Japan’s car culture is about more than tiny hatchbacks and drifting tuner cars. Those models get the glamour and attention from enthusiasts in the States, but the country is just as caught up in off-roaders, overlanders, and campervans.
We ventured into the less-traveled halls of the 2023 Japan Mobility Show to discover some of the coolest rigs the country has to offer, both from the factory and highly modified. Let’s dive into the top 10 that we spotted!
Direct Cars BR75
Forget about drop-in pickup bed campers. Walking outside to switch from sleeping to driving? That’s for chumps.
AWD and 4×4 van conversions give you that access, but they aren’t pickups underneath. They’re not as tough as a real truck when things get serious.
What you want for your next all-terrain adventure is a pickup that’s been turned into a camper: The Direct Cars BR75.
The BR75 starts life as a Toyota Hilux, the pickup that’s legendary for reliability in almost every country around the world. Then Direct Cars throws the truck bed to the side and adds its own integrated camper body.
You can hop from the crew cab truck into the back, where there is sleeping space for four. There’s a conventional camper bed and another on the second floor in the pop-up roof.
The BR75 has a wet room bath, access to the camper from the side, rear, and through the truck cab, and it even has a heat pump for climate control. Plus, it’s a Hilux underneath, so you can take it almost anywhere. At least, anywhere that the long rear overhang doesn’t get you stuck.
Oh, and they’ll turn the truck’s removed bed into a trailer. So you can have a Hilux camper with a matching pull-behind, like a Plymouth Prowler.
CarInterior Takahashi Relax Wagon 10
CarInterior Takahashi claims it invented the “3-Number Camper” segment where this van lives. 3-Number means the vehicle’s size class; vehicles that are more than 15 feet long but shorter than 20 feet.
The Relax Wagon 10 is designed to work hard all week, with 10 seats so it can be used as a shuttle bus. “Large families, children’s baseball teams, and mom’s volleyball teams can also ride!” reads the company’s brochure. On the weekend, the seats fold down to transform almost the entire middle section of the van into a bed.
To make the cabin even more flexible, the seats fold into what looks like dozens of configurations to haul bikes, boats, or that big haul from Ikea.
White House Crew Cab Terrace
The fold-out Terrace makes this the coolest tailgating rig we’ve ever seen. It’s a whole freaking porch that unfolds from the back of the van.
If your campsite comes with a view, there’s no better way to see it than from the back of this van. When the sun sets and the view disappears, turn around and spend the evening watching a movie on the fold-down TV screen and projector.
The Crew Cab Terrace has fresh- and gray-water tanks. It also comes with a sink and shower. When it’s not being used as a camper, it has seating for five.
This one’s based on a Fiat Ducato, which is sold here as the Ram ProMaster van. So, in theory, you could get one to drive here — though it might cost you two boatloads in shipping.
Nuts RV Altopiano Mini
Nuts RV makes campers of all shapes and sizes. Japan’s largest camper manufacturer gives them cute names, too, like Radish, Leek, and Spinach. This tiniest one is the one that grabbed our attention, though, because it packs a lot into its small size.
It’s based on the Toyota Pixis, which is really a Daihatsu Hijet. This is a Kei-van, one of the tiny sub-660cc 134-inch microvans that the country is famous for.
In that tiny footprint, Nuts RV has packed sleeping space for two, a dining room table, and more shelving and storage space than you’d ever expect. The camper might be cozy, but it’s also cheap. This one is less than $15K with current exchange rates. And yes, you can get it with all-wheel-drive.
Oka Motors Miniature Cruise Atrai SV
The Altopiano Mini not impressive enough for you? What about this little nugget from Oka Motors that manages to add a kitchen into the same footprint?
It’s a tiny kitchen, but it does include a microwave, a sink, and a TV. There’s even a fridge, mounted under the seats. And an exterior shower.
Can you stand up? No. Can it get you through a long weekend of camping? Yes, thanks to a 225W solar panel and an 85Ah battery. This one was super popular, making it tough to even get near.
The Mitsubishi Delica is one of the vans the rest of the world loves to off-road. A simple box with all-wheel drive and gas or diesel powertrains, Mitsubishi has even sent it to the Dakar Rally loads of times.
At the Japan Mobility Show 2023, Mitsubishi revealed the D:X. A futuristic look at the next version of the Delica, imagined as a massive EV. The D:X takes on giant mobility pod looks in the way only Japanese vehicles can.
It promises a massive cabin to give you more space for camping or van living. It also has a windshield like no other, for maximum visibility. The seats move up and down, and they even turn all around for conversing when you’re parked.
The best part? After spending more than about 10 minutes in Japan, you’ll see that this extraterrestrial shape is one that the company could easily build.
Tonox+Flex Electric Land Cruiser
The 60 Series Land Cruiser models are off-road icons. But with the last one built in 1992, they’re not exactly up to par when it comes to what’s under the hood. The big inline-six gas and diesel engines are sluggish and inefficient even if they are incredibly reliable.
Two Japanese companies have banded together to bin the six and replace it with an electric motor in this completely restored example. Tonox makes specialty vehicles for construction and fleet businesses, and Flex builds classic-style bodywork to put on modern vehicles. So, this one is a bit odd for both.
It’s not the most powerful conversion, with an HPEVs motor that makes 63 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque. It still has a manual transmission, though, and a low-range transfer case, so it should be able to make the most of that power off road.
Tonox and Flex claim 124 miles of range but say that the Land Cruiser’s large size means there’s plenty of room for more batteries. And more range.
The IAT Truck Mad is, well, mad. It’s from China, not Japan, but the company wants to sell this massive off-roader in both countries.
How big is the electric truck? Big enough that it was impossible to fit it into a side-shot photo even using a cellphone’s wide-angle lens. It’s 231 inches long, 87 inches wide, and 79 inches tall. Bigger than the gargantuan Tesla Cybertruck concept, it’s about 4 feet longer than a Hummer H1. You could park four Kei vans in almost the same footprint.
The sci-fi design has more than its fair share of attitude. The cabin will seat five, thanks to three pivoting chairs and a bench. IAT says it will have around 500 miles of range, with battery upgrades available. We assume that anything it can’t drive over, it will simply crush into submission.
The Suzuki Jimny gets all of the attention when we talk about unobtanium off roaders, but it’s a crude rig that most people probably wouldn’t actually want to drive every day. On the other hand, the Suzuki Hustler looks like it would be a lot more fun on the way to the trail.
Think of the Hustler like a Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness to the Jimny’s Jeep Wrangler. It’s a crossover, but it will go further down the trail than you might think. It’s half a foot narrower than most UTVs, too, which could be handy.
The Hustler has full-time 4×4 (we believe it’s 4×4 and not AWD, but it could be lost in translation), a turbocharged engine, and a cabin that lets you fold all of the rear seats for maximum storage.
Toyota Space Mobility Prototype
Toyota calls it “an experimental vehicle for advancing development … aimed at creating mobility for use on the moon and in outer space.” We call it an all-electric buggy that can climb rocks nearly 2 feet tall and drive up 25-degree slopes.
If the Space Mobility can handle the moon, it should be able to take on almost any off-road challenge we can think of. Each wheel has independent suspension, independent steering, and independent drive thanks to four electric motors.
No word on potential EV range, but imagine this little beast taking on the King of the Hammers or the Rubicon Trail? You couldn’t get us into one quickly enough. Toyota, please build this, even if it comes from one of your dozens of subsidiaries.