VW transporter alternative options in the UK

When assessing the rather steep second hand value of high mileage, (and many worn out) VW Transporters in the UK there are plenty of campervan enthusiasts that wish to seek out worthy alternatives. Here we will look at a few options.

The following vehicles are popular VW Transporter alternatives for campervan conversions and day van use in the UK.

  1. Mazda Bongo (View prices)
  2. Ford Transit (View prices)
  3. VW Crafter (View prices)
  4. Mitsubishi Delica (View prices)
  5. Mercedes Sprinter (larger) (View prices)
  6. VW Caddy (View prices)
  7. Citroen Berlingo (View prices)

Mazda Bongo Friendee/Ford Freda

The Bongo is one of the most economical, yet reliable options for a camper van in the UK and a great contender for top VW Transporter alternatives.

The Mazda Bongo and its sister vehicle the Ford Freda ticks a lot of the boxes as they come with very high specification as standard, many already fitted out with a pop top and electrics.

As they are Japanese manufactured they come with a much higher specification than the VW Transporter.

Bongo is the number one alternative to the T4 and T5 Transporter
A high specification Bongo with pop top

Almost all variants boast electric windows and air conditioning unlike the lower specification Transporters from the early 2000’s. The majority of Bongos are also automatic.

Bongo weaknesses:

  1. Body rust on the arches and around critical mounting points often sees the end of life for the Bongo. Make sure the one you buy is well maintained. A repair bill for rust on these can reach upwards of £3k so be careful.
  2. They suffer from over heating and ultimate head gasket failure as the temperature light does not always give adequate warning
  3. Pop tops rip/get stuck in the upright position if poorly maintained
  4. Bongos have low MPG compared to the Transporter. They tend to guzzle fuel, especially the 2.5L variant.

The Mazda bongo has a narrow body allowing for easy manoeuvrability, it is the most popular alternative to the VW Transporter in the UK.

Bongos have been ruling the second-hand van market ever since enterprising british motor dealers decided to take advantage of the stringent Japanese rules on old vehicles in the late 90s and early 2000s.

These extremely versatile ‘weekenders’, with 2.5L turbo diesel /2L petrol engine as well as a 4X4 variant, offer an amazing value for money with cabin space that can accommodate up to 8 people comfortably (depending on trim) and sleep 4 people.

Converted bongos also often have an area for washing and cooking.

The Bongo is easy to convert and can be fitted with an electric elevating roof. Coming from Japan, the van is generally well maintained although do suffer quite badly from rust so make sure you check the MOT history before buying.

Mazda Bongo Strengths

  • The interiors are large yet the van is sleek and can squeeze down the narrow country lanes.
  • It is a versatile camper for commercial and personal use.
  • It is comfortable to drive
  • It is spacious for passengers and comes with a really nicely lined interior from factory

Mazda Bongo Weaknesses

  • It suffers from the problem of swelling and cracking of the coolant hose that results in overheating and head gasket failure.
  • Being used, it does have maintenance issues and needs TLCs regularly
  • The disc brakes of the Bongo, if not regularly serviced, can stick.

Mazda Bongo Cost

Used: £3,000 to £11,000 depending on specification and condition. (The ones with pop tops and 4X4 demand a higher price than a “tin top”)

Ford Transit

The Ford Transit was launched in 1965 and ever since it has been one of the best-selling vans in the UK – with its popularity for campervan conversions being next only to the Mazda Bongo.

The Transit is one of the most common VW Transporter alternatives on UK roads.

Transporter alternative option the Transit
A really tastefully converted Transit by Auto Campers

Though a bigger van than the Transporter, its subdivisions offer a lot of space choices.

With a standard 2.0L engine, 6-speed manual gearbox, and options for the front wheel, rear wheel as well as four-wheel drive, the van is robust yet easy and smooth to drive.

After the adoption of EcoBlue TDCi in 2016, the engine was refined and revised in 2019 to meet the Euro 6D emission standards while the fuel economy was increased by 8%.

Along with it, the design and interiors too were jazzed up and the safety and tech are updated. The addition of the ‘trail’ option enhances its off-road abilities and helps it keep its edge in face of stiff competition in the van market.

Ford Transit Strengths

  • One of the best infotainment systems in the market
  • It offers many engine choices
  • Very good driving dynamics. It is quiet and gives an excellent ride quality.
  • Cheaper than a Transporter second hand as they depreciate much quicker
  • Spares are cheap and repairs affordable.

Ford Transit Weaknesses

  • It has a less impressive towing capacity than its competitors.
  • Rapid depreciation if you buy new make sure you plan to keep it longer term
  • Older models also suffer from rust

Ford Transit Cost

New:  £18,000 to £40,000

Used: £2,000 upwards will get you one with an MOT

Larger VW TRANSPORTER ALTERNATIVES – The VW Crafter

The crafter represents one of the larger VW Transporter alternatives.

If you want a bigger campervan they tick a lot of boxes. The Crafter has been a big name in the large-sized van market since its launch in 2006 and is known as a reliable workhorse capable of well over 200,000 miles.

The Crafter is a great alternative to the Transporter

This larger style camper is made with the same components as the high-end Mercedes Sprinter but is a much cheaper option.

It stands up to Volkswagen’s reputation of offering the most versatile camping vehicles and is very good to handle, steer, and manoeuvre in the city. The cabin space is slightly more than the Sprinter while the wide windscreen gives good visibility.

Though the heavy chassis weighs on its payload. The latest models have a downsized 2.0L engine and Bluemotion technology that has made the vehicle environment friendly and cheaper to run.

VW Crafter Strengths

  • It has a strong build quality
  • VW offers a broad range of trims and variations to choose from
  • Low maintenance cost
  • It is increasingly becoming fuel-efficient

VW Crafter Weaknesses

  • The engine is downsized in favour of fuel efficiency. This may put off people who prefer power.
  • The payload is below average for a large van.

VW Crafter Cost

New : £ 30,000 to $ 55,000

Used: £ 5,000 to £ 27,000

Mitsubishi Delica

The 7 seater, 2.5L Mitsubishi Delica is another popular Japanese van in the camping scene which also offers a four-wheel-drive option for rugged terrain.

Like the Mazda Bongo, it gains prominence in the second-hand market and is one of the common VW Transporter alternatives.

The Delica are becoming super rare in the UK and demand a high price for nicely maintained examples.

Dacia VW Transporter alternatives
Inside a Delica camper

With a chassis inspired by Pajero, it is a proper off roader that makes it a robust combination of a camper and an SUV. 

The engine comes in both petrol and diesel variants and those with higher-level trims have specs like a digital temperature gauge, inclinometer, refrigerator/heater box, and roof skylights.

The Delica even offers a specially insulated roof for colder climates.

Mitsubishi Delica Strengths

  • It brings along Japanese reliability. In Spite of being old and used, Delicas don’t show any sign of losing steam.
  • Very comfortable to travel
  • Easy to customise and convert

Mitsubishi Delica Weaknesses

  • Fuel efficiency is low
  • It isn’t powerful compared to similar sized vans
  • Pushing the engine can cause overheating, leading to cracking and failure of the head gasket
  • Mitsubishi diesel engines can suffer turbo failure.

Mitsubishi Delica Costs

Used: £ 9,000 to £21.000 (2005 to 2010 models)

Larger VW TRANSPORTER ALTERNATIVES – The Mercedes Sprinter

Since its launch in 1995, the Sprinter is the king of big vans and, with its innovations and cutting edge technology, it continues raising the bar for others.

This is equivalent to the Crafter – one of the larger VW Transporter alternatives in the UK.

Larger VW Transporter alternatives
A fine example of a well travelled Sprinter camper

With an engine range of 2.1 L to 3.0L, it is an immensely versatile and reliable van that is rightly crowned as the ‘pioneer of the road’. Coming in a variety of sizes and trims, it packs impressive power and is fun to drive.

Being a Merc, it also tops all the safety rankings.  Its practical yet luxurious interiors are loaded with gadgetry that includes a sophisticated infotainment system. The optional seven-speed automatic transmission helps you deal with heavy traffic.

Mercedes Sprinter Strengths

  • Best in reliability and durability
  • It has a huge carrying capacity
  • It is excellent to drive
  • It offers the best safety for drivers as well as pedestrians.

Mercedes Sprinter Weaknesses

  • Its conversion and customisation is very expensive
  • It has low fuel economy which is basically the cost you pay for high performance
  • Volkswagen Crafter is essentially the same van at a lesser cost

Mercedes Sprinter Costs

New: From  £ 24,350 to well over £ 50,000 plus VAT

Why choose a different option to Transporter?

The iconic transporter is in its 6th generation but is still a massively popular camper van. However, the competition is heating up and over the years, a plethora of options are available in the van market that one should seriously consider depending on needs and preferences.

The following are the reasons to consider different options:

  • The transporter is relatively expensive among all camper vans
  • Many other vans offer more preferences in size, engine capacity, transmissions, etc.
  • There are alternatives that offer higher specification for lower outlay
  • Competitors like Delica are cheaper and easier to convert
  • Some vans like the Ford transit are cheaper to maintain and repair.

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