can transform certain models of vans into 4×4 vehicles. However, it’s important to note that such conversions require a significant amount of mechanical and engineering work.
Unfortunately, many modern vans make conversions difficult or even impossible. We recommend researching your particular model for options and consulting with a reputable mechanic or off-road specialist to determine the best course of action for your specific needs and budget.
The process of converting a van to a 4×4 can be quite expensive. In general, a basic 4×4 conversion kit can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $10,000, depending on the make and model of the van. This typically includes the installation of a 4×4 transfer case, front and rear differentials, axles, suspension components, and other necessary hardware.
However, the total cost of the conversion can easily exceed $20,000 or more when you factor in labor costs, additional upgrades, and custom modifications. The exact cost will depend on the specifics of the conversion and the level of customization you want.
Why Are 4×4 Vans Great for Vanlife?
These vans are great for vanlife because they have the power and capabilities to get into hard-to-reach spots. However, while they may appear challenging, a peek inside reveals they can be luxurious and comfortable.
There are plenty of customizable options to create an off-grid living space. Vanlife enthusiasts customize their vehicles to fit their needs. In addition, they show off some of their character and style in decorating their space. There’s plenty of room for living and working, and the great outdoors becomes their space to play.
Vanlife can be challenging and unpredictable. However, when you choose the correct 4×4 van, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about your vehicle’s durability or reliability. They’re some of the most dependable and capable vehicle options for vanlife.
Pro Tip: Make living in a 4×4 van easy by investing in these 10 Best Campervan Accessories.
Benefits of 4×4 Vans for Adventures
There are a handful of reasons why we think these are some of the best vehicles for adventures. Let’s consider why you should consider them to help you experience some epic adventures.
While SUVs or trucks may be the first thing that comes to mind when considering off-road capabilities, 4×4 vans can hold their own. Our friend Chad over at Living the Van Life has taken his overland van on the most unbelievable off-road trails.
Since many owners upgrade suspension, increase ground clearance, and install all-terrain tires, there’s just about nothing these vehicles can’t handle. They can handle rough, uneven terrain and navigate steep inclines and declines. When it comes to versatility, it doesn’t get much more versatile than these beasts. Many find it’s the best of both worlds when it comes to enjoying off-road adventures.
Sometimes you want to bring some toys while you’re heading out camping. Whether it’s a small boat, dirt bike, or other toy, these vehicles can usually handle towing them. Many of these vans come with towing capacities from 3,500 to 5,000 pounds. While you won’t be hauling a massive RV behind you, it’s plenty of power for a small trailer to take your trip to the next level.
Pro Tip: Some people even tow a car behind their Class B Camper van.
Many features and upgrades that help make a 4×4 van extremely capable also help with its durability. When converting the van into a livable space, some upgrades include reinforcing the frame, suspension, and drivetrain components. This typically results in a vehicle that can take the abuse that off-roading can throw at it.
However, just because a vehicle is durable doesn’t mean it won’t require regular maintenance. When correctly maintained, these vehicles can last an incredibly long time and be highly dependable in remote places.
One of the primary downfalls of vehicles is that they depreciate relatively fast, especially RVs. However, camper vans have a history of retaining value and do not experience nearly as drastic depreciation as other RVs.
This is primarily due to the durability and popularity that we’ve discussed. There’s a massive demand for durable vehicles that can help people reach some remote places. These 4×4 vans are the best of both worlds, and the market has been booming.
While other RV markets have cooled, experts predict the conversion van market will continue to grow. They expect a 5.3% growth between 2021 and 2030. For a market that’s already been somewhat chaotic, it’s a good sign for those looking to invest.
During the conversion process, many installers beef up the insulation inside their RVs. Doing so makes them much more comfortable when camping year-round. Whether trying to stay cool in the summer or warm in the winter, these vehicles are fantastic options.
Since the space is relatively compact, heating doesn’t require as much effort as you’d think. Those installing heaters often stay nice and toasty as long as they keep their heater running.
Additionally, the four-wheel-drive functionality helps to ensure that you stay in control of the vehicle no matter the circumstances. You’ll stand the best chance with traction and stability during snowy and icy conditions.
What Are the Best 4×4 Vans?
One of the most crucial decisions with any 4×4 van conversion is the van. Some brands are better than others and provide more benefits. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of companies make 4×4 vans, and most of the companies that did make them have discontinued them or are overseas and not available in North America. Current manufacturers of 4×4 vans include Mercedes-Benz and Ford. Let’s look at a handful of the best 4×4 vans you might want to consider.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is among the most popular Class B 4×4 conversion vans. It’s a luxury vehicle that provides everything you need for a premium experience. However, the quality experience also comes with a high price tag. These units typically cost well over $150,000 and can top $200,000 when you convert them.
Whether you’re converting the van yourself or hiring a professional, there’s a tremendous amount of space to work with in this van. If you plan it correctly, there’s room for almost everything you need on the road.
There are various options available, but they’re competent vehicles. The payload capacities range from 3,726 pounds to 6,382 pounds, and the towing capacity can range from 5,000 to an impressive 7,500 pounds. However, do the homework on any specific models to check the numbers.
One of the most prominent rivals for the 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is the AWD Ford Transit. While not “true” 4×4, these vans are still very popular for getting further off the beaten path. Those doing conversions often prefer the box-like structure of the Transit. It makes dealing with angles easy and avoids unnecessary wasted space. However, the Ford Transit Connect is a slightly smaller version with better fuel economy at 29 mpg than the standard Transit at 19 mpg.
The Ford Transit is an American-made van with a cheaper price tag than the Sprinter. Costs for the van typically are $36,000 to $45,000. If you’re paying for a professional conversion, you can expect to add another $30,000 or so. Many manufacturers with pre-converted campervans using the Ford Transit sell them for $100,000. As a result, this is a popular vehicle for DIY van conversion projects.
In November 2022, Ford also announced the upfit-ready Transit Trail version of the van with intelligent all-wheel-drive.
Pro Tip: Ensure you’re making a good investment by uncovering Is a Ford Transit a Good Camper Van?
Ford E-Series 4×4 Van
The Ford Transit replaced the popular E-Series (Econoline) vans in 2014. However, this is an intelligent option for van conversions, especially for those who desire off-road use. While making these vans 4×4 requires an effective modification; it’s worth it. Once converted, you can take your vehicle practically anywhere.
When the conversion process is over, these are excellent options because of their durability, large size, and versatility. Ford created an incredibly sturdy frame for these beasts, then packed tremendous muscle into its engine. Some of their most favored vans pushed out 225 to 245 horsepower.
Another attractive feature for choosing these vans is that Ford built them to last more than 50 years. This means a generous amount of used vans are available for budget-friendly prices. If you go this route, you don’t have to break the bank to have an incredible and capable 4×4 van.
While Ford and Mercedes-Benz may get most of the attention, Nissan NV deserves some respect. Its 10.2 inches of ground clearance helps it navigate rough terrain, uneven surfaces, and steep inclines. The part-time four-wheel-drive system helps to ensure improved traction and stability when you take it off the road.
The V8 5.6-liter engine cranks out 375 horsepower and 387 lb-ft of torque. This means you’ll have plenty of power to navigate those challenging circumstances. Its durable design can help you know it won’t fall apart. It can take almost anything you throw at it. Unfortunately, Nissan discontinued the NV, so you’ll have to search for them used.
The UAZ-452 is one of the most capable 4×4 vans. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t import it. Locating one for sale can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Importing one of these beasts isn’t typically accessible and requires jumping through a series of hoops. You may even have to modify the vehicle to import it. However, there are import companies that can help with the process.
Drivers can conquer almost any terrain with 9.4 inches of ground clearance. In addition, the 3,300 pounds payload capacity ensures you can bring nearly anything you want. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine produces 89 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque.
While the UAZ-452 might not be the biggest or baddest 4×4 van out there, it’s capable. If you can find one, you’ll turn an eye or two as you cruise down the highway or into your remote camping spot.
Volkswagen produced the Vanagon from 1979 to 1992. However, from 1984 to 1992, they made a limited number of 4×4 vans. Many confuse Westfalia with Vanagon because Westfalia utilized the Vanagon chassis. Westfalia converted Vanagons into incredible camper vans.
The Westfalia camper vans had a pop-up roof, which created substantially more headroom. Additionally, the interior of the Westfalia was very different from the Vanagon as the Westfalia had a built-in kitchenette and sleeping space. The Westfalia was only available for a handful of years in the early 1980s before the company discontinued them. Our friend Chad at Living the Van Life had a Westfalia Vanagon before upgrading to the Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 and had many incredible off-road adventures in it.
Pro Tip: Ready to get your Class B RV? Check out these 6 Cheapest Class B RV Camper Vans for Affordable Vanlife (Under $100k).
Where Will Your 4×4 Van Take You?
What are you waiting for? Find the 4×4 van that fits your needs and can help make off-roading memories. You can explore remote areas and live comfortably while fulfilling your sense of adventure in your 4×4 van. The possibilities of where you can go and what you can discover are endless in your 4×4 van.
Where do you want to adventure in a 4×4 van? Tell us in the comments!
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