144” VS 170” SPRINTER: WHICH WHEELBASE IS BETTER FOR VANLIFE?
After I sold my first 144” wheelbase Sprinter Van and was shopping for a second, I struggled with the decision of a 144” vs 170” Sprinter. I loved the maneuverability and how easy it was to park in my 144”, but I also craved a few more square feet, since I’d be joined by my boyfriend Ryan and our dog Charlie while traveling full-time in my new Sprinter.
I sifted through forums, asked questions on my @sprintercampervans Instagram feed, and chatted in person with as many Sprinter owners as I could find, including the folks at Outside Van who would be converting my new van, and I wound up with a lot of mixed opinions. One commonality I found, however, was most people thought whatever wheelbase Sprinter they were traveling in was the best wheelbase. 144” owners loved the 144”, and 170” owners said no way would they want to go smaller.
Ok, so I guess I couldn’t go wrong either way. So I scrutinized different floor plans and made a list of my priorities for my living space and gear, and ultimately decided to go to the longer wheelbase with the 170” Sprinter.
Now with 16,000 miles and six months of full-time van life under my belt in my 170” Sprinter, I wanted to write a blog post sharing my experience driving and living in a 144” vs 170” Sprinter Van, including the differences in parking & city driving, off-road maneuvering, gas efficiency, full-time living, storage, and more.
144” vs 170” Sprinter – Parking & City Driving
One of the claims to fame for the 144” Sprinter Van is that it can fit in a normal parking spot – both length and width-wise. I’d agree that the 144” was a breeze to park, even in crowded parking lots and city streets. When I got my 144” Sprinter, I sold my Subaru, and my Sprinter became my daily driver for a year and a half. I loved driving it and felt like I could cruise down the road no differently than in my Subaru.
So how does the 170” compare to the 144″ in terms of parking? I’d say that the argument that the 170” Sprinter is a hassle to park is a bit overblown. Sure it’s longer….but if you pull all the way up to the curb until your front tires hit, the 170” can also “fit” in a normal parking spot. In really tight parking lots, you might have to park a little further out and walk an additional minute or two, but overall, parking the 170” Sprinter hasn’t caused me any more stress than parking my 144”. I will say that a rear camera is absolutely necessary for the 170”, especially if you don’t have rear windows, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go without a rear view camera in my 144” either.
For city driving, both wheelbases handle nearly the same. The turning radius isn’t quite as good in the 170” vs 144” Sprinter, so you have to be a little more careful with U-Turns. Parallel parking is also more challenging. But again, it hasn’t been that big of a deal, and we don’t like to spend that much time in busy cities anyways.
Learn more about what I did differently in my 2nd Sprinter Van.
144” vs 170” Sprinter – Off-Road Driving
Let’s be honest. Neither Sprinter wheelbase is a Jeep. Or a Toyota Tacoma. But they are incredibly capable vehicles, and if the inside is well-built, you can really get plenty far off-the-grid with a Sprinter Van.
My first 144” Sprinter Van was beautiful. Reclaimed barn wood, modern tile, and an open airy feel like I would want in any home. But as it turns out, that van, the materials, and the distribution of weight were not the best for driving pot-holed, washboard, curvy mountain roads. That open aisle way down the van meant the majority of the weight was along the sides of the van, rather than centered towards the ground. Now, I still took it off-roading, but would I tackle the gnarly roads in Moab or Escalante? Probably not. Even if the van itself was capable, I wanted to maintain the integrity of the interior.
This is one of the reasons I chose Outside Van to build out my new 170” Sprinter. Outside Van is all about getting off the grid and building super solid badass adventure mobiles. I didn’t want to be limited by cabinetry or layout to where I could and would take my new Sprinter. I wanted to be able to go wherever I wanted, keeping in mind that a Sprinter is not a Jeep. Then I went and chose the longer wheelbase, so how has it fared?
This summer, Ryan I drove hundreds of miles on dirt roads in search of isolated (dispersed!) campsites, quiet views, and unexpected adventures, and only once did we almost get into a pickle due to our size. Like city driving, the 170” wheelbase Sprinter needs more room to turn around, so traveling down a dirt road not knowing where it’s headed requires a little more prudence. One day in Northern Idaho, we took a turn thinking we’d find a campsite, but all we found was a dead end. For a hot minute, I was questioned how we were going to get out of there. But I hopped out of the car, and Ryan took the wheel, and with a little teamwork, we just barely got out of there.
The other area to pay attention to with the longer wheelbase is the ground clearance. If you hit a steep incline on a dirt road, you’re more likely to bottom out with the 170” vs the 144” Sprinter.
In sum, if you know you want to rally your Sprinter to its limits, at face value, you’ll have more wiggle room with the 144”. But the 170”, with a solid interior and a detailed map, will still take you far far away from civilization.
One final thing on drivability – I recently upgraded the factory suspension on my 170” Sprinter with the Van Compass Front and Rear Suspension Kits, and it’s given me a lot more confidence both on and off-road. For more information on that, check out my blog post and video where I review the Van Compass upgrades.
Check out 6 big questions to ask before preparing for full-time vanlife.
Would you believe I’m actually getting better gas mileage on my 170” Sprinter vs my old 144” Sprinter? This summer in my 170”, I was averaging between 13-16 mpg. You can get better mileage if you drive slower, but I like to drive the speed limit in order to spend less time driving overall.
My 144” Sprinter averaged between 12-14 mpg. If that sounds low, remember they are both 4×4 and they are carrying a ton of weight. 25 gallons of water, a big battery bank, gear, and people add up quick.
I was surprised that my 170” is actually performing better in terms of mpg. I just figured…a bigger vehicle, worse mileage. But what I think it really comes down to is on my 144” Sprinter, I needed more storage space. So I installed the Aluminess rear swing arms, storage box and roof rack on my van. All of this stuff hanging on the outside of the van created additional wind resistance, which had an impact on my overall gas mileage.
With the 170”, I didn’t need that added storage, because I could fit everything inside the van. That means my van is more streamlined, and the result is better mpg.
Full-time Living & Storage
In my 144” Sprinter, I traveled mostly solo, and for that, it was perfect. I also didn’t have a bunch of bulky gear.
In my new 170” Sprinter, I knew I would be living with Ryan, our dog Charlie, two mountain bikes, and a bunch of other gear. I also knew I wanted a permanent bed vs one that converted from a dinette or a couch, like my first van. As I sketched up floorplans, I couldn’t figure out how to make a permanent bed, a convenient workspace (which was a top priority…hi, blog), a decent sized galley, and all of our gear all fit in a 144” Sprinter. Something would have to give if I decided to go smaller. My workspace would have to double as the bed. Or the galley would be miniature. Or we’d have to leave the bikes at home.
Working with Jeff at Outside Van, I came up with my ideal layout, and a 170” it would have to be….and I can’t tell you how stoked I’ve been with that decision. With the extra room Ryan, Charlie, and I have been able to live in the van full time while maintaining our sanity. Neither one of us is uber-organized, and we are messy enough as it is to live in the Sprinter full-time together. With those few extra feet, we’ve been able to live fairly clutter free. We also don’t have to move ten different things to the front seat everynight or shuffle our stuff around to get to whatever we are looking for.
The extra space has also allowed me to have a permanent table to work on with all of my computer stuff stored right below. An efficient workspace is key when you are working with limited wi-fi and prefer not to spend your time poaching internet in towns and at McDonald’s.
Now if I didn’t have to work on the road? I think we could have made the 144” wheelbase work, although I’m sure that van would still have been packed to the gills.
If you are trying to decide between a 144″ vs 170” Sprinter Van, I hope this blog post and my experience helps you weigh your options.