Sprinter Van Suspension Upgrades: Van Compass Review
Now on my second Sprinter, I’ve learned that the 4×4 Sprinter is a maneuverable van, even the 170” wheelbase model. In winter, I’m able to tackle icy roads with confidence. It rides comfortably most of the time, and it has a lot of power. But let’s be honest…it’s not a jeep or a Toyota Tacoma when it comes to off-roading. The van can feel clunky on pot-holed roads, top-heavy when pulling into an uneven parking lot, or like a bread-truck when hit by a strong cross-wind on the highway.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that every single Sprinter – from the dually, to a standard 2WD low top, to the 4×4 170 High Top Sprinter, like mine – all come with the same exact shocks. And these shocks are designed to be used by delivery vehicles and work trucks, not heavy conversion vans with people living in them.
Van Compass is a small company in Post Falls, Idaho, that is working to tackle this. Co-owners Mark Hesser (a Ford Transit owner) and Rob Peterson (a Sprinter owner) designed parts for Jeeps, Dodge trucks, and full-on rock crawlers and wanted to take what they learned and bring improved suspension and off-road components to Sprinter Vans.
After a couple of hairy drives across the windy plains this summer and constantly trying to keep up with my truck-driving friends on Forest Service roads, I decided to upgrade my suspension with the Van Compass front and rear suspension kits.
Now after two months of testing, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Van Compass Sprinter suspension kits, and how it’s changed the way my Sprinter Van handles all kinds of terrain
Sprinter Van Suspension Upgrade Video
Benefits of Upgrading Your Suspension
As I said, every single Sprinter Van comes with the same factory shocks. They aren’t tuned for a specific type of driving or off-road adventures. The factory shocks are reported to last about 50,000-60,000 miles (I haven’t gotten to this point in either of my Sprinter Vans), and then they need to be replaced. They also aren’t built for a smooth ride or for handling heavy loads.
The result can be jarring if you hit a bump going to fast, and if your build isn’t weighted properly, you can feel a strong pull towards the outside of your turns, like you could just topple over.
On the left, you can see the original factory-issued shock and on the right, you can see the Van Compass custom-tuned Fox shocks.
With Van Compass shocks, it improves the suspension to prevent that sway and reuslts in a more sturdy ride though turbulent bumps and sharp turns. What I’ve noticed so far is:
- Improved vehicle handling – both on and offroad
- Greater stability
- The van more fun to drive. It doesn’t feel like a heavy wallowing van. The chassis responds to input and drives as a Mercedes should.
The Van Compass shocks accomplish this by custom tuning every set of Fox Shocks they install, based on the weight of your van’s front and rear axles and the type of driving you like to do.
Van Compass Upgrades I Installed
In this section, I share exactly what upgrades I made. The upgrades are sold as a kit called Van Compass Suspension Package for 7500LBS+.
If you want to upgrade your shocks, you should be aware of any alternations a company might make that could void your factory warranty. Van Compass uses your van’s existing suspension geometry and none of these upgrades should affect the factory warranty.
Rear Add-A-Leaf Pack
Ever notice the back end of your Sprinter Van sagging? If you’ve got a layout like mine with a platform bed in the back with water, batteries, and gear underneath, the back of your van carries more weight than the front. The Add-A-Leaf pack gives the back of your van a little boost, so the back is horizontal and even with the front – the same neutral alignment that an empty van would have. Reducing this sagging in the rear, you regain suspension of travel, which is critical to a smooth ride in bumpy terrain. You also reduce the likelihood of the rear suspension bottoming out.
Van Compass installs this add-a-leaf pack underneath the factory leaf pack. They say that the factory leaf pack is a quality Mercedes part, so they are simply supplementing it to compensate for the added rear weight.
Rear Custom-Tuned Fox Shocks
The shocks are the main component of the suspension system and control everything about the way the van feels. Quality shocks are critical for damping the movement of weight when you pull into a driveway at an angle or hit a speed bump at an angle. The Van Compass custom-tuned rear Fox shocks reduce rocking and make the ride feel less abrupt. Their shocks specifically add low-speed damping, which has the biggest impact when you are driving between 15-35 mph, such as on washboard dirt roads and sharp corners.
Front Custom-Tuned Fox Shocks
The Van Compass front suspension kit comes with a bracket that allows for secondary custom-tuned Fox shocks on the front wheels. The front shocks add a bunch of damping to the front of the vehicle and allow for better control of the extra weight. Like the rear shocks, that translates to a smoother ride overall.
First, let’s talk about what a bump stop is. The bump stop is the last line of defense for your suspension. When you hit a bump too hard, and the suspension bottoms out, the bump stop prevents metal on metal contact. The Sumo Spring that Van Compass installs is a replacement for the factory bump stop and does more than just prevent that metal from hitting. It works in conjunction with the factory front leaf-spring to give the suspension slightly more spring while making the van more responsive to steering.
Thoughts from 4,000 miles Post Suspension Upgrades
So far, we’ve put 4,000 miles on the shocks, including extended off-road driving in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The shocks have not only resulted in a smoother ride, but they also give me more confidence that my Sprinter Van can handle any kind of terrain I might encounter. It’s still not a Jeep, but I can tackle a majority of forest service roads that I want, even those that are pretty beat up. Washboard roads don’t shake my van up like they used to. I can also cruise on the highway and backroads and take curves without feeling the van pull against me.
I’ll also say that Mark and Rob seemed like stand-up guys with a lot of patience. They wanted to make sure I totally understood what I was getting and wasn’t paying for anything I didn’t need based on the type of driving we generally do. They never tried to sell me on anything.
Overall, I’m very happy with the Van Compass upgrade. And the best part is, Van Compass says the shocks they installed should, in theory, last the lifetime of the van. So if I was going to have to replace the factory shocks when they were worn out at 60,000 miles, why not do it now and reap the benefits.
The total price of the upgrades is $1,920 if you buy the upgrades sold as a complete kit.