For a company that barely seems to have any real presence in America, Mitsubishi sure has a nostalgic hit on its hands with the classic Delica.
Ask any person where they think the Delica was sold when new and you’ll get a host of guesses. Mexico, Canada, overseas, and even America will be mentioned by the unknowing, but what’s totally shocking is just how these little delivery cars have come to be incredibly popular recently. The way Mitsubishi styled and built the Delica made it a sales machine throughout the world, but truthfully it’s become even more desirable to those in the USA today. As a result, we felt it would be good to take a deeper dive into the Delica and what really makes it perhaps the most hyped Mitsubishi in America next to the discontinued Lancer.
While the subject of our review today focuses on a later Delica, the model actually was released in 1968. Designed as a delivery car (where the Delica gets its name), it was originally meant to be used by owners who needed to move cargo all over the city. In 1982, Mitsubishi added four-wheel-drive to the Delica and it went from simply being a delivery vehicle, to a seriously capable off-roader.
That capability attracted even more buyers, but as their vehicles started to age, consumers were eager to trade these vans in and upgrade. While the first Delica was only ever sold in Asia and Australia, the 1986 model was also sold in North America as the Mitsubishi Wagon or Van depending on configuration, but the JDM models are highly sought after thanks to additional extra options and features not found in USDM versions. In addition, USDM models were rear-wheel-drive only and only came with a gasoline motor. JDM models are prized not only for the two most popular diesel engines, but also their 4WD prowess.
To that end, Canadian buyers started snatching up Mitsubishi Delicas as soon as the 15-year import law time limit expired and a great many found their way to our neighbor in the north. Known for its dependable powertrain and rugged off-road capability, the Delica has proven itself during even the worst of Canadian winters and is a favorite among postal workers that need a functional right hand drive off-roader with room for packages. Now that many are old enough to be imported here to the states, they’ve become incredibly popular as a reliable and charming off-road adventure vehicle.
At the heart of the JDM Delica lies either a turbocharged diesel or an intercooled turbocharged diesel. We’d suggest the latter, making 140ish horsepower and somewhere around 220 lb-ft of torque which is enough to make it a capable city vehicle and provides ample grunt to get up over most trails. Where it lacks energy is at high speeds. Go anywhere with a 65mph speed limit and prepare to feel like you’re slowing everyone down. That’s of course, because you are. But to spend your time on highways in the Delica is like taking a Hummer to a drag strip, sure you can do it, but that’s not why it exists.
Where the Delica shines is exactly where it was meant to shine, in a congested cityscape or out in the wilderness far from anyone but those you brought with you. Around town the Delica is comfortable. The middle seats actually swivel allowing passengers to sit facing those in the third row. All 6 seats are trimmed in cloth, are supportive, and well made. The interior trim isn’t particularly fetching, but most everything in here still works including the dual zone climate control. If you’re in the market for a quirky way to get around a city and you have a family, there might not be a better value proposition on the market today. Of course, the Delica will never be fast, it will never handle on rails, but it’s not meant to. In fact, it’s a bit like an Alaskan Husky.
Many of us have heard of the idea that dogs belonging to the working breed class are happier and more emotionally healthy when they’re given a job to do. Well, the Delica might not be a living and breathing thing, but take it off-road and it certainly seems to come to life. Approach and departure angles are outstanding and the small but mighty engine happily revs its heart out to a 4700 rpm redline.
The “Super Select” AWD seems like it’s been chomping at the bit to get back out into the wilderness and get a little dirty. At first the tall ride height of the Delica might put off some who would otherwise consider taking this van through rivers and over steep climbs. The cab-over design ensures a low center of gravity, so even on the steepest of hills the Delica provides ample confidence both in way it feels and the way it performs. In fact, it’s at these low speeds going over and through obstacles that it’s easy to see why so many are clamoring for the Delica. Carrying a family or group of friends through brush has never been so fun or looked so cool.
Today it’s tough to find a vehicle that’s this capable, this quirky, this reliable, and this easy to drive in the city or on a rocky off-road trail. The Delica offers all of that without being wildly expensive. It’s even pretty easy to find parts for it. Over the last year we’ve seen outdoor activities become far more popular as people search for ways to get out of the house. Camping, off-roading, or trail driving are just more ways to accomplish that goal. The Delica is an odd looking vehicle to be sure, but for those who want all it offers, the barrier to entry is incredibly low and the payoff is taller than the van is from the surface of the road.