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Best campervans 2023

A campervan is a perennially popular way of enjoying a short break for a reasonable cost, but with more choice than ever in the market, which campers should be at the top of your shortlist?...

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by
Alex Robbins
Published11 August 2023

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With prices of flights and hotels shooting up, many people are turning to the humble campervan as a more cost-effective way of taking a summer holiday, and as a result, demand for campers is as great as it’s ever been. In fact, if you buy one from new, you'll likely be looking at a long waiting list to receive it.

No wonder, then, that several manufacturers now offer their own campervan conversions, while more are offering vans converted by aftermarket suppliers, but with the same warranty and dealer support that a factory conversion would entail.

We’ve tested the best available on the UK market – and we’ve put them in order so that you can work out which one is best for you below. But first, we’ve got answers to some of the frequently asked questions about campervans that you might be wondering about. If you simply want to know which is the best campervan, then here's your answer: the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo is the best campervan available in the UK.


Your campervan questions answered 

What campervan can I drive?

If you hold a driving licence issued before 1 January 1997, you’ll have a C1 entitlement on your licence, which allows you to drive campers with a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of up to 7500kg.

If your driving licence was issued after this date, however, you’ll be limited to entitlements B and B1. What that means is that you’ll be limited to campervans of up to 3500kg MAM. But that isn’t a huge cause for concern, because most motorhomes and campervans are built with a weight that falls below this limit, thus enabling them to be driven by most UK licence holders.

Why are campervans so expensive?

Converting a van to a camper is a labour-intensive job, and that’s before you factor in the addition of bespoke, low-volume furnishings that require intensive design and development processes. 

On top of that, modern campers have to pass stringent safety regulations, and don’t forget that most campers require a fairly gutsy engine to haul their weight around – that means they’re often based on higher-spec, powerful engines that are a cut above the more basic versions you’d find powering most regular vans

With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that campervans cost quite a bit to buy. On the plus side, high demand and a relative dearth of supply means that they tend to hold their value on the used market pretty well. 

How do you buy a campervan?

In just the same way as you’d buy any other car or van. You can buy a camper brand-new, direct from the manufacturer or converter, or you can buy one second-hand from a dealer or from the previous owner themselves. 

Don’t forget, however, that there are lots more items you’ll need to check over if you’re buying a camper; not only have you got the basics of the van’s engine, gearbox, suspension and underpinnings to contend with, but you’ve also got the complex habitation systems – gas, water, furnishings, and so on. You should also check that the living area is watertight.

Is a campervan the same as a motorhome?

Not quite, though there is something of a blurred line between the two. The accepted wisdom, however, is that a campervan is a van that’s been fitted out for sleeping in, with an all-metal body and, sometimes, a pop-top or plastic high-top roof extension

A motorhome, by contrast, is larger, and based on van underpinnings, with a purpose-built body that’s constructed separately (usually entirely of fibreglass) and then bolted on top.  By those definitions, all of the vans in our list below fit into the campervan category – even the Volkswagen Grand California, with its enormous fibreglass roof extension.

Can campervans go on Eurotunnel?

Yes. Standard campervans and motorhomes up to 3500kg MAM are able to use the Eurotunnel, though they’ll have to travel in the large vehicles section, as the standard train carriages won’t allow the roof clearance necessary.

Campers weighing in at more than 3500kg MAM will still be able to use the Eurotunnel, but they will probably have to travel as freight, which would involve leaving the vehicle while it’s travelling through the Channel Tunnel, and travelling instead in the separate passenger carriage.

Can a campervan tow a car?

Yes, though you’ll need to make sure you doing so safely. You can use either an A-frame device to do this, or tow a car on a separate trailer. Keep in mind that you’ll have to keep within the maximum train weight of the camper, as well as that permitted by your licence – so it’s worth doing your research before you commit to this course of action.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Classy interior
  • Well-equipped

Weaknesses

  • Pricey to buy on PCP
  • Front storage could be better
  • No toilet option

Our current favourite camper tops this list thanks to a winning blend of upmarket fixtures and fittings, clever use of space, and a generous amount of equipment as standard. As a place to spend the night, the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo is one of the finest campers out there, with standard ambient lighting and even the option of yacht-style wood flooring.

Out on the road it’s pretty good, too. Not only does the Marco Polo gloss over rough road surfaces pretty well, but its smooth-shifting gearbox and comfortable ride mean the journey to the campsite flies by easily. It's also quieter than both the Ford Transit Nugget and Volkswagen California. Granted, it doesn’t come cheap – but if you want the best camper out there, this is it.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Strong diesel engines
  • Well thought out interior
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Expensive
  • Not particularly refined
  • Gearbox jerky when manoeuvring

Ahh, the classic Volkswagen California. Building on the reputation of the iconic Type 2 Camper, the original California took Volkswagen’s Transporter van and turned it into an internationally desired light camper that was the ideal companion for a day at the beach or a short break away from home. 

This latest California is as good as all of its predecessors – better, in fact – and while it isn’t quite as plush as the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo inside, its solidly built interior and robust materials put plenty of other campers to shame. A strong range of punchy diesel engines make the California a pleasure to drive, too. 

Our pick: 2.0 TDI 600 5dr Tip Auto [3.5T]

MPG/range: 26.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 284g/km
Seats: 4
Insurance group: N
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Torquey diesel engine
  • Practical
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Can’t disguise its bulk in corners
  • Pricey
  • Unappealing plastics up front

Of course, if you want a bigger, better camper than the regular Volkswagen California, you’ll have to turn to the Grand California instead. This is the only camper here to feature a full, self-contained bathroom, and as such it holds huge appeal as pretty much the only campervan on the market to do so and still to retain a comprehensive manufacturer warranty. 

That isn’t the Grand California’s only appeal, though. Inside, the space has been designed well, cramming lots of features into a relatively short body, and because the whole van has been constructed to the standards of a car maker, the fixtures and fittings feel robust and built to last.

Granted, the Grand California is pretty expensive to buy – but quality doesn’t come cheap, and given what it offers, its price is largely justified.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Strong diesel engines
  • Well thought out interior
  • Competitive starting price

Weaknesses

  • Not as much space on offer as larger campers
  • You’ll want to add quite a few options
  • Dashboard feels a little utilitarian

Not only has Volkswagen’s California spawned a bigger version in the Grand California – there’s now a smaller version too. This Caddy California packs the California’s trademark mix of quality and functionality into an even more compact frame – in this case, the Volkswagen Caddy Cargo van. This makes the Caddy California a micro-camper – an ideal companion for the occasional night away from home. 

You get two berths that take up the entirety of the interior, but fold away to leave the rear seats intact – and in the boot, there’s a pull-out kitchen. And if you need more space, you can even add an additional tent that extends out from the boot area, giving you a handy living space if you need it. It’s very clever, brilliantly compact, and out on the road, it’s also great to drive, too.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Competitively priced
  • Well equipped
  • Toyota’s stellar reliability record

Weaknesses

  • Beds are a little narrow
  • Wallowy handling
  • California and Marco Polo have classier interiors

Looking for a medium-sized campervan that won’t cost the earth? Well the Toyota Proace Matino fits the bill rather well. It’s based on the Proace van, and then converted by aftermarket specialist Wellhouse, and while it’s true that some of the fixtures and fittings are a little bit more flimsy than some manufacturer-converted offerings, the flipside is the price: this is a far cheaper option than, say, a Volkswagen California.

That isn’t its only appeal, though. Given it’s an officially recognised conversion, it comes with a full Toyota warranty – which means up to 10 years and 100,000 miles, if you keep servicing it at a Toyota dealer every year. It’s a well equipped van, too, and that means it’s not only affordable, but also brilliant value.

Of course, there’s a catch – and with the Proace Matino, it comes when you’re out on the road, where it can feel a little wallow in corners. But if you can live with that, this is a smart buy.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • High-quality, well thought out interior
  • Lots of space in a small package
  • Scope for personalisation

Weaknesses

  • Trafic is only average to drive
  • Rear-heavy nature makes wheelspins too easy
  • Expensive

The Renault Trafic Paradise is arguably not quite as well known as some of its rival campers, but it’s worth looking out, because it’s a great all-rounder. Inside, the living accommodation, with its well equipped rear kitchen and comfortable seating area, has clearly been intelligently thought out, and it’s put together well, so the Trafic Paradise feels pretty high-quality. 

It’s roomy, too – in fact, converter Sussex Campervans has done an admirable job of finding plenty of space in a frame that’s relatively small by the standards of most motorhomes. That’s thanks in part to the pop-top, which gives it a huge advantage over most of its rivals, and with the loft bed in place, it allows the Trafic Paradise to become a four-berth van – a rarity among campers of this size.

Just bear in mind that the Ford Transit Nugget handles with more finesse, while the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo offers a more serene driving experience.

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Keen discounts from Ford
  • Punchy EcoBlue 185 engine
  • One of the few fully equipped five-seat campers

Weaknesses

  • Slow-witted automatic gearbox
  • Mercedes Marco Polo has a classier interior
  • Ride and handling

As you’ll no doubt have been able to discern from its position in this list, the Ford Transit Custom Nugget isn’t exactly our favourite camper – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a look. For one thing, it’s one of only a few fully featured campers that can boast five seats and four berths – and for another, the conversion is carried out by renowned German camper specialist Westfalia, plus you get a full Ford manufacturer warranty.

You also get a gutsy diesel engine, and while the Nugget isn’t cheap to buy, it’s possible to find with some very tempting discounts, which means it probably won’t set you back quite as much as you might at first think.

There’s lots to like here, in other words. But you do have to remember that you only get a toilet and sink – not a full bathroom – and then only on the long-wheelbase version. What’s more, the cheap-feeling plastics inside, the sluggish automatic gearbox and a fidgety ride make it a van you won’t want to spend a long time driving.

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