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Which is the best van to convert into a campervan?

When you’ve decided to buy a campervan, a common question which folk ask is, ‘Which is the best van to ask your converter to buy for you?’. There is a lot of choice in the commercial vehicle market nowadays, and gone are the days when vans are slow, noisy and uncomfortable. Modern vans are easy to drive, too, whatever your age, size – or gender. Of course, the van that many people associate with camping and campervans is the Volkswagen. The public’s love affair with VW campervans began with the iconic VW split-screen bus, or ‘splitty’, followed by its replacement, the so-called ‘bay’ or ‘bay-window’ campervan. This was followed by the VW T25 van, which retained a rear-engined configuration, then the VW Transporter T4, which saw the engine relocated to the front. And finally we have the present-day VW Transporter T5 and T6 van conversions. Volkswagen van base vehicles hold a unique place in campervan history – and in people’s hearts. To many people the VW is the iconic camper, right down to the chrome VW badge on the front! Without doubt, the VW Transporter T6, makes a fine campervan, and Volkswagen even builds its own van conversion – the VW California.

If you asked the question 20 – or even 10 – years ago, the VW product was streets ahead (arguably) of the competition. If you wanted a campervan, buy a VW, they would say. However, in recent times commercial vehicles have developed hugely, and now each manufacturer has superb vans available. Car-like handling and driver experience, comfort and quietness have become the norm rather than the exception.

One such vehicle, which can be converted into a superb campervan, is the Vauxhall Vivaro. This was designed as a joint venture between Vauxhall, Renault and Nissan, and so can also be bought badged as a Renault Trafic or a Nissan NV300, too. Current models feature the Renault-engineered 2.0DCI engine, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, or to a TechShift automatic transmission. When you first drive a Vivaro, you will be amazed by the low engine noise, smooth suspension, and overall drive of the van. The short-wheelbase version is of the same size externally as the VW T6 at ‘waist’ level, but has more vertical sides, increasing internal volume without requiring a bigger footprint on the road.

Vauxhall Vivaros are converted into superb pop-top or elevating roof campervans, as well as high-top or high roof versions. There is the SWB – short-wheelbase – and the LWB – long-wheelbase – version too, offering a little more length to the accommodation inside. Sussex Campervans Ltd builds a conversion called the Manhattan, which takes advantage of the van’s excellent qualities.

Another van which is well-known on the road and has been dubbed the ‘backbone of British vans’ is the Ford Transit. Now onto its fifth generation, it was a ground-breaking innovation when it first came out, and continues its history of success. The latest Transit is engaging to drive and responsive, with its dashboard-mounted gearstick, and plenty of driver aids. Ford Transit campervans are renowned for being easy to maintain and reliable. The Ford diesel TDCi engines were developed with PSA Peugeot Citroen, and offer superb economy and power. They are one of the best-kept secrets of the campervan scene. The ‘Paradise’ 2-berth or 4-berth campervan with either the popular high-top or alternatively a pop-top was reviewed by Which Motorhome‘s July 2012 edition, and was built by Sussex Campervans Ltd in their workshop south of London and north of Brighton, though this has now been superseded by superior models of the Paradise, based on the Trafic/Vivaro/NV300.

For someone seeking a more compact campervan, until now the most popular choice has been a car-derived van, such as the Citroen C15 or Citroen Berlingo with a basic Romahome-type of conversion constructed on it. Another option was the Bambi-type conversion on the Suzuki Carry micro-van. However, in recent times, a new compact van has come on the scene, which seems to score on every front – spacious, easy-to-drive, economical – and it’s called the Nissan NV200.

The NV200 CamperCar has the appearance of a quality campervan which has been expertly ‘shrunk’ down to a more manageable size! It is supplied with the Renault 1.5DCi engine, which gives nearly-unbelieveable economy, and it is little bigger than a small car. You really can park this one anywhere. It can be converted with the standard roof retained, or with a custom-designed elevating roof fitted, to make a small pop-top campervan. It’s amazing just how versatile a vehicle this small can be! It can be used as an everyday car with ease, on account of its compact dimensions, as well as being ideal for days out, weekends away, or longer trips. This compact campervan conversion was pioneered by Sussex Campervans in its South-East England workshops.

Whatever size or type of campervans for sale you buy, there is no doubt that the panel van conversion sector is growing in popularity. with people looking for a truly multipurpose vehicle (MPV), and it offers an unrivalled touring experience.

The Essential
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Check out my Essential Campervan Buyer’s Guide. Then visit Sussex Campervans to see how we can create the perfect campervan for you.

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Our campervan gives us so much freedom to travel and stop where we like
Our campervan gives us so much freedom to travel and stop where we like. We prefer to just have the top up so we can stand and cook at the stove. The seats fold down to a large double bed. Very cosy especially after years of camping in a tent!
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