Written by Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal
Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal



If you’re into oddball vehicles, rad vans or quirky four-wheel-drives, you might have heard of the Mitsubishi Delica. The Delica Star Wagon and Delica Space Gear vans are popular among adventurers worldwide. These 4×4 adventure vans have gained a global cult following because of their versatility, capability and style.

Because Mitsubishi Delicas were never sold in the United States, prospective owners need to wait at least 25 years before importing or purchasing one that could be registered in the States. All out-of-country vehicles not officially sold in the United States (as in, not federalized to meet strict requirements for them to be for sale here) can be imported once they’re 25 years old. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has the same rule, but it’s only 15 years. Because of this, Mitsubishi Delicas have steadily increased in popularity in North America as adventure seekers discover their off-pavement capability, unique look and fair price.

The Mitsubishi Delica Diary

The word, “Delica,” is a combination of “delivery” and “car” in Japanese. Starting in 1968, early Delicas had body-on-frame construction and were people or cargo carriers. Made in Japan or Indonesia, early Mitsubishi models topped out at under 100 horsepower, with puny power plants as small as 1.1 liters in displacement.

Like their earlier Mitsubishi Montero or Pajero cousins, second-gen Delica Star Wagons share body-on-frame construction, as well as some of their chassis components … 

A green Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear is parked on a dirt road.

The authors’ Delica Space Gear has upgrades such as a replacement long-range fuel tank, front and rear off-road bumpers, winch and additional driving lights.

Second-gen Delicas started production in 1979 and largely became known as the first Delica Star Wagon. Additionally, an important option was introduced a few years later: four-wheel-drive (4WD). This made the first-ever Delica Star Wagon capable in a variety of off-tarmac terrain. Like their earlier Mitsubishi Montero or Pajero cousins, second-gen Delica Star Wagons share body-on-frame construction, as well as some of their chassis components (up until 1985).

The Popular Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon (or L300)

Most people familiar with Mitsubishi Delicas know the third-gen variant best; it was technically the second iteration of the Star Wagon. First offered in 1986, the ever-popular Delica Star Wagon is old enough to import, dons a crazy, 1980s look and has a forward-control driving position.

Because they’re offered with an insanely huge assortment of options, Delica owners are ensured a unique ride.

A white Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon is parked on a grassy hillside.

The popular, second-gen Star Wagon’s Mars Rover-like appearance includes antenna-styled side mirrors.


A man uses the winch on a white Mitsubishi Delica that is parked in sand with it's winch lead extended.

Andy Lilienthal prepares to put a WARN winch damper onto the line before a Jeep vehicle recovery.


The third-gen Delica Star Wagon, otherwise known as the Delica L300, kicked its body-on-frame demeanor to the roadside and opted for a car-like unibody chassis instead. It showcased a solid rear axle with leaf springs, as well as a traditional, part-time 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case that included “low range.” Automatic locking front hubs were common. The Delica’s independent front end featured torsion bars instead of front coil springs.

Sci-Fi Styling

Off-road enthusiasts, including us, purchased, and used, third-gen Star Wagons as 4×4 adventuremobile vans. The interiors are sparse and boxy—the perfect canvas to create a customized campervan. The exterior looks like that of the Mars Rover or something from a cheesy 1980s sci-fi flick. Strange side and rear liftgate-mounted mirrors stand out like a bug’s antennae and are accented by a dominating front end that showcases an oversized bull bar and “ginormous” auxiliary lights.

With a plethora of trim levels, roof and engine choices, and funky colors to be had, why wouldn’t you want an interesting 4×4 van alternative that’ll catch everyone’s eye?

All seats in the Delica L300, or Star Wagon, fold flat sans headrests in the Mitsubishi Delica L300 creating the perfect sleeping platform.

All seats in the Delica L300, or Star Wagon, fold flat sans headrests—creating the perfect sleeping platform.


Woman deflates the Delica Star Wagon’s tires with an ARB E-Z deflator.

The author deflates the Delica Star Wagon’s Yokohama Geolander all-terrain tires with an ARB E-Z deflator.


A white Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon is parked in the sand next to a river..

The Mitsubishi Star Wagon can be outfitted with larger variety of rooftop racks and accessories than its new-to-the-U.S. sibling, the Space Gear.


The inside of the Mitsubishi Delica L400 with the seats folded down and sleeping bags on the seats.

The L300 Delica has seats that fold completely flat, making an ideal temporary setup. The new L400? Not so much.


Most Delica Star Wagons, or L300s, are imported from Japan and are right-hand-drive diesels. Because they’re offered with an insanely huge assortment of options, Delica owners are ensured a unique ride. From low- or high-roof versions to curved Crystal Lite models with multiple fixed sunroofs or basic, solid “tin tops,” customers could select a spacious and airy interior cabin or a function-over-form, lower-height roof.

Driver side door view of the white Mitsubishi Delica L300.

The popular, second-gen Star Wagon’s Mars Rover-like appearance includes antenna-styled side mirrors.


The rear view of the Mistubishi Delica L300 with a roof rack and ladder mounted to the rear hatch door.

Parts for diesel Delica vans can be hard to come by, including OE ladders, if the van isn’t initially equipped with one.


A white third-gen Mitsubishi Delica is parked in the sand. Driver sits on the right side of this right-hand drive vehicle.

The third-gen Delica is a great campervan platform. Customizable and cool, this 4×4 van is adventure-ready and fun.


A white Misubishi Delica van is parked along a dirt road with mountains in the background.

Athough not fast, Delica vans are fun to drive in a multitude of off-tarmac terrain. They’re easy to manuever and have exceptional visbility.


In addition to roof heights and styles, also available were multiple trim levels, various engine options and different bull bar configurations. The third-gen Star Wagons fell into early- and late-model vans. The 1986-through-1990 versions are considered early models. Starting in 1991, late-model versions got pop-out side windows instead of sliders and projector headlights instead of four sealed beams units. There are several other differences as well.

Driving Dynamics of The Star Wagon

Delica Star Wagons typically have two engine types when they’re imported to North America. The first is the common, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder 4D56 non-intercooled turbo-diesel engine, which produces approximately 86 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The second, less-popular 2.4-liter 4G64 four-cylinder gasoline engine generates 107 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. Two transmission types were also available: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

The Space Gear also upped the power, refined driving characteristics and increased overall comfort.

A green Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear L400 takes quick turns in the sand.

Beefy BFG KO2 all-terrain tires make quick work of loose sand and hard-packed terrain.


The inside view of the Mitsubishi Delica L400 with third row seats folded up towards the side and mid-row seats folded up towards the front. Sleeping gear is in the back to show how users can sleep on the floor.

The Delica Space Gear’s mid-row captain’s chairs push forward, allowing for quick sleeps on the floor. The rear bench seats fold against the windows.

Unlike in other vans, passengers sit on top of an L300 engine rather than residing behind it. It’s a funky, front-facing feeling. A cumbersome flip of the entire front seat platform and center console provides access to the power plant. It’s like sitting on the edge of a seesaw: Every movement feels exaggerated, because you’re not near the vehicle’s center. Hitting a bump can sometimes make it feel as if you’re going to fly through the windshield.

U.S. Newcomer: Delica Space Gear (or L400)

Newly available to the United States as of 2019 is the redesigned, kidney-bean-shaped Delica Space Gear, or L400. Now legally allowed to be imported into the United States, this more-traditional-looking passenger van ditched its mid-engine arrangement in favor of a front-mounted configuration, coupled with an actual hood.

The Space Gear also upped the power, refined driving characteristics and increased overall comfort.

Man works on engine bay of Mitsubishi Delica L400 Space Gear.

There’s a lot packed into the Delica Space Gear’s engine bay, making additions for cables and additional wires a challenge.


A rear quarter view from the driver side of a green Mitsubishi Delica van with a swing out bumper that holds the spare tire and water can.

Armed with a full-sized BFG KO2 all-terrain spare, Maxtrax and Wavian water container, the authors’ Delica Space Gear is ready for adventure.

However, the new body style lost its Mars-like Rover appearance. Still donning unibody construction, the L400 maintains a solid rear axle but switches out leaf springs for coils. The front suspension remains the same, with torsion bars. Braking ability also adapted: Older Delicas used drum brakes, but most new L400 variants showcase disc brakes—front and rear—including the Space Gear we now own.

The front end of a green Mitsubishi Delica van with an off-road front bumper, lights, and winch.

The authors’ Delica Space Gear is outfitted with a front Coastal Offroad bumper, WARN ZEON 8-S winch, and Lightforce ROK40 and Venom LED auxiliary driving lights.


The front seat of a right-hand drive Mitsubishi Delica L400 is seen with a gloved hand grabbing hand sanitizer from the pull out cup holder.

The Lilienthals arranged a fly-and-buy from Oregon to Florida and back as COVID initially started.

Keeping in mind that U.S. import rule, we’re able to purchase Space Gears that are, by the exact date they were produced, 25 years and older. While also offered in a variety of roof options and trim levels, which include the sought-after Chamonix and Jasper models, Space Gears can also be obtained as short- or long-wheel-based variations.

Mitsubishi Space Gear Convertibility

Similar to the Star Wagon L300, the newer Space Gear L400’s seating configuration includes two front seats and a middle row with either a bench seat (with an attached jump seat) or captain’s chairs. The middle row of both van types can be configured in a multitude of ways.

The rearmost seat design is where the “dueling” Delicas differ. The L300’s rear bench consists of a one-piece seat that can be sat in or, when folded flat with the middle row, makes a great makeshift platform for sleeping.

On the other hand, the rear seating of the L400s changed, compared to their predecessors. A bench seat still exists; however this two-part product can fold flat, then be split, lifted and stowed against the rear window, making perfect hideaway seats when oversized cargo takes precedence. (Pro tip: Both Star Wagons and Space Gears require headrests to be removed when folding seats flat for sleeping or stowing. The rearmost row of the L400 boasts two secret loops to hold the headrests when stowed. They’re hidden where the seat backs and bottoms connect.)

Engine And T-Case Enhancements

Although the Delica Star Wagon’s power plant ranges from a semi-glacial 86 hp to 107 hp, the Space Gear steps up the pace quite a bit. Several engine choices are offered, but the most common mills are a 2.8-liter turbodiesel or a 3.0-liter gasoline V-6. The 2.8-liter turbocharged, intercooled diesel (the 4M40) generates a peppy 140 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. The 3.0-liter 6G72 gasoline-powered V-6 engine produces an impressive 185 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque—more than double that of the L300’s 86-hp 4D56 four-cylinder diesel engine.

Driver hangs out the driver side door of a right-hand drive white Mitsubishi Delica van.

It’s hard not to smile when driving any Delica, because their appearance and demeanor make for interesting interactions with random onlookers.


The diesel Space Gear is offered with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. We opted for the rare stick shift version. However, if you’re into petrol power, the Space Gear’s V-6 comes only with the automatic.

The bubble-styled Space Gear comes with more-powerful and responsive engine options. In addition, its off-road capability is also enhanced: Gone is the basic, 4WD, two-speed transfer case. Instead, there’s an advanced Super Select T-case system featuring a locking center differential and viscous coupling system.

A land anchor is coupled with a winch to help pull a green Mitsubishi Delica van that is stuck in the sand dunes.

The WARN M8-S winch, when coupled with a Pull Pal land anchor, makes quick work when the vehicle is stuck in deep sand.


The Super Select T-case gives drivers four different driving modes: 2WD; 4WD high-range with an open center differential; 4WD high-range with a locked center differential; and 4WD low with a locked center differential. By offering an open center differential, Mitsubishi Space Gears have the ability to operate more like an AWD vehicle than a 4×4 when needed. L400 van owners can have amazing drivability in rain, snow or other types of terrain in which an AWD adventure rig would prevail.

Dueling Mitsubishi Delicas

Both Delicas are worth a look—whether you’re infatuated with the futuristic, Mars Rover look and interior simplicity of the older Delica Star Wagon L300 or you want more-modern amenities and power from the Delica Space Gear L400. With a plethora of trim levels, roof and engine choices, and funky colors to be had, why wouldn’t you want an interesting 4×4 van alternative that’ll catch everyone’s eye?

Mitsubishi Delicas offer a wide variety of camper van customization opportunities and solid drivability in off-tarmac terrain. In addition, they cost much less than many other 4WD van options out there.


By Andy Lillienthal

Yes, the Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon and Space Gear share the Delica name and suspension layout, but that’s about all they have in common. These vans drive as differently as they look.

The 1986-and-newer L300 Star Wagon is an older platform than the Space Gear. With a forward-control driving position and high seating location, maneuvers feel more exaggerated than those of the Space Gear, which has a traditional engine and transmission layout. The L300 feels a bit more nimble than the L400.

Both vehicles ride surprisingly well. However, the Star Wagon feels more top heavy than the Space Gear. Regardless, neither will carve up back roads at breakneck speeds.

Speaking of performance: Compared to modern power plants, the vans’ performances range from glacial to “kind of slow.” Star Wagons, with the 2.5-liter turbodiesel, are glacial compared to modern cars. Care needs to be taken merging and passing; however, they’ll cruise at 65 to 70 mph—their “happiest” speed. They’ll go faster, but rpms and exhaust gas temperatures (EGT) can get very high, thus shortening the life of the turbocharger and other components. The diesel Star Wagons aren’t happy going up hills on the highway and require downshifting. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself in the slow lane with the flashers on during ownership. Opting for the 2.4-liter gasoline engine will yield a somewhat peppier performance, but you’ll lose low-end torque.

Space Gears equipped with the intercooled 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine accelerate noticeably faster than their L300 siblings and easily cruise at 75 mph (as will the 3.0-liter V-6). They’re much more comfortable vehicles to drive in almost all respects, especially for long distances. Hills aren’t a problem, and you’ll typically leave L300s in the dust.

The Star Wagon’s boxy shape is the antithesis of aerodynamics. Throw on a roof rack, and it’s even worse. There’s lots of wind noise, which can be fatiguing on longer trips. Because the engine is under you, extra warmth or cold can draft from the engine lid during certain months. This isn’t an issue with the L400.

Off pavement, it’s a tossup. The L300 uses leaf springs in the back, whereas the L400 uses coils. However, the L400 does have more wheelbase but a bit less ground clearance. The suspension layouts are both the same, although the L400 does have more wheelbase. Both vehicles can usually accommodate a 30×9.5 tire without a lift. The Star Wagon has about 0.5 inch of extra ground clearance, which might be because it doesn’t utilize rack-and-pinion steering as does the Space Gear. However, the steering feel is more accurate on the Space Gear.

One more factor is the transfer case. The L300’s 2WD, 4H, 4L setup is a run-of-the-mill system. The L400’s Super Select system gives you the option of an open center differential, allowing you to use the 4WD on dry pavement, and it’s great on snowy or icy roads.

Both vehicles have limited-slip rear differential options. The biggest difference between the two comes in deep sand, where the Space Gear’s extra power helps the van climb dunes with much less effort.

Both vans have their pluses and minuses. However, both provide a driving experience unlike most other vehicles on the road.

A couple poses in front of their white Mitsubishi Delica van.

The Lilienthals’ first foray into right-hand drive 4×4 Delica life was a positive one— so much so that they purchased a second one.


1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon (L300)

ENGINE: 4D56 non-intercooled turbodiesel; 5-speed manual

SUSPENSION: Factory with solid rear axle and leaf springs; independent front with torsion bars

WHEELS & TIRES: Black 15×7 American Racing AR23 wheels, -6 offset; 30×9.50 Yokohama Geolandar A/T G015

EXTERIOR ACCESSORIES: BajaRack Toyota Land Cruiser 80 Series roof rack with BajaRack Maxtrax carrier, dual fuel can holder and spare tire mount; Two Scepter fuel cans; rear OE JDM ladder; custom winch mount with WARN M8-S winch; Epic 1.5 fairlead; Epic Sidewinder hook replacement

INTERIOR ACCESSORIES: Rear bench seat removed; Pioneer stereo; ARB 47-quart Classic Series II refrigerator with ARB hardwiring; custom-made sleeping platform; custom-made curtains with 3D-printed sliders; tinted windows

1994 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear (L400)

ENGINE: 4M40 turbocharged and intercooled turbo-diesel; 5-speed manual

SUSPENSION: Factory with solid rear axle and coil springs; independent front with torsion bars

WHEELS & TIRES: 15×7 steel wheels +6 offset; 30×9.50 BF Goodrich K02 A/T

EXTERIOR ACCESSORIES: Coastal Offroad front winch bumper with bull bar; Lightforce Venom LED driving light; Lightforce ROK40 flood lights; WARN ZEON 8-S winch; WARN Epic hook; Coastal Offroad rear bumper with swing-away tire carrier and fuel can holder; Wavian water can; two MKII FJ Red Maxtrax recovery boards; 125L Long Range Automotive long-range replacement fuel tank

INTERIOR ACCESSORIES: Kenwood stereo; Infinity Reference speakers; tinted windows; factory electric curtains; ARB ZERO 73-quart refrigerator with ARB hardwiring



EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the print version of Tread July/August 2021.

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