Ranking the Best and Worst Small Cargo Vans

November 24, 2017 by Scott Oldham, @RealScottOldham

There’s much more to the van lifestyle than super-spacious models like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit. Small cargo vans are also great options for living on the road.

These smaller models offer an impressive amount of space and capability with better fuel economy and maneuverability than their larger, thirstier siblings. They’ll also leave you with a bigger budget for more of the camping, skiing and surfing gear that you want in the first place.

In order from worst to best, here are our picks for the top small cargo vans. Read on and tell us which model you’d pick in the comments section below.

4. Nissan NV200

2018 Nissan NV200 compact cargo van

2018 Nissan NV200 compact cargo van. (Photo: Nissan)

Size may not be everything. But in this class, it’s vital to versatility. The Nissan NV200 is the smallest van in the class, with 122.7 cubic feet of space, but it has a tall maximum cargo height of 53 inches and tight turning radius of just 36.7 feet.

Therefore, the NV200 makes great use of its size and is easy to maneuver to boot. But it is the least powerful, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 131 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. The NV200 uses the only CVT automatic transmission in the segment.

As a result, capability is light-duty at best, with a maximum payload of just 1,480 pounds. This might work for a couple of surfboards and wetsuits, but more extensive gear will overload the Nissan quickly.

The upside is that the NV200 has strong fuel economy ratings, at an Environmental Protection Agency certified 24 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. Its warranty is a class-leading five years or 100,000 miles.

3. Ford Transit Connect

2018 Ford Transit Connect Passenger Wagon

2018 Ford Transit Connect. (Photo: Ford)

Ford’s popular Transit Connect van is the second smallest in the class, offering 128.6 cubic feet of space. However, the Transit Connect offers a 49.7-inch interior height, and its rear doors open 180 degrees for easy loading. Its turning radius is 40 feet, and the Ford offers a rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors. Maximum payload is a respectable 1,620 pounds.

Ford offers two engines in the Transit Connect: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 169 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque; and a turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that cranks out 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque – though it requires premium gasoline. Both are backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, and the EcoBoost engine is EPA rated at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, about the same as the Ram and better than the Mercedes.

The Transit Connect makes a strong case against the NV200, but its cargo space and payload capacity aren’t large enough for it to function as the ultimate traveling toy box. Still, at a starting price of $23,010, which is about $500 less than the Ram and undercuts the Mercedes by $3,000, the Ford packs quite a bit of value.

2. Ram ProMaster City

2018 Ram ProMaster City van white

2018 Ram ProMaster City. (Photo: FCA)

The Ram ProMaster City makes impressive use of its space, with 131.7 cubic feet of cargo room, which is more than the Ford or Nissan. It also has a higher maximum payload at 1,886 pounds, and is taller than the Transit Connect at 51.8 inches of interior height. The ProMaster City’s rear cargo doors even open to 180 degrees.

The van is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Output is 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque – very similar to the Transit Connect. It’s backed by a nine-speed automatic transmission, which boosts fuel economy to EPA ratings of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Like the Ford and Mercedes, the ProMaster City is front-wheel drive.

One issue could be driveability, however. The ProMaster City is more than a foot longer than the Ford, and its turning radius of 42 feet is much higher than the Nissan. The added space and payload capacity make it a great choice, but tight urban parking needs to be considered as well. Still, the ProMaster City packs plenty of appeal for lifestyle buyers.

1. Mercedes-Benz Metris

2018 Mercedes-Benz Metris black

2018 Mercedes-Benz Metris. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

More powerful and more capable than its competitors, the Mercedes-Benz Metris is the best small cargo van for the lifestyle buyer looking for a weekend on wheels. But it comes at a cost. Prices start at $26,000 for the Metris Worker and jump to nearly $29,000 for the Metris Cargo Van.

The Metris is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, paired to a 7-speed automatic transmission. The combination creates a class-leading maximum payload of 2,502 pounds and a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds – 3,000 more than the Ford or the Ram. The Metris also leads the class in interior height (55 inches) and cargo space (186 cubic feet). And while the others offer 180-degree rear cargo doors, Mercedes offers three configurations and up to 270-degree doors.

The drawback is size. Parking could be tight as the Metris has the largest wheelbase, length, width and height in the class. At 21 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, it also trails in fuel economy.

Still, the Metris offers heated seats and safety technology unique to the class such as Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Prevention Assist. It may be larger and more expensive than other small vans, but the Metris offers capability and amenities that simply aren’t matched.


Scott Oldham November 10, 2017
Which large cargo van is best suited for the surfers, skiers and travelers converting them into lifestyle vehicles? We explore each model to find out.

Learn more about Specs & Pricing


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14 Responses

  1. Tim

    Hi Scott , I am having a hard time finding real world info on long term info on the newer class of mini cargo vans ( NV 200, Ram City, Ford Transit . I am looking to find a used one. Will be my only personal vehicle. I want comfort in front, get good mpg , and go 200,000 miles or more. The cargo area I will modify myself. Hauling, Camping ect..Mostly local driving. Another concern I have is I will use in hilly areas and tow my Harley sometimes. About 1500 lbs combined, Enough power! On tight budget, Ideas? Thank,s. TC

    • doctor steve

      there is no American vehicle that will do all of those things you listed.
      in fact, I dont think there is a vehicle that you would spend your hard earned money on that would last 200k.
      if you find one, let me know by posting about it, cause Ive tried the same search.

      • Bart Finkle

        I drove a 96′ Nissan Hardbody until it had 389,000 on it. It would prob still be running had I not been hit by an old lady.
        So…….thats bullshit. The guy I bought my old Nissan Hardbody from had one with 500,000+ miles on it. The floor inside has huge holes that have rusted through. He sits on a 5 gallon bucket when he drives it. Bitch literally keeps going and going

      • Jeremy Burkett

        My 2008 Chevrolet Uplander 3.9VVT V6 Cargo van has been great. Currently has 230,000 miles, doesn’t burn oil, runs smooth, good power and torque and lots of cargo space. But it’s outfitted up front like their standard passenger van so it’s not exactly bare bones. Of course buying anything used, esp GM lol, I’d be prepared to buy a well cared for example and set aside a little money to freshen things up.

  2. Low

    I’m a roofer and want a van that would let me fit a regular extension ladder INSIDE. Which of these will have the length? I have looked at the bigger Transit Cargo and although I like the room, I feel that I could do with a smaller Transit, but which one has the interior for my ladder? As you can tell, I don’t want to put my ladder on top of the van.

  3. Victor M Chan

    My 2000 Chevy Astro van has 230,000 miles and only broke down once in 18 years due to a faulty fuel pump. Original engine and transmission and has been super reliable and dependable. My next van must tow 5000 lbs which eliminates most minivans. It must also fit into my garage and relatively easy to park. This means a maximum of 200 inches long which eliminates most full size vans and large SUV. Astros have been discontinued and I cannot find anything that will suit the 5000 lbs min tow/200 inches max length. The only thing that comes close are mid-size SUV but they do not have the volume capacity of my faithful Astro.
    Am I stuck with my 2000 Chevy Astro?

  4. Bob

    Does anyone know of a small DIESEL (higher torque) van that can tow 3,500 pounds (=Airstream Basecamp Travel Trailer)? There is a Fiat Fiorino (may now be called a Doblo) that I believe gets 62 mpg & can haul 3,500 pounds, but I dont think they can sell it in the USA. Does anyone out there know about this? How does one (can one) get it to the USA?

  5. Rex

    If the European version of the NV200 was available with a diesel and a 5-speed, there would be one in my driveway. 44 mpg would make it irresistible

  6. Jean-Guy D Leger

    I’ve owned a 2015 Nissan NV 200 SV for about 2 years now as my work vehicle. This van is fully geared up with interior shelving, storage for all my tools and special space for my reels. The 72 inch ladder rack was custom built to handle a 21and a 10 foot telescopic ladder plus a 60 inch step ladder. The passenger seat is fully used for more tools, my laptop and other gadgets essential to my work.

    Driving is easier than most other compact cargo vans because the driver sits higher up making the drive more comfortable and visibility better. The built in GPS / Radio combination is convenient because it has a text to speech function so I can listen to incoming texts as I’m driving (and respond through the limited speech to text function). This is a pretty useful feature for a busy contractor. I see the small size is criticized here but I consider it an asset when maneuvering in tight spots and especially for parking in congested parts of the city. The small engine can be a liability but I’ve always had enough power to get me where I needed to go and passing slower cars is not a problem (Nissan assumes you will be obeying traffic laws).

    Overall I have very few complaints on this van at over 46,000 kms. Reliabllity is not stellar but I’ve had no serious issues yet. I’ve read other reviews which frankly I find to be educated guesses or outright fabrications from disgruntled drivers who were hoping the boss would buy a full size cargo van. I see a lot of these little vans on the road and my guess is the owners wanted an inexpensive van with adequate reliability which exactly what Nissan delivered with this van.

  7. Deanna Wright

    need only a work van nothing fancy , hold up on dirt roads and is able to handle the stop and go to deliver mail on back roads also need to be able to put the right hand drive kit in it purfer alwheel drive or 4 wheel drive need 120 cubic foot of use able space any such hope please contact me info down below

  8. Tommy

    I’m looking mainly at the Nissan NV200 because of warranty and it has less frills/complications of the other three vans. Mercedes Metris? Yes, its a great mid size, but needs premium fuel. Dodge Grand Caravan should be considered even though they don’t make the cargo version any more. Chevrolet HHR is also interesting.

  9. Ranger Rob

    It seems to me this reviewer –Scott–bases his opinion on “bigger the better, fancier the better.” Wrong! Like JG Ledger’s testimonial here, some of us like simple, reliable, pricing, and good gas mileage. I, too, am leaning towards a Nissan 200 because of everything he said here, and my previous research. And those choices make the Nissan the “loser” ?
    I think not. Think for yourself on your needs, not on the preferences of a “reviewer.”


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