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Old 09-02-2016, 12:48 AM   #1
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Default Transit, Sprinter, Promaster, or Express for Camper Build?

Folks

For the last several years, We've been planning a camper build to replace our VW Westfalia, soon to be retired after over 20 years and 200K miles. We've become quite used to the relatively small space of the Westy, love the maneuverability and ability to include cities in our touring, so will go with short to medium length, medium to high top in our new van.

High priority attributes are:
1. Reliable engine (preferably gas), lots of power, easy to service
2. Reliable and powerful AC to cool the large volume of the van. We want to travel in the SW without baking! I plan to buy a white van, insulate well, tint windows, and install a MaxAir fan as well.

I've been thinking to go with a Ford Transit, but now I'm reading lots of posts about major AC problems, gas mileage is disappointing, and the short WB model isn't quite tall enough for my 6' body.

Sprinters are more expensive up front and maintenance, and the dealer network is thin.

Dodge Promasters have a variety of issues, haven't done well in some comparison tests (Car and Driver, Canadian "Autos" magazine, and have a pronounced forward tilt that bothers me.

I've been waiting for GM to weigh in, hopefully with a Nissan NV400 derivative, but it looks like they're not going to do that any time soon.

So now I'm re-considering one of the old-school vans, Chev. Express, with a pop top from Colorado Campers. Reliable power train, decent gas mileage (though from what I've read the V8 will do just as well as the V6), lots of dealers. Not sure how good the AC is. Another plus is the large supply of used vans out there.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this.

Larry Burt
Portland, Oregon
PS: I've posted this in the Transit, Sprinter, Promaster, and Express Forums.
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Old 09-02-2016, 02:49 AM   #2
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I have a 10 year old chev express 3500 based Pleasure-way Lexor TD

One of the reason for buying this was the chassis- I am familiar with chevs and already own the manuals, filters and "know" my way around much of the vehicle.

this has the 6.0l vortec with the 3spd/ OD transmission- this drivetrain was well suited for the 8500# rv and delivering a typical 16 MPG at 65 MPH- I think that a smaller motor would work harder and deliver poor mpg-
I have a 2001 gmc pickup with the 4.8 and it is always hunting 3/OD on grades- mpg on this is about 20 but the weight is 1/2, as is the wind load.
the chev easy and fun to drive, easy to park ( my spouse can solo to the CA beaches) , easy to service or fix anywhere.
19' long and 9'6" high-
inside I can move around pretty good- I am close to 6'2"...I can wear running shoes but if I wear thick soled boots I brush my head


other prime considerations for us were the build quality and the size of the bed.

I know you are looking at doing you own but if you see a PW lexor model on the chev, kick some tires.

I have also driven a sprinter based RV- the chassis was great the rv quality not so much. I have driven a rental pass version of the transit and the seats were uncomfy, the van would go fast but on hills it slowed mightily with 6 or 8 people and luggage. nv400- I don't know. I have a Pal who has a nissan nv200 for a work vehicle and it has been a problem from day one

We spent 3 weeks last month between Brookings and Tillamook- had a great time in some of your State Parks

mike
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Old 09-02-2016, 01:29 PM   #3
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Have you done a test drive of each of these vans. I would definitely start there. There is a reason people are moving to the new style vans as compared to the "old school vans." The improved visability out the front windows would alone be worth the upgrade to me. They also just drive better. I can't imagine anyone driving a Sprinter or Transit and wanting to go back to an old school Chevy van.
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Old 09-02-2016, 03:26 PM   #4
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I haven't owned a fullsize Chevy Van, but have owned many old ford vans, an older style Dodge Van, and 3 Safari/Astro Chevy mini Vans. The Vortec motors were great, and with the exception of a couple belts and maybe a fuel pump or two, I put 200,000 trouble free miles on each one of them.

I currently have a Travato on a promaster Chassis, AND a low roof 97 Dodge Van conversion. Though I still like my "boaty" old dodge, it is a completely different animal than the new "eurovans". The Promaster drives, parks and handles more like the mini vans, than the traditional american vans. ALL of the eurovans handle better than the traditional vans; after driving all three, I preferred the Promaster because it felt lighter, more nimble, and peppier than MB or Ford.

The MB seems over priced, too narrow, top heavy, slow, expensive and difficult to maintain, and the dog of the group to me, but I am not a diesel fan to begin with (even less so considering all the new DEF complications). Sorry MB fans, just my opinion.
I don't really have anything bad experiences to report about the Ford, except maybe that I was already rubbing my head on the ceiling in a stripped van before putting in a floor or finished ceiling.. (I'm 6'2"). Both the Ford and MB tow more than the Promaster, if that is a concern.

Don't put too much salt in the reviews: Drive them all and come to your own conclusion. Do what you're doing, and listen to actual "owners" experiences. The C&D review was a head scratcher. The reviewer made it pretty clear he couldn't stand the promaster before he even got in it. They compared Vans configured differently (high top vs Low, Long WB vs short), and drew conclusions from that mismatched info. He deemed an empty shell of a promaster noisier than a Ford and MB with flooring and wall covering... well, uh.. yeah.

I have nothing but great things to report about the Promaster. It has never lacked power (I live in Ozarks, and have toured in the Rockies), and I often find myself cruising at 80 on the highway before I realize it. The front wheel drive makes it ideal for camper conversion, and gives it a lower profile than the others because the floor is lower. There is not a driveshaft running through the middle of the van taking up and breaking up valuable space underneath. It has a lower center of gravity and is several inches wider than the competition, also ideal for conversion use. It features a proven drivetrain and gets around 17 MPG with gas. The dash A/C works great; and living in Arkansas, at about 13,000 miles, with a black van, I have used my rooftop air a total of two times. Once to make sure it worked, and once while "plugged in", overnighting in OK with temps above 100 degrees. The combination of ventilation and a good ceiling fan usually takes care of the heat. It has the best turning radius and visibility of the three. Your concern over the "forward tilt" should be nullified after building your camper in the back.

Throwing used vehicles into the mix, adds a whole 'nuther argument. IF your OK with the old style Vans, there is probably a good deal out there somewhere on a used white chevy Van, and coming from a VW, that might seem like plenty of space to you.
Good luck in your search.
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Old 09-02-2016, 04:38 PM   #5
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I recently did a full restoration on a VW Westfalia and near the end, I realized it was too small, and inefficient for my camping needs. Its gone and after weighing my options and pocketbook, I purchased a Promaster van. Its lower to the ground, drives like a car and after the sound proofing and insulation, is the quietest vehicle I've ever owned. Sway bar and air bags made it handle very well and its less affected by cross winds due to its lower profile and CG. The van's AC kept the entire van cool while traveling in the desert in the summer. I'm on year three of ownership and have had one problem, the armrest slips. The major reason other than lower cost was the width, I was able to configure the bed across the back, with insulation and still leave me with 6'3". You can't do that with Ford or MB also there is one less step up into the van vs two into the Transit and Sprinter, makes a difference for those with bad knees and its safer. The gas models of Transit and Promaster will accelerate to 60mph almost twice as fast as the diesel versions and sprinters which makes it less stressful on onramps and passing slow vehicles on grades.
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Old 09-02-2016, 05:43 PM   #6
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and a metris review-

Driven: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris cargo van | The Chronicle Herald

this could be a contender with a raised top and maybe points the driection we are going
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Old 09-02-2016, 07:40 PM   #7
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I've driven all 4 of the vans you mention. I would agree with a couple other posters, that the ProMaster is the best driving and nimblest of the group, while having the best off the line pickup with the gas engine.
The Transit and Sprinter are very close in driving manners with the nod going to the Transit. The cab area of the Sprinter has a less intrusive dash and larger footwells, while the Transit has the newest modern dash layout and controls. The Transit with the EcoBoost obviously has the most power by far with 14-17 mpg fuel mileage. There's expediters on the Transit forum with over 100k miles with the EB motor and all they've done is tires and oil changes. There's delivery stop & go and bus drivers there also with the 3.2 diesel with over 100k miles that have the same to report or small issues with the diesel part of the equation. Ford does seem to have a better handle on the diesel emissions part of the equation because we're not seeing near the issues there as the Sprinter has had.
What can be said about the Express that isn't known so far. One of the best V8 engines in the world with the LS design, a 6 spd Heavy Duty truck transmission, parts for it everywhere, but smaller inside with not the handling that would compare with the new Euro vans. Comparatively good gas mileage though.
If I was building my own camper van at home, I'd go with the gas ProMaster with the Transit being a close second with the EcoBoost.
That's my story and I'm sticking with it....
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Old 09-02-2016, 07:53 PM   #8
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I am a bit surprised by the comment about the Promaster having better power than the Express or Ecoboost. Were those empty base vans? The 6.0 with 6 speed is a very powerful package, from what I have seen.

There is one thing that hasn't been brought up, and may or may not be a factor. The Express is the only body on frame van being discussed, and if you are doing a DIY, this can be a big factor as you can cut the body wherever you want. The unibodies can be very fussy on body openings and modifications. To be sure, a lot of unibodies have been randomly cut without "obvious" issues, but to me that is not really a good idea.
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Old 09-02-2016, 08:18 PM   #9
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I don't believe the express is not in the same category as you would have to do extensive modification to come close to the cargo space and headroom of the sprinter,promaster and transit type vans. The Ecoboost is the fastest more powerful of all vans, I believe he was talking about the base model v6 engines.What sold me on the Pentastar V6 was it HP/TQ, MPG and the fact that it doesn't have an EGR which is a giant plus.
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Old 09-02-2016, 09:56 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mojoman View Post
I don't believe the express is not in the same category as you would have to do extensive modification to come close to the cargo space and headroom of the sprinter,promaster and transit type vans. The Ecoboost is the fastest more powerful of all vans, I believe he was talking about the base model v6 engines.What sold me on the Pentastar V6 was it HP/TQ, MPG and the fact that it doesn't have an EGR which is a giant plus.
What is the benefit of not having an EGR?
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Old 09-02-2016, 10:21 PM   #11
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Ask a sprinter owner.
EGR injects exhaust into the intake to lower emissions, good for the environment but not good for engine performance and reliability.
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Old 09-02-2016, 10:29 PM   #12
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I haven't read up on it in quite a while, but a number of years ago when I did ( I had a car without EGR), I found that essentially all the engines without a proper EGR valve were also use Exhaust Gas Circulation. The difference was in intake and exhaust designs, combined with some exhaust gas trapping in the cylinder heads, or reversion flow of the exhaust. Same process, but with a bit less hardware to plug up. I never saw that one way or another made much difference in performance or durability, but I did always pass emissions.
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Old 09-02-2016, 11:54 PM   #13
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2017 models will have kinda the same setup as the sprinters, EGR valve/cooler assembly injected into the intake to make 2017, EPA Tier 3 standards. No more clean intakes for the Pentastar V6.
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Old 09-03-2016, 12:11 AM   #14
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2017 models will have kinda the same setup as the sprinters, EGR valve/cooler assembly injected into the intake to make 2017, EPA Tier 3 standards. No more clean intakes for the Pentastar V6.

Oops


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Old 09-03-2016, 12:31 AM   #15
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Other improvements on the future Pentastar engines include VVT, direct injection and turbos. More HP and fuel effecincy but I'm stick with my simple, less parts to fail 2014 engine. Maserati twin turbo 404 horsepower version uses a Pentastar block.
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Old 09-03-2016, 12:43 AM   #16
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egr- affects power

an exhaust gas recirculation valve directs exhaust gasses to the intake of a hot motor to mix with the air and fuel in the combustion chamber.
this reduces the amount of air/fuel which can be present in the combustion chamber vs a cold motor.
with less burning there is less heat in the combustion chamber- even with hot exhaust gasses being added- a hot motor produces higher amount of oxides of nitrogen ( NOx) which is a large component of photo-chemical smog.

egr's have been in use since the early 70's and use is widespread. a motor without an egr may use another method to control combustion chamber heat and reduce NOx

Mike
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Old 09-03-2016, 12:58 AM   #17
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egr's have been in use since the early 70's and use is widespread. a motor without an egr may use another method to control combustion chamber heat and reduce NOx

Mike
yep, that is what I said earlier--traditionally, the non EGR valve, pollution control engines engines, have done it passively, by trapping some exhaust in the chamber or bringing it back in with reversion flow from the either backflow into the intake during overlap, or reversion flow in the exhaust. You still lose the power the same as if it had an EGR valve, as you are still diluting the charge and lowering the temp, maybe even more than with a computer controlled EGR valve because it is less tightly controlled. You should not really lose any fuel economy if the system is done well and maintained, and the power loss should only be at full output when you need to get maximum charge air into the system.
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Old 09-03-2016, 01:01 AM   #18
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yes, I type slowly...about 6 posts came in while i was hunting and pecking!

I wasn;t aware about using reversion- that would incorporate some tricky valve timing control of pulses harmonics and ...




an advantage of the egr valve is that it can be controlled to close when max power is required, like wide open throttle

Mike
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Old 09-03-2016, 01:03 AM   #19
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It comes down to another thing to clog or wear out that also contaminates the intake track. I prefer the method of not having one and a cleaner intake.
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Old 09-03-2016, 01:04 AM   #20
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Other improvements on the future Pentastar engines include VVT, direct injection and turbos. More HP and fuel effecincy but I'm stick with my simple, less parts to fail 2014 engine. Maserati twin turbo 404 horsepower version uses a Pentastar block.
Direct injection is a big improvement in most engines and is almost a must for a decent turbo setup these days. It is interesting that the Maserati turbo is less hp than the originally released hp that Chrysler was going to have from a turbo on that engine, IIRC they were going to be something like 420hp.

The block for Maserati is the basic Pentastar design, but substantially "smiled on".

Pentastar Engines: Ferrari-Maserati-Alfa Romeo Version
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