Curbside Outtake: Mitsubishi Delica 4WD Van – the First Minivan/Sport Utility Vehicle (M/SUV)

I passed by this third generation Mitsubishi 4WD Delica van the other day, and it brought to mind a recent article I read where Toyota is offering a “Woodland Special Edition” of its 2021 Sienna minivan.  The Woodland model will include the Sienna’s AWD option, and an approximate one-half inch increase in ride height.  Kia is also hoping to tap into the SUV bandwagon with its new Carnival minivan, which has much more SUV-like proportions.  But Mitsubishi originated the “tough” minivan segment almost forty years ago with its 4WD Delica StarWagon.

1982 StarWagon


1985 Pajero 4-door


In 1982, Mitsubishi took its Pajero 4WD chassis, slightly modified it, and dropped the Delica’s forward-control minivan body on top.  The Pajero was a true off-roader, as capable as an equivalent Jeep Cherokee, so the Delica was no pretender; it had a two speed transfer case and a locking differential.  It made quite the splash – when I first arrived in Japan in the early ‘80’s (still the “Bubble” period) they were a frequent sight.

1988 JDM StarWagon


1988 US version RWD Wagon


A new version was released in 1986 and while transitioning to a unibody design, retained its stout 4WD underpinnings.  The North American market only received the regular “Wagon” van from 1987-90.  Engines in both the 1982 and 1986 update were a variety of Mitsubishi inline fours, both gas and diesel.

1985 Delica Australia version


At that time Mitsubishi had extensive manufacturing and/or co-production partnerships in North and South East Asia, so the Delica was also routinely seen in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Korea (assembled by Hyundai).

A more significant update occurred in 1994 with Gen three of the 4WD model.  The nose was extended to improve  frontal collision safety but the engine was still mounted longitudinally.  A gas V6 engine option was added also.  The StarWagon moniker was superseded with the “Space Gear” name in Japan, while being retained in other markets.

A complete re-design was made with the 2007 D:5 model, moving to a new transverse-engine platform.  The AWD system was one similar to that used on the Outlander SUV.

The front end was tweaked in 2019.  The AWD model is now called “Active Gear”.

Both the Sienna and Carnival seem to be taking the mild approach of “toughening-up” their looks to entice potential SUV buyers; the Delica however, was and still is the real deal when it comes to an M/SUV.

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