Whether it’s for #vanlife or overlanding, the Mitsubishi Delica is a good SUV alternative. With a chassis and drivetrain taken in part from the Pajero/Montero SUV, it’s a genuine four-wheel drive off-roader. However, some earlier models can have some engine issues. Luckily, the Mitsubishi Delica isn’t the only Japanese non-kei van available. It’s not even the only van built for off-roading.
Japanese van alternatives to the Mitsubishi Delica
One popular Mitsubishi Delica van alternative is the Toyota HiAce. Like the Delica, quite a few of these vans were fitted with 4WD and transfer cases. And these vans can genuinely go off-roading, as Vanlife Northwest demonstrated.
The HiAce was actually the top-spec version, with features like front and rear A/C glass skylights and a fridge/freezer box. The HiAce also came with electronically-controlled suspension, similar to some high-end Delicas. The Toyota was also mid-engined like the Mitsubishi. There were also some stripped-down versions, like the LiteAce. But even the LiteAce’s seats could swivel and fold to make a makeshift bed.
There’s also the Mazda Bongo, which was also sold as the Nissan Vanette, or as it was known in the US, the Nissan Van. Like the Delica and HiAce, it has 4WD with transfer case, allowing for high and low range. Some versions, Bonsai Rides reports, even offered a built-in pop-up rooftop, something neither the HiAce or Delica offered. However, TZ-UK forum users claim the Bongo is rather small compared to the HiAce and Delica. In addition, Autoweek reports that Nissan had to buy back Vans and crush them because of overheating issues that multiple recalls couldn’t fix.
But not every Mitsubishi Delica van alternative comes from Japan.
European Mitsubishi Delica van alternative: Volkswagen Syncro
The Volkswagen Vanagon is arguably the poster children of the #vanlife movement. And although Outside Magazine criticized some Vanagon owners for sticking to paved roads, there’s at least one variant that can venture onto dirt and gravel. That’s the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro.
As Motor Trend described, the VW Syncro doesn’t have 4WD. Instead, it has an AWD system designed by Steyr-Puch, the Austrian firm that designed and still builds the Mercedes G-Class. But these vans can and do off-road, some even rock-crawling in terrain better-suited to Jeeps. This is thanks to locking rear and front differentials, something the Delica didn’t offer (it only had a limited-slip rear differential). The Vanagon Syncro is also roomier inside than the Delica.
However, forum users on Expedition Portal note that the VW Syncro has independent front and rear suspension, unlike the Delica. While that does translate to a smoother ride on pavement, it does somewhat limit the Syncro’s off-roading capabilities. Users on The Samba, a VW owner forum, report that many ex-Syncro owners rate the Delica as the better off-roader.
In addition, operating a VW Vanagon Syncro can get expensive. Partially, that’s because Syncro parts are more expensive than Delica parts and more difficult to obtain. It’s also because VW Syncros aren’t exactly reliable. Expedition Portal reports one overland-prepped Syncro went through eight fuel pumps in a year, and hardly went a week without something breaking.
Which are worth considering?
According to Singletrack World and Piston Heads forum users, the Toyota HiAce and Mazda Bongo aren’t really as good as the Mitsubishi Delica when it comes to off-roading. They can handle muddy roads and such, but the Delica can venture further into the forest.
However, if you don’t plan on extensive off-roading, the Toyota HiAce is still a capable campervan. Prices are comparable to the Delica’s. The most expensive HiAces can sell for up to $20k-$22k, according to Bring a Trailer and Vanlife Northwest. But examples can be found on BaT for around $7000.
In terms of off-roading vans, the VW Vanagon Syncro is a closer true Mitsubishi Delica van alternative. Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire described it as such. But he also argued that the Delica was in some ways the better vehicle, despite the VW being more recognizable.
The Syncro does have more room, better handling, and locking differentials, but it’s less reliable than the Delica. It’s also significantly more expensive: one sold on BaT in 2018 for $42,000. A mildly-modified L400 Delica would be significantly cheaper, and just as refined. Even cheaper Syncros, which have sold for $20k-$25k, are more expensive than an L400.
In short, if you want a van for travel and camping that can do some mild-to-medium off-roading, the Toyota HiAce makes a great Mitsubishi Delica alternative. But while the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro can properly keep pace with the Delica off-road, it might cost more in the long run.
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