Daily Driving a Kei Van in the US
After 3,000 Kilometers, what's it like?
I have owned this 1993 Mitsubishi Minicab Van for about 6 weeks now. Driving it pretty much every day. Back and forth to work, to and from the grocery store, here and there for hiking, and hither and thither for 2020 home treatments (Hendrick's Gin, not a sponsor).
So what is it like driving The Brave Little Toaster on big, scary American roads? Let us break down each aspect of this 10 foot box with wheels with some questions that I get on the regular.
Does the van keep up with modern traffic?
Yes, actually. Weighing just about 1800lbs, the little 40hp, 660cc 3 cylinder engine does a decent job of getting things up to speed. The 5 speed manual transmission and 8,000rpm redline shows that cruising along the interstate about 65-70 mph(I think... More on that later) is not much of a chore. Long grades do present themselves as a bit of a challenge however.
As far as I am concerned, the power is adequate. The Minicab is certainly quicker than the Corvair. But I am none too concerned. It is not like I am living a quarter mile at a time anyway.
What is the fuel mileage on that thing?
Phenomenal! It seems to be getting 47-50mpg and costs under $20 to fill up. Take that Prius! My wallet has not been complaining. The van has experienced a variety of road conditions. Surface streets, highways, interstates, dirt roads, and all the weather. Illinois being well know for the ability to have all four seasons inside the same month. And the mileage remains the same.
I bet you get pushed all over in that little thing, huh?
Every little gust shoves the Minicab around. Sometimes, it feels like we have been picked up off the road. But I have gotten used to it. I let things blow and make small corrections. The van being so small, there is lots of room between the lane lines to allow it to drift a little.
What is it like driving on the right side of the car?
Mostly the same as driving on the left side of the car. A lot of people seem to think all the controls are mirrored for some reason. i.e. being the reverse of what we all know. Apart from the shifter and turn signal, it is all the same. One does tend to drive more toward the center line though. Even though the driving is done on the right side of the vehicle, the driver is still conditioned to be on the left side of the road. A habit I was able to overcome.
I bet it is easy to park, huh?
It sure is. I have like a 13ft turning radius. Maneuvering about is a breeze. Being under 11ft long, it can fit almost anywhere.
Wow! Does it really go 120!?
Yea, kilometers per hour though, not miles per hour. Because of this, driving a Kei van imported from Japan has made me a whole lot smarter.
As the speedometer reads in kilometers, personally, I feel it would be cheating if I put little MPH stickers on the cluster or added an aftermarket MPH speedometer. So that means I have to do a lot of mental math to figure out how fast I am moving. Since 100kph is roughly 62mph, it is as easy multiplying the first digit of the indicated speed by 6.2. To make it easier, I just multiply by 6.
So, 50kph becomes 5x6=30. About 30mph.
But then again, why would I make it so easy. I just had to have bigger and cooler wheels. They are 5.7% larger and thus have made my Kei van 5.7% more awesome. Now, I round up and multiply by .06.
With that, 50kph becomes 5x6=30mph becomes 30x.06=1.8 becomes 30+1.8=31.8 or roughly 32mph. All while trying not to careen down a culvert.
Does your brain hurt? If it does, then you lack the mental fortitude to own and operate a Kei van... Or you are just not a 'Merican.
Another revelation that has sort of taken me back is just how interesting the general population finds the Minicab. I am used to getting attention when I am driving one of the older vehicles. Somebody always comments like, "Ya don't see those anymore." "My (insert family member) had one of those." Then there is my personal favorite, "What year? ...Nice!" I think the Kei van, though small, follows all the regular styling trends of most vehicles in the 90's. What has come to be known as the "soap bar styling." I do not think it stands out from the crowd, really. But everyone just seems to stare at the little Kei van, befuddled and filled with joy. They pull out their phones and take pictures. They stop, smile, and stare. They walk around it and gaze in awe. Folks are really smitten. I had no idea when I bought it that it would get so much attention.
Really though, driving this everyday just seems normal. The Kei van is super fun to drive. It does not feel ridiculously tiny, even though it is. It is comfy, though the short wheelbase makes it a little bouncy. The ride height it decent, so it can surmount the United States' crumbling infrastructure and climb out of the many pot holes.
On the highway, it is a little buzzy, but not as bad as my Beetle or Midget. Maybe about the same noise as my Corvair. I can plant my foot and just let it cruise. There is plenty of space in the rear for my dogs or hauling parts for other projects. It is just a good, economical, all around vehicle.
With all of that, I think the Kei van does well. I have no complaints to report yet.
Do any of you have burning questions about the Kei Van? I would be happy to answer them, since I am an expert now. Fire away in the comments.