Overlanding

Take a right-hand drive JDM minivan into Death Valley? Sure, why not?!

When you're looking for a great overlanding vehicle, you don't always have to go traditional too ensure a great time.

Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

Trekking through California's Death Valley on paved roads in a family car isn't as treacherous as it might have been a generation ago. Modern technology has made air conditioning and engine cooling much more trustworthy.

Venture off of the scorching pavement and the Great Basin Desert can exact a toll upon human and machine alike. A properly prepared vehicle outfitted with skilled, resourceful drivers is a must.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon Andy Lilienthal drives the Space Tractor through California.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

There are precious few vehicles sold in the U.S. market that can handle the sort of overlanding that Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal want to do. That's why they chose to tackle the lowest point in North America with a right-hand drive minivan that was never sold in the U.S.

Indeed, the 1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon (nicknamed by the couple as the "Space Tractor" for the sci-fi inspired styling) may look like a van that was briefly sold Stateside – its L300 chassis was sold here as the creatively named Mitsubishi Wagon. While the US market model was rear-wheel drive and powered by a four-cylinder gas engine, in Japan the Delica was offered with myriad trims and drivetrain options.

For Andy, the Delica obsession started in New Zealand, where he'd driven one for a week – "I knew I had to have one at some point," he said. Six months later, he found an importer with this Delica in stock rather close to his work. The van was lightly rusted making the original asking price too high. The van sat and the price sank to an acceptable price for both parties - $8,750.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The Space Tractor sits preparing to take on Death Valley below.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

The Lilienthal's Delica Star Wagon rolled off the line with a 2.5-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that powers all four wheels via a five-speed manual transmission and a two-speed transfer case. When pushing a vehicle far from what most would consider civilization, chasing gremlins caused by haphazard engine modifications can be dangerous. The Lilienthals kept the Space Tractor's engine completely stock, in order to deliver "maximum reliability." Stock doesn't mean the original parts, however – all of the consumables under the hood have been replaced, including the glow plugs, and a strict regimen of oil and filter changes have kept the 90-horsepower oil-burning power plant churning like new.

Ninety horsepower is all that the Space Tractor has on tap to motivate its blunt body down the road. The Lilienthals limit the Delica to 65 mph. "It'd go faster, but just wasn't happy," Andy shared. The couple simply got used to the slow lane, especially in those places with higher freeway speed limits. They found – by necessity, of course – that life in the right lane is simply less stressful.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon Andy Lilienthal sits under the Space Tractor's ARB awning at Red Rock campground.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

Designed for the narrow streets of Japan, the Delica didn't arrive on U.S. showroom floors ready to take the kind of punishment a typical overlanding journey can inflict. The Lilienthals made upgrades. Yokohama all-terrain tires give significantly better traction and sidewall protection from sharp stones. An ARB awning turns a parking spot into a shady picnic area. A BajaRack roof rack gives plenty of extra stowage space. The couple even added custom curtains to make sleeping a bit more comfortable and private.

Overlanding holds a special place in the hearts of the Lilienthals, who met on a road trip. For them, it's a peek back to the days when families almost exclusively traveled cross-country in cars. "Traveling this way gets you away from the masses … [to see things] that haven't been invaded by scads of tourists," said Andy.

They haven't just taken the Space Tractor to Death Valley. Mercedes was partial to camping in California's Alabama Hills, surrounded by "[r]ounded terra-cotta colored boulders and an intricate web of dirt trails." Andy, on the other hand, recalled the treacherous crawl down Lippincott Mine Road in Death Valley, an 8.2-mile long trail with extremely rough terrain – without the extra vehicle preparation they'd add later. No winch, no extra fuel. "The van would go up on three wheels on occasion as we'd traverse bigger rocks and washouts," Andy said.

As much fun as it is, the Space Tractor is only a temporary addition to the Lilienthal's garage. They bought the van as a test to see if they wanted to live with this type of vehicle. While the duo has found that this is exactly what they want, they also came to the realization that the van has some corrosion that will be expensive to fix.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The interior of the model is well-kept.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

So they decided to sell. Mercedes said that in the three years they've had the Space Tractor, the market has become stronger. $11,000 seems to be the entry price, she said, "We've seen several priced recently around $15-16k, and they are all bone stock."

In their time with the Delica, the Lilienthals found themselves interacting with two new automotive subcultures: Japanese domestic market (JDM) fans of anything forbidden fruit from The Land of the Rising Sun, and van fanatics. Beyond these two subsets, the off-road community further welcomed them with curiosity about their unusual rig.

1989 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon The Lillienthals have taken the van to Alabama Hills, California.Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

After quickly selling the Space Tractor, the Lilienthals purchased their next rig, a 1994 Mitsubishia Delcia L400 Space Gear, which comes with a more powerful diesel engine than the Space Tractor, and a manual transmission.

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Larger tires headline the upgrades.

Jeep

The off-road wars are heating up. This year alone, we've seen the new Ford Bronco, Rivian's R1T electric pickup truck, new off-road models of the Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, and Chevrolet Silverado, and more rugged versions of the Subaru Outback and Forester. Jeep, already deep in the game, doesn't need to do much to bolster its off-road offering, but the brand is doing just that for 2022. The automaker is offering a new Xtreme Recon Package for the Wrangler Willys SUV, which brings more capability and style to the boxy off-roader.

Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package The package can be ordered for Wrangler Willys models later this year. Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package

Beyond beefy 35-inch tires tires, the Wrangler Willys with Xtreme Recon Package gets a 1.5-inch factory lift, a 4.56:1 axle ratio, 17-inch wheels and swing gate reinforcement. Jeep says those improvements give the Willys best-in-class approach and departure angles, ground clearance, and water fording capability. Approach angle improves to 47.4 degrees, breakover angle improves to 26.7 degrees, and departure angle jumps to 40.4 degrees. The extra ride height also pushes ground clearance to 12.9 inches and the water fording depth to 33.6 inches.

The package's 35-inch tires make the Willys Jeep's third Wrangler model with hardcore rolling stock. It joins the Wrangler Rubicon and Wrangler Rubicon 392 in the 35-inch club, all of which can be equipped with the tires directly from the factory.

Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package A factory lift helps improve ground clearance and capability.Jeep

The Xtreme Recon Package can be ordered starting in October and will be available for the Jeep Wrangler Willys with 3.6-liter eTorque engine. The package adds $3,995 to the Wrangler Willys' price tag, which brings the total starting price to $40,930, including a $1,495 destination charge.

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New AWD performance car

The Subaru WRX is all-new for 2022

The new WRX's body cladding is already stirring up controversy.

Subaru

The Subaru WRX is a rally-bred performance car that offers a unique mix of rowdy all-wheel drive fun, a value price, and youthful styling. The car is long overdue for an update, though, and Subaru is doing just that for the 2022 model year. The fifth-generation WRX is all-new, and features a more powerful engine, along with several go-fast upgrades.

2022 Subaru WRX Both a manual and an automatic transmission will be offered.Subaru

A new GT trim joins the WRX lineup for 2022. It features a new automatic transmission, adaptive dampers, and drive mode selections. With various customization options available to the driver, the system offers up to 430 different settings combinations. The GT's interior adds Recaro seats wrapped in Ultrasuede with red stitching. The GT also gets exclusive 18-inch wheels.

Though still a Boxer engine, the 2022 WRX's powerplant is new and more powerful than before. It delivers 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, as well as a broader torque curve. Subaru says that the larger engine plus an electronically controlled turbo wastegate and air bypass valves improve responsiveness and acceleration.

2022 Subaru WRX A larger 11.6-inch infotainment screen is on board. Subaru

All WRX models come with Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel drive system and active torque vectoring, which can shift power to individual wheels that need the most traction. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a new Subaru Performance Transmission is available, which features faster shifts and other features to improve performance.

The 2022 WRX also gets a tech upgrade that brings a large 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen. It runs Subaru Starlink infotainment, handles HVAC and vehicle controls, and offers split-screen functionality for two apps to run simultaneously. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Bluetooth, SiriusXM radio, and HD radio. An upgraded version of the system also offers navigation with three years of free map updates.

2022 Subaru WRX Subaru will offer a new GT trim with upgraded suspension and finishes.Subaru

As it has done with many of its other vehicles, Subaru is equipping every WRX with its EyeSight suite of advanced driver aids. The packge includes lane departure prevention, adaptive cruise control with lane centering, and more. A new available automatic emergency steering system works with the car's pre-collision braking feature to help avoid collisions at speeds under 50 mph.

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