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Outer Space Delica

The view from Mitsubishi's Delica Space Gear 4WD

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Extremely high driving position
  • Oodles of torque
  • 'Proper' 4WD
  • Well equipped
  • Wonderfully spacious, practical and adaptable
  • Kinda weird - but cool!
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Here’s a vehicle that’ll change your perspective – literally! The Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear 4WD delivers such a high driving position you’ll think you’re looking down on Earth from afar. The altered perspective takes a while to get used to – traffic lights are almost eye level, tailgaters are virtually invisible due to the limited rearward line of sight and things look, well, different. It’s slightly bizarre to have a Toyota Prado pull alongside and think its some kind of kiddie toy off-roader!

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The Space Gear is quite a popular Japanese import vehicle. And for good reason – its combination of turbo diesel torque and fuel economy, genuine off-road potential, abundant space and trick features make it unique. Its cool-ness is right up there with a Toyota Hi-Ace Van Fan...

Like all one-box body designs, the Space Gear offers oodles of interior space. Our high-spec Exceed model was a seven seater with each seating position offering abundant space to sprawl. There’s also enough headroom to walk through the cabin without breaking your back.

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Rear passengers are pampered with dedicated HVAC controls and overhead ventilation outlets, generous lighting and plenty of storage pockets. Our test car was the ‘crystal roof’ version which gives large glass areas above the heads of the centre and rear row outboard passengers. These miniature sunroofs have electrically deployed trim blinds – very neat!

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Front occupants also score a pop-up glass sunroof together with accessories such as an inclinometer, inside/outside temperature display and battery voltage display. Note that our test car was equipped with dual batteries – we can’t be sure if this is a factory fitment or aftermarket. The rest of the dashboard is pretty conventional – simple and logically arranged. There were no airbags in our 1994 model.

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At around 2000kg, the Space Gear 4WD is no featherweight and it might seem that its 92kW max output is some kind of bad joke. Sure, the Space Gear would struggle lugging a load uphill against a headwind, but in normal driving its strong torque makes it feel at least respectable. With 294Nm at 2000 rpm, the turbo diesel Space Gear can keep pace with traffic without needing to give it a big rev. The engine is Mitsubishi’s 4M40 which is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder SOHC design with an air-to-air intercooled turbocharger.

Our test vehicle was equipped with a four-speed auto trans that did a good job keeping the turbo diesel in its powerband while ensuring smooth shifts. The gear selector is mounted on the steering column to maintain walk-through access to the rear of the cabin. An overdrive lockout button can be found on the end of the selector handle.

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The Space Gear’s all-paw driveline is typical of many traditional off-roaders. A lever on the floor lets you select from high-range 2WD (2H), constant AWD (4H), high-range AWD with centre diff lock (4HLc) and low-range AWD with centre diff lock (4LLc). This combines with abundant ground clearance and impressive entry and departure angles, making the Space Gear a true go-anywhere getaway machine – not just another fake... Fuel tank capacity is 75 litres, giving the turbo diesel a decent touring range.

On the road, the Space Gear has relatively slow on-centre steering response (partly because of its high-profile tyres) but you always feel in control and can feel what the chassis is doing. The driver is also seated slightly rearward compared to earlier Delica models – this changes seat-of-the-pants handling feel and you don’t feel as exposed to a front-end collision. The Space Gear has a lot of body roll and understeer – possibly due to the relatively low-grade tyres fitted to our test vehicle. Perched on a five-link coil sprung rear-end and double wishbone torsion bar spring front-end, the Space Gear rides comfortably with relatively little judder (a common trait in most large 4WDs) but the dampers in our test vehicle felt inadequate over large undulations. Braking is via four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front) and optional ABS.

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The Space Gear body is essentially the same as the locally delivered L400 Mitsubishi Express with a sliding door on the left side and a lift-up tailgate. The crystal roof in our test car is a Japanese market exclusive and the presence of the 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine is identified by the small bonnet scoop. Our test car was also equipped with alloy wheels, a factory (option?) bull bar and fog lights and an aftermarket rear ladder. Side steps were also fitted but the high-riding Space Gear is quite difficult to step in and out of – the A-pillar mounted grab-handle is essential to haul yourself up and in.

Supplied by Adelaide Japanese Imports, this particular Space Gear 2.8-litre turbo diesel Exceed Crystal Roof had 172,000km on the odometer but presented well aside from a crack in the dashboard. With all necessary compliance work carried out and registration provided, this 1994 vehicle is being offered at around AUD$13,750. Most body and interior parts are widely available (the L400 series Delica/Express was sold in Australia) and you’ll find other similarities with the Pajero. When buying, look for rust around the sunroofs and under-body (particularly in vehicles from the snowy areas of Japan), deteriorated radiator header tanks, air conditioning problems and be aware that the injector pump can fail in diesels.

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Note there are many versions of the Delica – a long wheelbase, eight seater, 2WD, petrol and diesel engines and many different spec levels with climate control and electronically-controlled suspension. If you’re interested, you’ll find plenty of other enthusiastic owners and a strong information/parts base – so why not change your perspective on the road?


Adelaide Japanese Imports +61 8 8369 1156

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