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Diesel 4×4 Minivan Alternatives to the Delica

Hello JDM Enthusiasts. If you have spent any time around me, or know some of my import history, you would know that I have a passion for the Mitsubishi Delica. As of February 2015 I own both an L300 Starwagon and an L400 Spacegear among way too many other things. And they are spectacular examples that I have spent a fair bit of time accessorizing and modifying:

delicas

My fanaticism for diesel JDM vans isn’t just about me. I have a family with small kids and we like to go places. When we road trip, we favor the L400, which is more of a modern minivan that happens to have some throwbacks to the L300. The 400 has low range 4×4 capability, turbo diesel engine, baller and frivolous ‘Exceed’ and ‘Super Exceed’ frills that the driver almost never gets to appreciate but the kids in the back get to kick, wipe food on and push all the buttons they aren’t supposed to.

But I digress. My kids don’t do that. Neither does my wife.

Our Preference for the more modern minivan of the two stems from the L400 Spacegear’s ability to maintain Ontario’s 400 series highway speed, drive and handle in a way that I would assume contemporary minivans do (although I confess, I do feel substantially more masculine driving a Spacegear than those dad’s I see driving domestic mpv’s), and give me, the driver, a level of comfort on longer drives that my L300 does not. As well, I like driving through deep snow, up and down logging roads and mud trails, pulling things and having proper 4×4 traction and impressing my friends.

There are several other turbo, intercooled turbo, AWD, legit 4×4 Diesel Minivans available on the JDM market and eligible for our market. Lets start by ignoring the cab-over stuff like the Hiace, Caravan, Bongo and focus on the more modern stuff which by 15 year old Japanese standards will put modern Caravans, Astro turfs, Broken wind… (whatever the heck the USDMs are pumping out) to shame.

Toyota makes lots of amazing 4×4 chassis and indestructible turbo diesels. Classic Toyota diesel 4×4’s are still roaming the world’s deserts and war zones under conditions that would have sent other manufactures back to the lab and the smelter. In the late 1990’s their export scientiests decided to mash-up the Hiace with the Previa and give us the Granvia and Grand Hiace.

If you pick your chassis right, this beastly little number can sport a 1KZ 3000cc intercooled turbo diesel engine. For those who know it, it is about as indestructible as turbo diesels in the ‘90’s got! An amazing engine, great power band that is in the mensa percentile of diesel build quality:

hiace

Sadly the Granvia’s and Grand Hiace’s had an AWD option but not a legit 4×4 locking capability. They have the same engine as a Landcruiser Prado, but not the running gear. Be honest though; how often, if ever, do you think you would take your minivan off road? The build quality of these things is spectacular. They have a freight train of torque from the 3000cc intercooled turbo diesel engine, they are offered in multiple seating configurations with plenty of interior options including leather.


Another minivan available in turbo diesel and AWD configuration is the Mazda Bongo Friendee. Again, you compromise 4×4 capability but in return you can have an auto-freetop. This is the sort of thing than makes Westfalia people wet their pants with excitement and jealousy. Push a button and the roof will pop up offering 2 stories of sleeping arrangements.

bongo

Mazda even equipped a select few of these with a small camping kit including a water tank, fridge and sink in place of one of the 3rd row seats. It can be had for a fraction the price (like… half) of a Volkswagon Westfalia T4 camper, and you don’t need to worry about poor gearing or a miserable Audi 5cylinder gas engine. This is a proper minivan that handles traffic speed like any other van in Canada.

 

My next suggestion is the E50 Nissan Elgrand. These ARE available with a legitimate 4×4 option, two different intercooled turbo diesel configurations (a 3000cc and a 3200cc), and have a reputation in Japan as the VIP minivan. These come in multiple seating configurations for 7 or 8 passenger, swiveling front and middle row seats, seatback tray tables, upholstery in half leather, full leather or cloth, power curtains, multiple sunroofs with remote controls and many other neat OEM options.

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Of the selection of Delica alternatives, the Elgrand has the highest level of kit with a push button sliding door, seat heaters, OEM rear AV display and spec levels like ‘Highway Star’ these are comfy on road trips and very capable off-road (if you lose the skirts and lips).


Of these contenders as alternatives to the cult classic Delica, the Toyota offers mechanical reliability and build quality that Mitsubishi can’t touch. The Elgrand offers a level of sophistication and class that a Delica with it’s 10” OEM ride height won’t approach, and the Mazda Bongo Friendee has features that those who use their Delicas as a bug out vehicle would lust after. These are all very different vehicles and very much suited to different drivers. The decision to import a JDM minivan shouldn’t just be between different Delicas and different guys selling different Delicas. In fact, there is a capable diesel JDM mpv that would suit very well for most people that isn’t necessarily the Delica.