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Old 08-04-2016, 11:40 AM   #1
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Help me spend $60k or more...

Well - the time has finally come - it is time to move on from my beloved Jeep JKU Rubicon...there I said it.

Our family is growing and our needs are changing. We are 4 - my wife and I, a 9 mo, and a 90# St Bernard mix. We are planning on adding 2 more - another kid and another big dog. The Jeep JKU isn't going to cut it...


Questions
1. What to buy?
2. Who has the best 4x4 van system for our usage profile? Ujoint, Agile or stock (Chevy AWD/Sprinter)
3. Realistic build time from stock van? (Need a vehicle for trip in Dec -> CA to ME & back)
4. What van years & makes should I avoid?
5. Best floor plan for 2 kids in car seats?

Looking for an Adventure Van with 4x4 with a spend of up to $60k all in. Can increase budget to buy Sprinter if I am missing something...but right now, seems like Ford is better platform for us.


Trip Profiles
Profile 1: Long road trips – Whole lotta pavement

CA to ME and back, CA to AK, or CA to Canada
Can be anytime of year - usually winter from CA to ME
Sleep in vehicle (eat inside depending on weather)
We are planning an Alaskan trip next year – so lots of pavement + off pavement
Duration: Weeks

Profile 2: Solo Trips + Dogs
Just me & the dogs
Dispersed Camping & Fishing
2-6 days
Softroad, Offroad, Backwoods, Moderately Technical Trails, Desert & Mountain Camping
Any time of year, any weather
May just take the jeep for ultra technical trips


Profile 3: Family Camping Trips

Dispersed Camping, some camping in FS campgrounds
2-5 days
Western Half of US
Softroads/Offroad/mild technical trails
Mostly summer camping

Min Vehicle Requirements
4x4 + 4Lo
Long Range (Can equip with aux tank, prefer no Jerry Cans)
Ability to strap in car seats
Space to sleep (2 adults, 2 small kids -> eventually move them into tent)
Place to eat
Aux Heating
Batteries + Solar + Small gen (if necessary)
Tow up to 5k lbs over long distances (nothing planned at the moment)

Strong Preferences
Rear Locker Capable
No Jerry Cans
Max of 35" tire -
Store as much inside as possible (mtn bikes, hiking gear, etc)
20-24" fiberglass roof kit - the 20" looks better, but 24" would be nice inside.
Avoid roof racks/crap on the roof

No Preference…yet

Diesel vs Gas (like the fuel economy & torque of diesel, but concerned about add'l costs of diesel)
Appearance & Make

Not Sure Yet
Extended Body vs Regular Body
In the scheme of things, extended body would be ideal for the additional space. But as with most things, if it is hard to use, it won't be used much. We live in the crowded North Bay of San Francisco on a very narrow (single lane) street with limited parking - and maneuvering a large vehicle can be difficult. Also, I wonder how much of an issue lifted EB vans are offroad. Leaning towards EB with a high roof.

4” vs 6” lift
Prefer to keep the vehicle lower as we do so much pavement driving
Seems like smaller lift = less issues.
Will be likely keeping the Jeep as my DD + solo vehicle

Initial Conclusions
Based on research & reading, looks like I should:
1. Data suggests Extended Body E350 w/ V10
2. Agile Offroad Kit
3. 20" High Roof kit - I'm 6' and would like to stand up
4. Use bunks in the high roof for kid sleeping
5. No Nissans (no 4Lo)
6. Sprinter vs Ford : Undecided
- leaning towards Ford due to perceived lower maintenance costs & availability
- Sprinter has better snow/ice/hwy 4x4 system
- Sprinter has better vertical space
- Ford kits have better offroad 4x4 system
- Ford has much better aftermarket suppport
7. Chevy AWD - No? - doesn't seem like any 4Lo options out there.
8. SMB pop top - leaning towards no. Trips in winter/snow/ice, loss of ceiling height unless up
9. Single rear wheel (better offroad, better in snow, not heavy enough)
10. Looking at the SMB EB50/51 as a floor plan template...or short bench seat behind driver.
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Old 08-04-2016, 12:12 PM   #2
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I'll chime in with my plan, do to the fact it's myself, my wife and a 70 lb dog at the moment. However, want the van to accommodate two future children/ friends.

Random thoughts in no order
- Going with agile as it seems they have a good balance of 4x4 on/off road driving. Also the convenience factor of being in California.
- Going fixed top, although i dont think 20" is high enough for a 6' tall person to stand up. Im debating between 24" and the 30" super camper (leaning super camper)
- Wanted a walk thru layout with dinette, but settled on a RB50 inspired layout, as the car seats need forward facing seatbelts
- Building up from an RB, originally purchased because of the ease of parking. But i'm sure the extra room from an EB would be nice
- The 30" roof will provide a secondary sleeping space up top. A lot of people on here have commented that the sleeping space in the smaller roofs to be very unenjoyable
- Probably got lucky, but i feel good putting money into a van with the 7.3 diesel. If i was to start over, i would not buy anything else.
- Realistic build time? Pretty sure SMB has about a year long wait for a full build out (dont quote me) so you are probably looking to buy one complete. Going DIY you could get a lot done before december. Agile is about a 6 week wait when i scheduled mine a little while ago. Fiberine can get you a top in under a month. Sportsmobile can install a bench seat after about a month (all wait times are what they have quoted me).
- Diesel engine lets you install an interior diesel heater (espar d2 or d4)
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Old 08-04-2016, 12:51 PM   #3
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You should buy this one... http://www.sportsmobileforum.com/for...4x4-17693.html

I have no affiliation with it, but it seems like a pretty good fit. Has the 7.3 power stroke and the SMB 4x4 which is often referred to the "holy grail" setup. Looks like the current owners took it on a pretty epic trip through South America too.
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Old 08-04-2016, 01:45 PM   #4
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My thoughts would be the E350 EB. The extra length makes quite a difference inside and for your intended uses I don't think it would hinder you much. V10 or 7.3...plenty to debate there, your call! Either fuel allows the option of plumbing a heater to the fuel tank, I just had a Webasto gas version installed and it works great.
I would also go with the taller top. I don't believe the 20" would be enough if you're 6' by the time you add insulation. I'm 6'2, have the 30" with 2+ inches of insulation on the ceiling and have about 4" of head room. The taller top with the cabover space would work well for a bed for little ones.
I went with Quadvan for the conversion with a 4" lift. The ride is good and has a great turning radius for tight spots and city driving.
My interior was designed for 2 and has a very large interior storage area under the bed for bikes and anything else. It doesn't show in my photos but the mattress folds and that area can be used for sitting or as a single bed when the walk through is open. Swivel seats in front allow that area to be used for dining and a larger table top than I installed with a folding chair would allow room for 3.
So many choices when getting started, I know! Will be following the build.

Have fun and good luck!
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Old 08-04-2016, 02:31 PM   #5
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I'm not sure how you're going to fit 4 and 2 dogs comfortably in any Ford van, and get the long-distance driving comfort you want. The Ford vans just aren't as comfortable to drive, and their crash worthiness + lack of much in the way of safety features is what kept me out of them. Because like you, we'll be logging the bulk of our mileage on the paved roads.

IMO - you're only option is a Sprinter 177 4x4 with some type of bunk bed setup for the kidos. The 4x4 system will be fine for what you need, and the EDL will be adequate enough to keep a tire in the air from spinning indefinitely. You're not going to be as maneuverable, but that's going to be up to you to figure out where your priority is in regards to space and maneuverability. Nobody is going to enjoy getting rocked around on a really rough 4x4 trail except you. So, I think for everything but the heavy stuff, the Sprinter will be fine. Take the Jeep when you want to get into crawling.

Sprinters come with a 5yr/100K mile engine and corrosion warranty and 3/36 for everything else. Can extend that out to 7/175K miles. Honestly, my guess is you'd spend more maintaining an older Ford than a newer Sprinter.

New 4x4's are 7-9 months out from MB, and SMB is at least 1 year out for builds. Only way you're getting something by xmas is used or going with another uplifter.

My premise is that you're kids are going to get tired of sleeping in a tent, and you'll get tired of breaking it down, drying it out, pitching it, etc. Can't pitch a tent in a truck stop if you need to pullover for the night.

If you're really set on a Tent, then any of the SMB's will do what you need. Some are better than others from an engine standpoint, but the purchase price typically reflects that. Engines can be made bomb-proof, it's not so easy to re-arrange an interior to your liking. So, I'd be focused on layouts.
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Old 08-04-2016, 03:15 PM   #6
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WP, I disagree, although I don't have kids. Plenty of room in a Ford if you get one with 4 captains chairs. Mikracer linked to a great example.. each human gets a captain's chair, dogs hang out on floor or rear bed. When camped, kids sleep below, parents sleep above, or opposite. Heck, the family selling that van just spent a year or more full time with two kids.
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Old 08-04-2016, 03:31 PM   #7
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Oh absolutely. OP mentioned wanting standing room and a hard top for cold/winter usage. My opinion was geared towards that.

If going with a pop-top, I'd take a Sprinter 144 4x4 in a heartbeat. Though that green rig is more in his price range.
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Old 08-04-2016, 03:42 PM   #8
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With all those kids and dogs you can always go this route...

Oh never mind it's not 4X4....
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Old 08-04-2016, 04:20 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wadewaydo View Post


With all those kids and dogs you can always go this route...

Oh never mind it's not 4X4....
Ha! Nice...only rolling with 2 kids and 2 dogs...its not that many.

For reference, we did 11k miles & 7.5 wks in a Jeep JKU when my son was 2.5 months old...granted, we motel'd in mom & pop places the whole way,(and decided never to do that again). It was the dead of winter and went from CA to ME via the northern route and back via the south - so we needed all sorts of different clothing options to handle all the hiking we did along the way.

It was a great way to spend maternity leave...We tend to travel light (like backpackers) and pack efficiently. I built a rack in the jeep so our 4 small bags were off the floor in the rear. The rear of the jeep had a medium sized Dometic and a stroller. The dog needed the other half plus I had the '40' of the 60/40 folded down. Small netting held our jackets & gloves & diapers...tools, air compressor, emergency fluids were stashed about. Every square inch of the jeep was utilized and did not use an external Thule box or hitch carrier.

We've also camped for numerous times for several days at a time with the Jeep...a fullsize van is going to feel like a cavern!

...Today, the wife was thinking the EB51 is not a good idea, but suggested the 4-captains chair layout instead (before seeing the green van). She was concerned about being able to reach the kids if necessary.

I like the green van, might have to take a gander since he is also in the Bay area.

The Sprinter 177 tall roof is very compelling, but all parts availability issues & maint costs are off-putting (I had an Audi for a number of years - and even thought it was an A4, maint was still expensive).

Regarding the jostling off-road - is the ride in these vans that bad? I had an 86 suburban for a number of years and went offroading all the time with a truck full of people on all sorts of camping trips. Sure it was bumpy, but nobody complained.
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Old 08-04-2016, 04:36 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bemerritt View Post
I'll chime in with my plan, do to the fact it's myself, my wife and a 70 lb dog at the moment. However, want the van to accommodate two future children/ friends.

Random thoughts in no order
- Going with agile as it seems they have a good balance of 4x4 on/off road driving. Also the convenience factor of being in California.
- Going fixed top, although i dont think 20" is high enough for a 6' tall person to stand up. Im debating between 24" and the 30" super camper (leaning super camper)
- Wanted a walk thru layout with dinette, but settled on a RB50 inspired layout, as the car seats need forward facing seatbelts
- Building up from an RB, originally purchased because of the ease of parking. But i'm sure the extra room from an EB would be nice
- The 30" roof will provide a secondary sleeping space up top. A lot of people on here have commented that the sleeping space in the smaller roofs to be very unenjoyable
- Probably got lucky, but i feel good putting money into a van with the 7.3 diesel. If i was to start over, i would not buy anything else.
- Realistic build time? Pretty sure SMB has about a year long wait for a full build out (dont quote me) so you are probably looking to buy one complete. Going DIY you could get a lot done before december. Agile is about a 6 week wait when i scheduled mine a little while ago. Fiberine can get you a top in under a month. Sportsmobile can install a bench seat after about a month (all wait times are what they have quoted me).
- Diesel engine lets you install an interior diesel heater (espar d2 or d4)
Thx for the thoughtful responses ...
RE: Roof height. I was thinking about ways to deal with the lower roof & still have enough space. I ended up sketching out a bunk floor than can be dropped by using canvas straps & a solid floor (think a hammock with a solid floor). During the day, just attach the straps to the roof, and the bunk is out of the way. At night, drop it down...

The 24" option seems like the way to go...need to see these things in person. GREAT Feedback on the 30" sleep space for comfort feedback! I'll need to understand the volume differences between the two to see if the 24" roof is more narrow than the 30"

RE: EB vs RB - some quick sketches suggest the EB will be req'd. I am having difficulties envisioning the 3D space. For some reason, the was far easier for me to model in my head...the E350 with roof, not so much.

RE: Heaters - did some research on the ESPAR and the WESTBAC - these options look great! Just need to do some quick energy calcs to determine house battery bank size. I was already planning on adding a 2nd alternator to facilitate charging & possible running a 2 pc Aux AC unit (like one from proair)....
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