Photo by oksanaphoto via iStock
Just the other day, I wrote an article that outlined tips for success when overlanding in a van. I’m following that up today with this article on 4×4 vans and why they’re great options for overlanding. In reality, this #vanlife trend shows no signs of slowing down. Though just anecdotal, I see more 4×4 vans running around these days than I ever have before. And it’s not like overlanding in a van is a new thing – all those VW busses are a testament to that. However, today’s overlanding vans are bigger than ever before. So what are the advantages of 4×4 vans for overlanding? There’s quite a few:
- 4×4 capabilities
- Ample opportunities for customization
- Greater towing capacity in case you have a trailer to bring along
- Loads of interior space
- Wide availability given that many 4×4 vans are used by fleets that are then auctioned off
In addition to all that, vans like the Ford Econoline are fairly simple rigs, which make finding parts and making fixes relatively easy. There are some downsides, though…
- High center of gravity
- Not-so-great departure angles due to long rear overhangs
- Terrible gas mileage
- Cost of customization can be quite high
But, if you have the money and don’t need something to get wild with on the worst off-road trails, a 4×4 van might just be the key for you to a life of overlanding. Let’s take a look at some 4×4 vans you might consider for your overlanding vehicle.
A highly popular option for overlanding in a van is the Sprinter from Mercedes-Benz. These vans are so popular because they come in all sorts of configurations both in terms of heights and lengths and they have a respectable 4×4 system. A range of different motors – including turbo diesel options – are available as well. In fact, the 4×4 system directs a little more than half of the engine’s power to the rear wheels (via open differentials). The system also uses the brakes to combat wheel spin (in older models) or torque management (in newer models). Sprinters can also be ordered with goodies like low-range gearing. While the transfer case on a Sprinter van hangs down quite low, and thereby diminishes some of the ground clearance achieved by a lift, you can still improve the approach and departure angles by giving it a lift. They look great with a lift, too, if you ask me. See one of the most impressive Sprinter Van conversions I’ve ever come across in the video above by Nate Murphy.
4×4 Vans for Overlanding: Ford Econoline
Since it’s been around forever, the Ford Econoline is plentiful, so the chances are good that you can pick one up on the cheap. And since they are so common, parts are also common and cheap. Aside from that, these big boys come with various engine options, including the ultra-reliable 5.4-liter V8 that appeared in more recent iterations, as well as the monstrous 6.8-liter V10 and 6.0-liter and 7.3-liter diesel options. The latter three are better suited for major conversion projects as they have the power to get up and go with all the extra weight of the goodies you add. Speaking of conversions, there are few 4×4 vans that offer the level of customization as the Econoline. You can raise the roof, lift them, lengthen them, add a bathroom, and add a 4×4 system if it’s not already equipped with one. Likewise, there are a plethora of companies that offer aftermarket products like bumpers, lift kits, winches, ladders, skid plates, and so forth that can be used to beef up your Econoline. Check out an awesome Econoline build in the video above by We’re the Russos.
GMC Savana/Chevrolet Express
Like the Ford Econoline, General Motors’ Savana and Express 4×4 vans are popular among overlanding enthusiasts. They offer loads of space, tons of customization options, and are pretty common, which makes finding one in decent shape with low miles a fairly easy task. They can often be found for a smaller price tag than comparable Econoline options as well. Though perhaps not as popular as the Econoline, these big 4×4 vans come with features like power windows, cruise control, various engine options (including a 5.3-liter Flex Fuel V8 that gets decent gas mileage and a Duramax diesel option), and solid reliability. And with all that space inside, the possibilities for adding living space, sleeping space, a kitchenette, and so forth are virtually endless. I personally don’t care for the looks of these vans, but how it looks is not the most important factor when getting yourself outfitted with a 4×4 van. See the possibilities for an overlanding conversion in the video above by White Bear Lake Superstore Buick GMC.
4×4 Vans for Overlanding: Are They the Future?
Photo by THEPALMER via iStock
Like I said earlier, I’m seeing more and more 4×4 vans than ever before. And while I might just live and play in an area with a high concentration of these rigs, it seems to me that it is more of a nationwide trend than just an anomaly here in Southern California. I personally prefer having a truck and a trailer for overlanding – I like having a base camp with the trailer and the ability to take off on adventures with the truck without having to pack up all my stuff. But that’s just me – plenty of overlanders are all about the #vanlife. Are you one of them? If so, one of these 4×4 van options might be for you!