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I am starting to look at sprinters and ford transits (now that they have an AWD version). I've got a two year old and a baby on the way, and I want something that we can use for big road trips and camping adventures. The cost to upgrade to 4WD or AWD is pretty significant. My gut says that I should just save up for a 4WD Sprinter or an AWD Transit, but I'm looking for input on anyone who's already gone down this path. Is it really worth it to spend the extra money and lose the MPG upgrading to a 4WD van?
I think it would be dependent on where you plan on going. If you intend to do a lot of off-roading on forest roads/etc then I would say yes. (Especially if it's frequently wet and muddy where you live.) I just saw a 4x4 Sprinter do the technical off road course at an overland rally! Don't forget about recovery gear either if you plan on going places where you could get stuck.
@trailbeard ...you hit the nail on the head -- the balance between trying to find the perfect van vs just getting what you can get and finding ways to go adventure with it. I'm likely going to go for 4WD. It could push this out a few more months, but I think that here in the PNW, knowing that we want to go take it up into BC, we'll want that extra capability.
@REI-RobD If you can swing it, go for it, but it's not a requirement!
I lived out of my van for the last year travelling all over the West. In a previous life, my two wheel drive sprinter was a FedEx delivery truck in Washington, DC and we didn't get stuck once. Now with that said, I chose wisely which roads I drove down. The clearance wasn't the issue, but we did avoid sand/mud/snow as much as possible.
So - if you're going to be dispersed camping on Fire Roads in the summer - you're good to go. If it's for a family ski trip van and you're going to be hunting down epic runs in the mountains, maybe want to go with the 4x4.
Either way - good luck! And don't hesitate looking for the 'perfect van' - the perfect van is the one you get, build out, and actually use!
I was into rock crawling for a long time. 4WD is rarely needed. Driver skill, the right tires, and a locking diff are going to do 95% of the work. If you are worried about getting stuck, invest in a good winch and a nice bag of recovery gear. This will cost a small fraction of the upgrade to 4WD, and you would want to have it even with the upgrade. Don't skimp on unknown brands. Buy a Warn or Ramsey. Usually get something rated for 2x the weight of your vehicle, minimum.
Be sure you know how to use it. Practice often, so you are familar with your gear when you need it. Remember safety first. Steel cable under high tension is extremely dangerous.
@Ben hit all the nails on the head! A good set of all terrain tires and good recovery gear. Can't emphasize enough, knowing how to use the recovery gear.
@Ben @Firechick Missed these replies earlier. Thank you! I used to have a Wrangler with a solid offroad package and a nice Warn winch. Rarely had to use it, but when we did I was damn glad that it was there. Great call on buying 2WD and making this upgrade. Given we live close to the mountains here in the PNW, I am probably going to get the 4WD for winter mountain driving, but if we weren't using it for that, this would be a perfect solution.
@REI-RobD I do agree with @Ben regarding offroad driving skills, tires, locker, and winch although I would recommend getting the 4x4 model. If you’re having to ask if you need 4 wheel drive than I’m guessing you may not have a substantial amount of offroad driving seat time such as those of us who have been rock crawling for decades. It’s a skill just like any other outdoor pursuit that comes with practice and is a lot of fun to practice. In my opinion, if you’re getting the vehicle to go exploring, you don’t want to miss out on going to locations because you’re questioning whether or not you’ll get stuck and you definitely don’t want to take the road and not have the proper equipment for that road. Just like with a winch, most of the time you won’t need 4x4 but when you do...you really need it.
@Erik You and @Ben both touched on a great point - I'm really out of practice with my offroad driving skills. It's been about 15 years since I was doing that regularly, and now that I've got a young family and less time to really hone my offroad driving skill set, I am likely going to just opt for the safer route and go 4WD.