From 1968 onward, Mitsubishi Motors has offered a wide range of trucks and multi-purpose vehicles under the catch-all nameplate of ‘Mitsubishi Delica.’ The Delica name was a contraction of the phrase “delivery car”, because every variant of the Delica functions as a massive people mover. Whether it’s a commercial van, cab-over ute, or some other body style, the Mitsubishi Delica has always been designed to be as big and spacious as possible.
There is a distinction between the Delica and the Starwagon. Along with the name ‘Express’, ‘Starwagon’ was the name chosen for Australian exports of the Mitsubishi Delica passenger van from Japan. While the general Mistubishi Delica range was launched in 1968, Mitsubishi first introduced the SA Series Delica to Australia in 1980, shortly after the Delica’s second generation (1979 to 1983) was underway.
The Mitsubishi Starwagon began its journey in 1980 under the name of Chrysler L300 Express. However, just a few months later, Chrysler’s Australian arm was renamed Mitsubishi Motors Australia, prompting the rebranding of the L300 Express as a Mitsubishi instead of a Chrysler. The initial options were either a commercial van or a passenger wagon, fitted with a 1.6L engine and 4-speed manual transmission. It wasn’t until 1982 that a ‘Deluxe’ trim of the passenger van was renamed ‘Starwagon’ and the name stuck.
Australia saw several more iterations of the second-generation Starwagon, ending with the SE series in 1986. After that, the third-generation Delica was launched, and it underwent a full body change, featuring better aerodynamics and extensive safety features. The Delica’s commercial version continued to be designated as ‘Express,’ while the passenger versions remained ‘Starwagon’. In 1990, the market saw its first naturally-aspirated diesel engine as an option. The fourth-generation Delica (1994 to 1996) was only available as a passenger version named Starwagon, and it ran from 1994 to 2003. Mitsubishi continues to produce new Delica and Starwagon models.
Technically, the earliest true Starwagon was the SB series, which arrived in October 1982. It featured a large 1.8L engine with 60kW of power and 132Nm of torque. Because the vehicle is made to lug around tonnes of cargo or up to eight people, the fuel consumption was variable, but it compared reasonably to passenger wagons when used for regular driving.
The 1994 Starwagon kicked off the fourth generation of the Delica. Despite the fact that it was only available as a passenger vehicle, the Starwagon packed a great deal of power under the bonnet. Specifically, the mid-spec Starwagon GLX model included a 2.4L fuel-injected engine with 81kW of power and 182Nm of torque, plus a respectable 11.4L/100km fuel consumption rating. They also came with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.
Newer Starwagon models like the 2003 Starwagon GL improved upon the earlier models, featuring 4-cylinder engines with 85kW of power and 162Nm of torque, plus fuel consumption ratings of 11.5L/100km in the city.
The most popular of the Starwagons was likely those based off the fourth-generation Delica. This 1994 Starwagon range featured four different models, including the GLX, GL, GLS, and 4WD. They were all similar in terms of comfort and versatility, with the 4WD offering a bit firmer and more powerful ride.
Standard features of the Starwagon range included tinted side and rear glass, central locking, driver’s footrest, rear window wiper and washer, and tilt adjustable steering wheel. There were also some particularly nice, unique features in these models, such as centre armrests for the bench seats, centre seats that could swivel, and air-conditioning controls and vents for the rear passengers.
Power steering was an optional upgrade for the GL and GLX, while it was fitted standard in the GLS and 4WD. ABS and a driver’s side airbag were other options available for any of the models.
The 1994 Starwagon models ditched the boxy look of the previous Starwagon vehicles and replaced it with a sleeker and more aerodynamic look and feel. The quality finish and plenty of luxury kit made this a viable competitor to similar vans like the Toyota Tarago and Mazda MPV, which took until quite a bit later to add in similar equipment.
Because of the updated wedge-shaped front end, the Starwagon was able to mount its engine further forward under the bonnet, rather than under the floor panel. It gained an impressive following in Australia, in part due to its convenient layout and sharp design.