Ranking the Best and Worst Large Cargo Vans

November 10, 2017 by Scott Oldham, @RealScottOldham

Always useful for businesses, cargo vans have exploded in popularity with recreational buyers. We’re seeing a rerun of the 1960s Volkswagen Microbus movement.

But today’s vans are bigger and more capable than those old VWs.

Which one is best to build into your dream surf wagon or ultimate getaway vehicle? To find out we dove into the popular models, studying their dimensions, powertrains, pricing and much more. The highest priority was placed on cargo volume and maximum payload capacity, two of the most important specs for anyone looking to create the perfect RV.

Here’s our list, from worst to best.

4. Nissan NV HD

The Nissan NV Cargo van has a class-leading towing capacity of 9,400 pounds.

The Nissan NV Cargo van has a class-leading towing capacity of 9,400 pounds. (Photo: Nissan)

If you’re looking for the most van at the lowest price, check out the Nissan NV HD. This is the only body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive van in the segment, and it starts under $29,000.

A 4.0-liter V6 engine puts out 275 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque and is connected to a five-speed automatic transmission. The combination is good for a maximum payload of 3,290 pounds and a tow rating of 6,900 pounds.

If you need more power, Nissan offers the only V8 in the segment for $1,600. The 5.6-liter engine is standard on the NV3500 and delivers 375 horsepower and 387 pound-feet of torque. That’s the most horsepower in the segment, and it brings towing capacity up to a class-leading 9,400 pounds.

The Nissan NV1500 is offered in short wheelbase, low roof configuration, while the NV2500 and NV3500 are also offered as a high roof, bringing total cargo capacity up to 323.1 cubic feet. It also raises the interior roof height to 76.9 inches, though that’s the lowest in a segment where buyers place extremely high importance on being able to stand up inside.

There’s decent value to be found here. Towing is the strength of the Nissan NV HD, but its cargo space and payload are just too small for us to recommend over the other large vans on the market.

3. Ram ProMaster

The Ram ProMaster has improved fuel efficiency from the optional diesel engine and an impressive maximum payload capacity of 4,420 pounds. (Photo: Ram)

Under the hood of the front-wheel drive ProMaster is the same 3.6-liter V6 engine Ram puts in its pickup trucks. It makes 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which is strong for the segment. The Ram is also available with a 3.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine rated at 174 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Tied to a six-speed automatic transmission, the resulting capability is impressive. Maximum payload is 4,420 pounds for a 3500 High Roof with the V6. That’s more than the V8-powered Nissan NV, although at 5,100 pounds, the big Ram can tow less than the Nissan and the Ford Transit.

Two body styles are available, low roof and high roof, along with three wheelbases ranging from 118 inches to 159 inches. The longest high roof model is one of the largest vans around, with 463 cubic feet of space. Still, it’s less than you’ll find in the equivalent Ford Transit, which offers 487.3 cubic feet of space.

The Ram has a tight 40.7-foot turning circle and the lowest load floor at 21 inches, an advantage when it comes to hoisting things inside. The Ram ProMaster 1500 starts at $30,000, and a long, 3500 High Roof starts at $38,145.

Big space, improved fuel efficiency from the optional diesel engine and an impressive maximum payload capacity make the Ram ProMaster a solid choice for lifestyle buyers looking to create a mobile home away from home.

2. Ford Transit

The Ford Transit’s height inside its high-roof version is 81.5 inches. (Photo: Ford)

The Ford Transit is the F-150 of Europe. For decades it has been the vehicle that gets goods and services across much of the world. It’s also the best-selling van in the U.S.

The Transit is available with three engines: a 3.7-liter V6, a turbocharged 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 and a 3.2-liter five-cylinder diesel. The base V6 makes 275 horsepower, while the turbocharged 3.5-liter, also in the F-150 pickup, makes 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque — the torque king of the class. The diesel is rated at 185 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, significantly more powerful than the Ram’s smaller diesel. All three engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Transit’s interior roof height for the standard version starts at 56.9 inches, and the high roof option is a very-generous 81.5 inches. The Ford also offers significantly more overall cargo space than the Nissan and the Ram.

Transit pricing starts at $31,610. An extended high roof starts at $38,000 with the V6 and has a maximum payload of 3,510 pounds, more than the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and a V6-powered Nissan NV2500. Its max towing capacity of 6,100 pounds is also more than the Mercedes and the Ram. Ford says the max payload of an extended van with the 3.5-liter is an impressive 4,590 pounds.

Disappointingly, Ford doesn’t offer any of the F-Series’ advanced safety technology systems on the Transit. Still, this van’s impressive combination of price, size and capability make it a desirable choice. It just isn’t quite as versatile as the Mercedes Sprinter.

1. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

The Sprinter is the only van in the segment available with Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Prevention Assist. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Although it’s the most expensive van in the segment, with a starting price of $34,000, the rear-wheel drive Mercedes sprints to the top of this list for its large size, unique safety features and available four-wheel drive – which conversion shops say is a hit with lifestyle buyers and provides the best resale value in the segment.

The Sprinter van is also the only entry here with a standard diesel engine, which makes it more affordable than diesel models from Ford and Ram. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel rated at 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque with a seven-speed automatic transmission. There’s also an optional 3.0-liter BlueTec turbodiesel V6. It’s paired with a five-speed automatic transmission and produces 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Though they haven’t been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency, Sprinter owners rave about the fuel efficiency from both engines.

The Sprinter’s maximum payload is a class-leading 5,000 pounds, and it can tow 5,000 pounds. The low roof Benz also has a tall interior height of 66.5 inches, the high roof is 77.8 inches tall and the super-high roof offers a class-leading 87.8 inches. The biggest extended wheelbase Super High Roof, which also gets a dually rear axle, has a massive 516.5 cubic feet of cargo space.

Mercedes also offers the longest list of safety technology in the class. Beyond a backup camera and parking sensors, the Sprinter is the only van in the segment available with Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Prevention Assist.

With the most space, a standard diesel, class-leading safety technology, an available dually rear axle and available four-wheel drive, the Mercedes Sprinter van is an easy pick as the best choice for the lifestyle buyer. Versatile and capable, its many variations allow you to custom order the right van for your specific needs.

Scott Oldham November 24, 2017
Small cargo vans are easy to drive around town while still providing storage space for deliveries, and a look at their figures illustrates which models are the best choice for businesses.

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10 Responses

  1. E Mcgraw

    Sorry, Ford Transits giubo issues and air filter issues make it less desirable.

    Reply
  2. Ron Parker

    I have heard from a fleet owner that the EGR-DEF exhaust repair issues on diesels 2008 and beyond, are now cost prohibitive for fleet owners

    Reply
  3. Sean Murphy

    The most space? Wrong. Promaster beats. This is all based on looks not real soexs. Promaster is better in my opinion structurally and just as good aesthetically and way better price point

    Reply
  4. Douglas Chaney

    Which should I look for on the used market? Budget minded? And if I am not really going to pile the miles on? Should I even insist on a diesel? Or just look for lower milage gas powered?

    Reply
  5. A. B.

    Blah blah blah… So why do we buy a cargo van???? Answer- for its Cargo, dummy. Where is the cargo space available on these models? Well hidden in the bla blah blah Horsepower, powertrain and torque…. And in the case of your Ford transit this minute data is not available; Oh you just forgot to add it along your endless chatter of engine specs

    Reply
  6. Cort

    Check around the Internet And you’ll find That the sprinters have horrid maintenance cost. The ram pro master and 4 transit maintenance costs are high as well although not nearly as high as The Sprinter. That leaves the Nissan NV and the Chevy express or GMC savana which for some reason was not even mentioned but is as reliable as can be

    Reply
    • Paul Joyce

      It seems I’ve had way too many problems with my Mercedes Metris, not the least trying to find a capable Mercedes dealer to make repairs.
      At my wits end. Just about ready to ditch it, after sinking a ton in 🙁
      Will investigate the three you mentioned. Thanks for your comment.
      Wouldn’t it be something if American made was the best.
      Paul Joyce
      Florida

      Reply
    • Fred Bar

      Good observation of REALITY….In addition, the Promaster has some reliability issues with hardware, from door handles all the way to the transmission. However the engine itself is good enough to last, with proper care, over 100K Miles with no issues. The Transit has reliability issues all around…..The problem with the GM products is that they do not come in hi-top, you have to go to an outfitter for that and shell some $$$. But the GM products, even though they are of a much older design, are bulletproof. I’ll take a V8 LS engine/tranny combo from a GM cargo van any day over a Ram or a Dodge, I’ve seen many of these used for commercial purposes in my cousins shop and they have close to 200K miles!

      Reply
  7. Maica Bentivoglio

    Ok i drove a promaster i was happy with size and height, not happy with diesel DEF made it impossible to keep warm no heat when off!!!
    And the smell and reaction on my skin was horrible while driving from the DEF. you get fumes coming in from vents.
    As for width i prefer the promaster over Mercedes and Nissan.
    Nissans long nose seems to be the biggest space taken.
    If promaster came with a espar heater and a bed that is simple not iverly done home away ffom home it would be a dream as a business cargo van !!!! I love the space above driver seat. Thank you but yes was just looking to see which van holds most freight, width, height
    Sometimes less is more
    Thanks

    Reply

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