The Subaru Sambar Is a Small but Mighty Kei Van

The Subaru Sambar was introduced in 1960 at the Tokyo Motor Show. It still remains in production today and adheres to the Kei vehicle tax class. Because of this, the Sambar is a small van but it does offer some notable capability and practicality. Plus, like many Kei cars, it is starting to see imports coming from Japan to the United States. This makes sense, considering that van life has become extremely popular in recent years. So, what’s the deal with the Subaru Sambar, and can you buy one in the US?

Does Subaru still make the Sambar?

A Subaru Sambar microvan represents a small Kei car that can potentially be imported to the United States.
Subaru Sambar | TTTNIS

Production of the Subaru Sambar started in 1961 and it still continues to this day. This Kei car is currently in its eighth generation and is available as both a truck and a van depending on the buyer’s needs. A major change compared to prior generations is that the engine now sits in the front of the vehicle instead of in the rear. The Sambar still comes standard with rear-wheel drive but on-demand four-wheel drive is available as needed.

It is worth noting that modern Sambar models do not meet the 25-year requirement for importing to the United States. So buyers likely need to look at something like the fifth generation or prior if they are interested in importing a Kei car. 

Is the Subaru Sambar reliable?

In terms of reliability, the Sambar is decent enough. Over the years it has garnered praise for its durability and affordability. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that Subaru is still producing this microvan.

Recently, influential car reviewer Doug Demuro was able to get behind the wheel of an imported Subaru Sambar and he had some nice things to say about it. Sure it may be underpowered, but no one is buying a Sambar to take it to track day. You can catch his Youtube review of the Sambar below.

How much does the Subaru Sambar cost?

Wearing rally paint and hauling a cow statue, the Subaru Sambar is a small, yet capable Kei car.
Subaru Sambar | Ganthaler

Pricing of the Sambar can vary, but imported models of this Kei microvan typically stay under $10,000. And frankly, that’s a pretty affordable price to get behind the wheel of a small van or pickup truck. It is important to remember that this vehicle was designed to handle city life in Japan, so it may not feel at home on American roads. Specifically for highway driving, but in terms of camping and other low-speed adventures, the Sambar will certainly stand out. 

It appears that van versions of the Sambar command a higher price than the pickup. But that tracks considering that imported Japanese vans are having their time in the spotlight. Where some van owners spend thousands setting up their vehicles to handle sleeping needs, the Sambar microvan actually comes standard with seats that fold flat. Essentially turning them into a small mattress. 

If you are interested in buying an old Subaru Sambar, you can either purchase one from the many JDM importers. Or, you can opt to import one yourself, although that will be more work.

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