Mid size Van recommendations?

Introduce Yourself…

Hi everyone,
I spent many years living full time in a Toyota Previa (which I loved) and later in a 2004 dodge sprinter (which was a horrible money pit).

After getting married and having kids, we got a 91 Toyota Warrior, but it’s had some issues and we don’t drive it far from home.

Now that I’m retired, my wife has given me ‘permission’ to get a camper van and take trips throughout the West since she knows how important van life is to my soul.

We live on the coast of Oregon, and I’d like to visit Glacier, Yellowstone, Zion, etc.

My ideal van would be the Volkswagen California hybrid, a mind blowing self contained vehicle, but it’s only sold outside the US, do tests out.

My dream list is:
Good gas mileage; ideally 35 mpg plus
Can fit in my garage (so a pop top)
And it’s self contained (I’ll only be using it for two week blocks of time pee trip, then back home)
Decent ground clearance

Does anyone have any idea if any vehicle gets in the ballpark of these criteria?

Thanks a million for any help.



The Toyota Sienna hybrid seems to be the only one which will get that kind of mpg. AWD is an option, but ground clearance may be lacking. If you could get one with a middle sun roof, adding a pop up top should be extremely easy without compromising vehicle stability or safety.

In the USA the VW California campers were marketed as VW Eurovan campers.

Perhaps bullet proofing your Toyota would be a better choice… While taking a hit on the MPG, the extra room would be worth it to me, and the cost savings could be substantial.

As a side note, I once had a Chalet A-Frame pop up trailer that I loved. It was extremely light weight and might be towable by some hybrids and get you the ground clearance you’re hoping for.


"Count your blesssings, for they are many." ~ Unknown

Interesting you mention the Sienna, because that’s exactly what I’ve been looking at. (I used to live in a Previa, so there was a time, when the Sienna first came out, that I thought it would be the next evolution in my van life. This was before Sprinters existed).

The hybrid Sienna gets 35/36, check. AWD. check. Clearance on the Woodland edition is about 7", on the other models, it’s not that much less. So not great clearance, but I don’t plan to be off-roading or getting to gnarly. but that’s what we all say until we realize the only way to the hot springs is up the mountainside on the bumpy dirt road with the rocks sticking up in the middle of the road. :wink:

The Sienna had incredible range too.

I read that you can’t remove the second row of seats; at least not easily. I’m sure anything can be removed with enough work. But I do have two kids, so I need at least three seats, excluding my wife.

The issue would be the pop top, but it sounds like you think that wouldn’t be an issue. Do you know of anyone or any company that installs, or would install professionally, a pop top in a Sienna with a sunroof?

The California (in Europe and Australia) gets 127 mpg with the hybrid!!! something insane. But doesn’t have all wheel drive. On YouTube, you can type this in and pull up a video: New 2024 Volkswagen California - Next Generation Family Camper Van

Do you know if the Euro Vans sold in the US are much like the California? It is so cool. I’d buy it even if I had to sell a kidney. Not my kidney of course, but someone’s. If the US euro vans are close and get decent gas mileage, I could do that maybe.

Our Warrior, no, it’s just too old. It blew a head gasket and we ended up paying a fortune to repair it, and it blew it again six hours after getting it out of the shop.

The second time, we replaced the gasket and poured in some sealant and drove it from SLC to Newport OR, and it made it. But now we just drive it to local state beach campgrounds near our house.

The roof leaks and we can’t find the leak, and it rains for months here.

I need something smallish, just of rme really, that I can rely on.

And I don’t want to tow. After all those years of living full-time in a van, I want something like that again. I can pull over any time I get tired and sleep in it. Carry my surfboards, have a bathroom onboard, even if it’s a camping potty. a little home on wheels for me, for two week trips, that gets good mileage, AWD is nice, being able to stand up is nice.

Yes, maybe the Sienna.

Feel free to pass on any thoughts and any information about pop top installation.




Pop tops are extremely easy to DIY. I have made many using the Foamie method. Foam insulation, covered with screen using Glidden Gripper paint/glue. It makes it extraordinarily strong. The only hard part is matching the curvature of the roof front & back. I build the frame that attaches to the roof using wood, to make it easy but sturdy, then use the screen & Glidden Gripper on the wood to permanently weatherproof it.

I through bolt the frame to the roof, using large washers and self locking nuts to insure it will never blow off.

In the picture below, you can see how a collapsible crate works. That’s how I make hard sided pop tops, but I make the ends accordion instead of the sides, so I can put windows in the sides if I want. I make this using the foamie method described above. I make the roof big enough so that when collapsed, it has a rim all the way around that covers everything coming clear down to the roof, with a simple foam weatherproof seal from the hardware store between the top & the roof.

I put the top on the outside of the frame, and through bolt it the frame just like above.

Yes, the Eurovan Camper is pretty much identical to the California Camper…



"Count your blesssings, for they are many." ~ Unknown

Just curious, but is putting a pop top on a Sienna something you could do if I were to get a Sienna?

The more I look at current options, the more the Sienna AWD hybrid with 35 mpg seems like a possible winner. With a pop top I could sleep in, that would also allow me to stand up at campsites, that could be a pretty awesome combination for a great travel/camp vehicle and still be able to use it as a family van.




Yes, it’s something you or any competent handyman could do very cheap & easily.


"The road to success is often littered with failures." ~ Rubber Tramp

Thank you. Now I just need a van

I think it’s very cool when you have the opportunity to travel around the world and relax in this way.