We buy hatchbacks that have been lifted, like the Subaru XV Crosstrek. We buy station wagons that been jacked-up, like the Subaru Outback. At least in North America, hatchbacks and wagons haven’t exactly had a reputation for being cool for some time. You know what else aren’t cool? Vans and minivans. Can we convince automakers jacked-up vans are the next big thing? I ask because I keep seeing this Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear around and it makes a lot of sense.
This is no car-based vehicle with a slight increase in ride height, mind you. The Japanese-market Delica Space Gear mated the gearbox and front suspension of the Pajero/Shogun/Montero off-roader with the body of the L400/Express van. This was the same formula as had been applied in the two previous generations of four-wheel-drive Delica, the first having been launched in 1982. Unlike the Pajero at the time, the Delica employed unibody construction, although the Pajero eventually moved to this format in 2000.
The Space Gear had Mitsubishi’s Super-Select 4WD system, which allowed drivers to toggle between 2WD, constant AWD, and both high- and low-range with center diff lock; a rear limited slip differential was optional. Engines were a 2.8 four-cylinder turbodiesel with 123 hp and 216 ft-lbs and Mitsubishi’s ubiquitous gasoline 6G 3.0 V6 with 182 hp.
Although it was never officially sold outside of Japan, the Delica Space Gear has become one of the most popular grey imports in Canada, the UK, Chile and Australia. As is common with Japanese passenger vans, the Space Gear was available with plenty of features. For example, you could specify one with five sunroofs – one over each outboard seat on the rear two rows of seating, plus one up front, in a prelude to today’s panoramic sunroofs in people carriers. Mitsubishi, amusingly, called this option the “Crystal Lite” roof, like it was some kind of low-carb beer. Other features included rear cabin ventilation, available heated seats, and powered curtains and sunroof blinds.
The Space Gear seated seven or eight passengers, with ample head room to get up and walk around the cabin; there was also a choice between high- and low-roof models. In seven-seater versions, the second row of seats swivelled 180 degrees. Alternatively, you could flatten the second and third row of seats to make a bed or fold them up and out of the way. The third row could also be removed entirely.
Although some Japanese vans offered four-wheel-drive, there really was nothing that directly compared to the Delica Space Gear with its blend of versatility and off-road ability. Maybe I haven’t convinced you yet that the Delica Space Gear is both a great idea and a cool van. Maybe you just can’t reconcile how goofy it looks, being so long, narrow, and high off the ground. That’s ok, it’s an acquired taste.
Perhaps this might interest you? This is the Space Gear’s successor, the Delica D-5. Although Brisbane is full of Nissan Elgrands and other JDM vans, it’s much harder for me to find one of these so I can write them up properly. However, I have to say that, in my opinion, these are one of the best-looking vans ever made. For this generation, launched in 2007, the Delica moved to the Mitsubishi GS platform shared with the Lancer. With its car platform, these were less capable off-road than their predecessors – they also lost their low-range option – but they were much more refined on the road.
If a little plastic cladding and a higher ride height can make a wagon or a hatch appealing to North Americans, could it work for minivans? Ok, so a Delica Space Gear is probably a bit much and might be too much of a niche product, even though it is eminently capable. However, a Chrysler Pacifica X – in the vein of a Delica D-5 – could find buyers by offering true minivan practicality with the vague suggestion of off-road ability.
While something like a Pacifica X is almost plausible, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing anything like this Delica Space Gear again. If you truly want a van you can take off-road, you best be getting in touch with your local Japanese grey importer.