|Danbury Motor Caravans' Fiat Doblo (Ram Promaster City) Conversion.|
By Andy Lilienthal
Everyone knows the Volkswagen Bus/Transporter/Eurovan (with or without the iconic Westfalia pop-top conversions) are the most iconic of camper vans and compact travel vehicles. People have traveled the globe for decades in these compact vans: They're small enough to be maneuverable, big enough to sleep in. They're also unavailable new in the U.S.
North America hasn't had a proper VW Van (sorry, the Routan does not count) since 2003. Yes, we've had all sorts of other minivans from nearly every other automaker, but nothing as camper-worthy as the VW vans. (NOTE: The Ursa Minor Honda Element Ecamper would be the next best thing.) And much like the hard-to-find Eurovans (and previous Vanagons, etc.), they command quite a price, especially the rare 4WD Syncro Vanagons, which I've seen for sale here in Portland for nearly $70,000 when fully equipped. No, I did not add an extra zero.
With the introduction of the Ford Transit Connect a few years ago, and now the Ram Promaster City and Chevy Express City/Nissan NV200, there are several platforms that might make outstanding choices for those looking to travel small and still live in their vehicles.
There are a handful of people that have turned their Transit Connects into small campers or overland vehicles (such as the one picture above via ExpeditionPortal.com), complete with sleeping platforms, sinks, cartridge toilets, and other living provisions. Our recent Ram Promaster City review delved into the idea of making one of these little vans into a small overlander.There are already companies in Europe that are converting the Fiat Doblo (Ram Promaster City) into little campers.
Of course, unlike vehicles, such as the VW Westfalia Syncro or Mitsubishi Delica (which can now be imported into the U.S. thanks to the 25 year rule), the Ford, Ram, and Nissan/Chevy vans are all only front-wheel drive, thus making them less able to get down some of the more challenging terrain that a Syncro or Delica could navigate, or even snowy mountain roads. Granted, these are all likely safer, faster, and more reliable than the aforementioned VW and Mitsubishi, thanks to modern safety amenities, and the fact that your legs don't sit a foot from the front bumpers.
As I mentioned, the Ursa Major Ecamper is probably the best compact camper you could get. You actually access the pop-up part via the car's existing rear glass panel, which can be removed. How cool? However, it's still mostly soft sided (at least for the sleeping area). And again, you'll have to go used. It's still pretty sweet.
So what would you say would be the best compact camper?