As vanlife continues to grow in popularity, van manufacturers are beginning to lean into the trend by creating vans that are specifically designed to be finished out as adventure-mobiles. Ford has done just that with its 2023 Transit Trail van—but is the van truly #vanlife worthy? Let’s explore.
Ford Transit Trail Overview
The Transit Trail is designed with adventure-ready features like improved ground clearance, a 3.5-inch body lift, a 2.75-inch wider track, a skid-plate style front bumper, and standard all-terrain tires. This beefy foundation mitigates many of the woes of the standard Transit, which can be summed up as a poor ability to drive off-road without significant upgrades and modifications.
The Transit Trail also comes with 4-way manual swivel driver and passenger seats—a vanlife essential for sure.
As with the standard Transit, the Transit Trail is available in a variety of roof heights and body lengths. Plus, Ford has intentionally made the Transit Trail easy to upfit, whether you opt to DIY the conversion or have it professionally done. Essentially, you can choose a barebones van that’s ready for your build, rather than having to first demo and prep the interior. Who doesn’t love saving time and energy?
The Transit Trail is available in two models: the XL (base model) and the XLT (with upgraded features and trim package). Both models are available with 130-inch or 148-inch wheelbases and regular, long, and long-EL body lengths ranging from 217.8 inches to 263.9 inches.
The regular body length is available with a low (52.8-inch) or medium (67.6-inch) interior height, while the long body length is available in low, medium, or high (77-inch) interior heights. The long-EL body style is only available with the 77-inch interior height. Tall folks, rejoice—those up to 6’5” can comfortably stand up within the high-roof options, provided your flooring and ceiling don’t take too much vertical space.
The longest option offers more than 14 feet in buildable length and, with the high roof, provides 487 cubic feet of living space.
There are two engine options for the Transit Trail: a 3.5L PFDi V6 with 275 horsepower and a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 310 horsepower. The van features a 10-speed automatic transmission for easy driving and has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of up to 10,360 pounds. You can also choose between single or dual rear wheels for the larger models.
Some standard features of the XLT model include:
- Heated seats
- 50/50 hinged rear door that opens 180 degrees
- Cruise control
- 25-gallon fuel tank
- Tinted windows
- Spare tire and wheel
- Blind spot assist
You can also select from dozens of optional upgrades, including:
- Standard or heavy-duty tow/hauling packages
- Trailer brake control
- Upfitter package (modified wiring, auxiliary fuse panel, dual AGM batteries, upfitter switches, etc.)
- Hinged passenger side doors or a manual or power sliding door
- 50/50 hinged rear doors that open 253 degrees
- Modified vehicle wiring (for RV prep)
- Privacy glass windows
- Front wheel well liners
- Standard or power running boards
- Keyless entry
- Engine block heater
- Remote start
- Extended range (31-gallon) fuel tank
- Perimeter alarm
- Parking assist
- Dual AGM batteries
- Dual alternators
- 360-degree camera
- Power adjustable driver and passenger seats
- Various floor covering and front mat options
- Auxiliary fuse panel with a high spec interface connector
- Upgraded radio and navigation systems
- Pre-installed Maxxair Deluxe fan
- Egress window
- Front overhead shelf
- Dash cams
- Thule crossbars
- Portable Indel B refrigerator/freezer
- Wifi hotspot
- All-wheel drive
Many of these standard and optional features are excellent to have for vanlife. For example, a pre-installed Maxxair fan means that you don’t have to chop a hole in the roof of your brand new van—whew! Plus, things like privacy glass, a variety of door configurations, and swivel seats make the van versatile and practical for habitation.
Is the Ford Transit Trail Available in the USA?
It sure is. There are already 2023 Transit Trails on some Ford lots in the US, or you can custom order your van with all the exact features you need. However, Ford warns on the website that due to high demand and ongoing chip shortages, buyers may experience long wait times. So, if you’re planning a van build for next year, order your rig ASAP.
How Much Will the Ford Transit Trail Cost?
The Transit Trail XL starts at $49,275 while the XLT starts at $51,785. However, I spec-ed out a long-EL, high-roof, dually, AWD XLT Transit Trail with what I would refer to as the essentials and it was estimated to cost north of $65,000.
What do “the essentials” include, you ask?
As someone who lived and traveled in a self-converted 22-foot school bus for 4.5 years and has a pretty good idea of what I’d like in a van, I selected the following: builder’s prep package (which eliminates rear seats and other pesky things that you would remove anyways on a van conversion), 253-degree rear doors, privacy glass, running boards, extended range fuel tank, perimeter alarm, dual alternator, front overhead shelf, Thule crossbar kit, and an upgraded paint color.
Out of curiosity, I also spec-ed out a fully loaded, ultra-bougie version which had an estimated net price of $76,141. However, a similarly decked out 2023 Sprinter van is estimated to cost $84,519, so you’d still save some money by choosing the Ford Transit Trail.
Is the Ford Transit Trail 4×4?
It is not 4×4. The van comes standard with rear wheel drive, although with certain configurations you can choose to upgrade to all-wheel drive. But wait, isn’t all-wheel drive the same as 4×4? Almost, but not quite—here’s a quick guide to what these all mean:
- Rear wheel drive (2WD) – only the rear two (or four, in the case of a dually) wheels gain traction.
- All-wheel drive (AWD) – all wheels can gain traction independently of each other, and this feature is normally always on, without the option to disengage it.
- Four-wheel drive (4WD/4×4) – all wheels can gain traction, but the feature can be turned on and off so the vehicle would either be rear (or front, potentially) or all-wheel drive depending on whether you’ve toggled the switch.
It’s also worth noting that the Transit Trail has five different drive modes to select from, so you can choose between settings for normal driving, towing mode, mud or ruts, or slippery surfaces. A good example of a truly 4×4 camper van would be the Winnebago Revel.
Does the Ford Transit Trail Have an Electric or Hybrid Option?
As of the time of writing, there is no electric or hybrid option available for the Transit Trail. However, Ford does offer an electric E-Transit van, so it’s possible that they will expand their options in the future. But, at this point, the E-Transit vans only get between 108 and 126 miles in range per full charge—not exactly ideal for the nomadic lifestyle.
How Much Can a Ford Transit Trail Tow?
The maximum towing capacity of the Transit Trail is 6,500 pounds with the heavy-duty towing package—perfect if you want to tow a trailer with additional living or sleeping space for your family or travel mates, or to hook up your boat, ATV, or other toys. But, keep in mind that the weight you add to your van with the buildout will tax the engine, and you never want to actually tow the maximum weight capacity anyways.
Pros and Cons for #Vanlife
Whew, that’s a lot of information. Let’s break it down into pros and cons.
Pros of the Transit Trail for vanlife:
- Adventure-ready features like body lift, higher ground clearance, wider track, all-terrain tires, etc. make this van more capable off-road than a standard Transit.
- It can be purchased as a blank canvas, which eliminates the need for a demo phase.
- You can have some elements of your van conversion done for you, such as Maxxair fan installation, wiring modifications, added batteries, etc.
- Many features are essentially purpose-built for vanlife, such as swivel seats, privacy glass, drillable areas in the van body, and so forth.
- It has tons of configuration options in terms of length, height, engines, dual or rear wheels, and features.
- There are Ford dealerships everywhere, so it’s easy to have maintenance and repairs done.
- It’s more affordable than Sprinter vans.
Cons of the Transit Trail for vanlife:
Frankly, there aren’t many cons that I can think of with this van, other than a potentially long wait time if you custom order a Transit Trail. However, most (if not all) vehicle manufacturers are facing the same chip shortage and high demand, so it’s likely that this issue is not unique to this van.
The only other potential con is that if you planned to have a third party company upfit your van for you, they may not yet be able to accommodate Transit Trails since they are just coming out now. But, if you plan to DIY your build or go through a Ford upfitter, you could avoid this potential issue.
My Closing Thoughts
I’m excited to see that Ford is reading the room and building vans for the niche vanlife market. As a member of team skoolie, I don’t know that I could personally ever go to a van. But, if I did, I almost certainly would choose the Transit Trail over a standard Transit (less capable), Sprinter (so expensive), or ProMaster (I just don’t like the look of these for whatever reason).
I can’t wait to see what kind of conversions people come up with for their Transit Trails!
Up Next In Camper Vans:
(featured image: ford.com)
Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!