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An Off-Road Minivan Alternative to Fight Subarus & Other Rugged CUVs: The Mitsubishi Delica D:5 is What America Needs

While in Japan earlier this year, I spent lots of time, as I often do, car-spotting on the streets, highways and garages in around Tokyo. For me it’s a fun way not only to spot cool cars, but to pick up on trends and get an eye for what’s cool.

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 Off-Roading

And, not unlike America, ruggedized CUVs and crossovers are pretty hot in Japan right now. Not surprisingly, their owners like to modify them.

Subaru Crosstrek on Nitto Nomad Grappler

Big In Japan, So How About Here?

But along with the sightings of lifted RAV4s, Subarus and other Japan-market CUVs, I noticed a lot of “off-road style” Mitsubishi minivans roaming the streets.

Toyota RAV4 Prime on Nitto Nomad Grappler

I’m talking about the Mitsubishi Delica D:5 — a minivan that’s a bit smaller than the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and other “minivans” sold in America.

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 Side View

If the name “Delica” sounds familiar, you may have seen some of the old-school 4x4 Delica vans imported to America once they were over 25-years old. But the modern one is pretty cool too.

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 Rear 3/4

The current D:5 is just one of many smaller minivans offered in the Japanese domestic market, but thanks to its available, but thanks to its “AWC” 4WD system, it’s especially popular among the outdoorsy set. And in many ways is a cross between a normal minivan and SUV.

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 in Tokyo

That means it also has a strong aftermarket behind it. We’re talking lift kits, lighting and roof racks, skid plates, and of course wheels and all-terrain tires. Basically anything an enthusiast might do to an Outback or Crosstrek, they are doing to these AWD minivans.

Subaru Outback on Nitto Nomad Grappler

A Cheaper, Smaller Sprinter Alternative?

Naturally, I couldn’t help but think how cool it would be if Mitsubishi offered the Delica in America and how it'd instantly become one of the most unique “soft-roaders” on the market.

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 Off-Road Build

Of course the idea of a van that can go off-road isn’t new. The market for ruggedized Sprinters and Econoline vans shows that there’s certainly a demand for spacious, boxy rigs that can handle trails and camping expeditions.

Ford Econoline on Nitto Recon Grappler

The Delica D:5 is a little bit like those vans, but a lot cheaper to buy and a lot cheaper to drive everyday. It may not be as spacious inside as an Econoline or Sprinter, but it should have more than enough room for families with a couple kids. 

Mitsubishi Delica D:5 Interior

In Japan most Delica D:5s are equipped with turbodiesel engines, but the platform it uses can accept both normal gasoline engines and even hybrid setups, both of which would be preferred in the American market.

Delica D:5 Aftermarket Build

Would it be “easy” for Mitsubishi to federalize the Delica so it could be sold in the here? Probably not. There’s a lot more to it than just doing a left-hand-drive version and calling it a day. It has to meet emissions standards, crash standards and so on. And Mitsubishi doesn’t have the resources of larger Japanese car companies.

Delica D:5 in Tokyo

Something to Be Excited About

But if they could do it, they would instantly have a unique, practical and cool offering that has no real competition. And with Mitsubishi, like most other brands, working on the pivot towards electrification, the Delica could help with that as well.

Delica D:5 White and Silver

Mitsubishi already imports the Outlander PHEV to America from Japan, and it’s not a stretch to think a similar plug-in hybrid, 4WD drivetrain could be adapted for use in the Delica.

Outlander PHEV Engine Bay

As a once-beloved brand known for cool 4x4s and the beloved Lanver Evolution, it’s hard to deny Mitsubishi has lost its sizzle for enthusiasts.

Lancer Evolution X Red

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the CUVs Mitsubishi currently sells in the US, and I think the Outlander PHEV is an underrated player in the segment. But there’s also nothing very unique or exciting about their lineup. Could a Delica D:5 (or next-generation D:6?) be the thing to get new buyers into Mitsubishi showrooms.

Delica D:5 Front View

An American market version of the Delica could be just the ticket help to turn things around for a brand that’s been struggling to find an identity in recent years.

Here’s hoping someone at Mitsubishi shares my view...

  • Until we get something like the Delica, a lifted AWD Toyota Sienna might be the next best option for Americans who want a more rugged minivan.
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