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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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Torsus Terrastorm will provide off-roadinng capability in a short bus format.

Photo courtesy of Torsus

Torsus made headlines earlier this year when it unveiled the world's first heavy-duty 4x4 bus. The Praetorian is a modern engineering marvel - made to go pretty much anywhere and take a group of people with it. Now, the company is expanding their roster with a new model.

The Torsus Terrastorm is a heavy-duty off-road capable 4x4 short bus.

2021 Torsus Terrastorm The Terrastorm takes the notion of a traditional short bus up a notch.Photo courtesy of Torsus

"At Torsus, we are breaking new ground by designing, developing and manufacturing the world's toughest off-road buses," said Vakhtang Dzhukashvili, founder and CEO of Torsus. "In the all-new Terrastorm we signal our ambition to set new standards in the heavy-duty 4x4 minibus market across some of the toughest industries known to man. We built Torsus to be a trailblazer and redefine the way people think about commercial vehicles, and the Torsus Terrastorm is the next step on our journey to make this reality."

It's built on a Volkswagen Crafter 4Motion chassis that has been upgraded to feature a more robust suspension.

Torsus says that new EURO VI (diesel) engines replace the van's traditional 2.0-liter TDI engine. Torsus has shoed the van with BF Goodrich tires. It also has a ladder and spare tire out back, and a brush guard up front.

The Crafter chassis is capable of supporting a three- to five-ton van. This makes it a model able to be used for conversion to an ambulance or off-road rescue vehicle, or, perhaps, an adventure-ready tour bus.

2021 Torsus Terrastorm The model rides on BF Goodrich tires.Photo courtesy of Torsus

Torsus will offer the model in a variety of configurations.

More information about the Torsus Terrastorm will be revealed later this month. Sales will start in Q3.

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The Subaru Crosstrek has been refreshed for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

Long beloved for its zippy drivability and spacious cargo area, the Subaru Crosstrek is also just underpowered enough for some drivers to make it a non-starter. The automaker is now offering a 2.5-liter four-cylinder option for the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek.

Buyers can choose the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque or the 2.5-liter that is shared with the Forester and gets 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek The car is mostly unchanged at the rear compared to the 2020 model and still just as capable. Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in most trim levels. The standard six-speed manual transmission in the Base and Premium grades is paired with the smaller engine. Models equipped with the CVT get Intelligent and Sport drive modes.

The larger engine gets 27 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. The smaller engine, mated with the CVT, achieves 28 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg combined. With the manual, the Crosstrek gets just 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined.

All models will continue to be sold with standard all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring technology. Base models get a Low Shift Mode for descending hills.

Models with the CVT come standard with a suite of Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. That suite now includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering (debuted on the 2020 Outback) in addition to automatic pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure prevention, lead vehicle start alert, automatic start-stop, rear seat reminder, and SI-Drive.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek The Crosstrek Sport features blacked out interior and exterior elements. The Crosstrek Limited is the most refined model. Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek will start at $22,245, just a $100 increase over the price of the 2020 model.

Subaru is adding a Sport grade ($26,495) to the Crosstrek lineup for 2021. It, along with the Limited trim level ($27,995), comes standard with the larger engine. The Crosstrek Sport gets dual-function X-Mode, which also debuted on the Outback, and includes hill descent control with snow/dirt and deep snow/mud selectable settings.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek will make its way to a dealership near you this summer.

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