Is the Earliest Mitsubishi Delica the Best?

Buying an off-road vehicle is often a balancing act. Newer vehicles tend to be safer, with more technology to simplify the experience. However, there’s a reason many overlanders tend to go old-school: less technology means fewer things to go wrong. Older off-roaders, such as the Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma, also offer similar performance as their newer versions at a fraction of the price. Then again, iconic off-roaders like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Mercedes G-Class sometimes got better as they evolved. So, when it comes to something like the Mitsubishi Delica, is it better to buy older, or newer?

The Mitsubishi Delica L300

1992 Mitsubishi Delica
1992 Mitsubishi Delica | Toprank Importers

The 3rd-gen (1986-1993) Mitsubishi Delica L300 has been eligible for US importation for several years now. Much like 90s Mitsubishi SUVs, L300 Delicas have started gaining an appreciative audience. Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire even bought one.

These vans do have a lot to offer. The four-wheel drive models were built on a modified version of the Pajero chassis, and they had a proper two-speed transfer case. They can seat 7, or fold their seats down for cargo space. Higher-level trims offered features like limited-slip rear differentials, digital temperature gauges, a refrigerator box, and even roof skylights.

1991 Mitsubishi Delica Super Exceed L300 4x4 diesel
1991 Mitsubishi Delica Super Exceed L300 4×4 diesel | Bring a Trailer

The L300 Mitsubishi Delica, however, does have some known issues. Most are based on the turbodiesel models, which are known to overheat, especially if drivers run them hard. This, because of the lack of power, can happen fairly easily. Overheating causes the cylinder heads to crack, and head gaskets to fail, requiring extensive engine repair. Also, the Mitsubishi turbos on the L300 are known to fail early; one forum user claims in as little as 40,000 miles.

1992 Mitsubishi Delica turbodiesel engine
1992 Mitsubishi Delica turbodiesel engine | Toprank Importers

In addition, the L300 Delica has a few other design quirks. For example, the engine is in the middle—and you access it from inside the van. Crankshaft Culture also notes that the front seat is directly over the front axle, meaning anyone sitting there feels road bumps more severely. Finally, the Delica is a fairly tall and narrow off-road vehicle: it’s not necessarily any more prone to tipping than other vehicles like it, but it nevertheless has a high center of gravity.

The Mitsubishi Delica L400

1994 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear
1994 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear | Duncan Imports

The 4th-gen (1994-2007) Mitsubishi Delica, the L400, has only just begun to be imported into the US. Elsewhere, however, the L400 has also become a popular overlanding vehicle. It doesn’t have the L300’s angular styling, and it no longer uses a Pajero-based separate chassis. However, it still uses a Pajero/Montero drivetrain, it still has 4WD with 2Hi/4Hi/4Lo, and it can still go off-road. And, in many ways, the L400 Delica is an improvement on the L300.

The 4WD system was improved with a center-locking differential, according to Overland Way. Users on the r/Delica sub-Reddit concur that the L400’s 4WD system is superior to the L300’s.  Also, on-road handling was improved with electronically-controlled suspension. ECS was fitted to several other Mitsubishi vehicles, and Singletrack World forum users note it does appreciable tighten-up the Delica’s handling. Longer wheelbase models do have less-extreme approach and departure angles, as the Jeep Gladiator has compared to the Wrangler, though.

1994 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear interior roof
1994 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear interior roof | Duncan Imports

The front seats are now behind the front axle, making the ride more comfortable. Certain trims even offered heated seats. The engine is now at the front, away from the cabin. And speaking of the engine, Mitsubishi gave the L400 Delica new ones.

L400 engines

The 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder, aka the ‘4M40’, is widely considered a significant step-up from the 4D56 in the L300 Delica. Singletrack World forum users call the 4M40 “bulletproof”. Delica owner forum users report that it doesn’t overheat like the 4D56, and parts are generally easier to find. It’s also more powerful than the outgoing diesel.

The only issue with this engine, according to Honest John Classics, is the tendency for 1994-1996 models to have leaky pump seals. But this is due to low-sulfur diesel fuel, according to Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and is common in older diesel engines. The solution is to simply swap out the seals for newer ones.

The L400 Delica’s 3.0-liter gasoline V6 is from the contemporary Montero/Pajero. We’ve previously noted this engine’s problems in the Montero, namely with failing oxygen sensors and valve stem leaks. The latter can be avoided by buying a 24-valve V6 model, rather than the 12-valve version: according to Expedition Portal forum users, the spark plug position is the quickest way to differentiate between the two. The oxygen sensor issue is just a matter of installing new parts.

Also, as of this writing, only 1994 and 1995 L400 Mitsubishi Delicas are eligible for US importation. These avoid the loose crankshaft pulley bolt issue that caused 1997-1999 Monteros to be recalled. Furthermore, Overland Way reports that 1996 and earlier L400s still use a simplified electronics system.

Which is the better buy?

Availability for Mitsubishi Delicas in the US is still somewhat limited. So, if you want one, there’s nothing wrong with going with an L300, provided you understand its limitations. It also has that stand-out angular styling.

However, if you really want a good off-road Japanese van, the L400 Delica is better in almost every way. It’s more comfortable, more powerful, and just as, if not more, reliable and capable. And examples are also roughly the same price as L300s.

It turns out, then, that the earliest Mitsubishi Delica isn’t actually the best.

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