Americans have fallen out of love with minivans. For some reason, a super-practical, multi-seat vehicle that can haul almost anyone and anything is less popular than giant SUVs that make it difficult to access the third row. The rest of the world hasn’t forgotten the minivan’s virtues, and many well-known automakers offer a whole rainbow of family carriers, some of which offer clever camping and luxury features. Here are some forbidden-fruit vans we can’t buy in the United States.
The Toyota Noah and Voxy have been around since the early 2000s and sit below the Alphard (more on that below) in the automaker’s van line. Toyota’s sales model in Japan seems complicated from the outside, as the company sells different vehicles at different types of dealerships. The Noah was originally sold at Toyota’s Corolla Stores before the automaker shifted its model to the van in all locations in 2020. Now in their fourth generation, the van twins offer unique family-friendly features like a step system and use Toyota’s latest hybrid system.
The Toyota Alphard is a stately minivan sold in several countries and regions, including Bangladesh, China and the Middle East. It’s now in its third generation and features Lexus-like styling with a massive cabin. The Alphard is available with several powertrain options, including some it shares with Lexus and other Toyota models, including the ES 350 and Highlander. Toyota equips the Alphard with several advanced safety features, and the van can comfortably carry up to eight people. That said, the Alphard is more expensive than many of its rivals in the markets where it’s sold, so people may consider other options.
If you’ve spent any time in the automotive corners of social media, you’ve seen a Delica. They’re everywhere now, as Americans figure out that a small, light van with real ground clearance and four-wheel drive is a great thing. Mitsubishi has made different vehicles under the Delica name, including a truck and a kei car, but the minivan is the one most of us recognize. The Delica entered its fifth generation way back in 2007 and got a facelift in 2019. It’s still available with four-wheel drive, though Mitsubishi also sells a front-drive version. Today’s van is light years away from the classic models we can import here and features a massive grille with unique front lighting fixtures.
The Nissan Serena has been around a shockingly long time and is entering its sixth generation in 2023. Nissan offers hybrid and gas engine choices, and the van can seat up to seven people. It’s larger in most dimensions than its Toyota and Kia rivals but lighter than both. Top trims are surprisingly luxurious with diamond-stitched leather upholstery and neat features like fold-down second-row food trays with drink holders.
The LM is a rebadged Toyota Alphard, but its interior brings the luxury that its “lesser” counterpart does not. Buyers can add a second-row refrigerator, a ceiling-mounted clock and a large 26-inch rear-facing display. There’s even a seating option with a privacy wall between front passengers and everyone else in the back. Many outfit the van as a rolling office, though Lexus does sell a passenger-friendly version with seven seats.
Honda Step WGN
Remember the Mazda MPV? That not-quite-a-minivan but still-capable vehicle proved that practicality didn’t always mean buying the largest van you can find. Honda continues to prove that point with the Step WGN. The Japanese van is sold in several countries and brings seating for six in its boxy-cute body. Depending on the model, the interior can be equipped with multiple screens, including a 15.6-inch rear display. Honda introduced a new sixth-generation van in early 2022 that brought more futuristic styling and a more traditional tailgate design, but the new van retains the Step WGN’s striking aesthetic.
The Hyundai Staria features unbelievably cool styling and an upscale cabin. Hyundai offers several seating configurations, including a model with up to 11 seats. The Staria design came together under Hyundai’s design chief, SangYup Lee, and looks straight out of space. The swept-back front end features hidden windshield wipers and a unique diamond-pattern grille with LED “pixel” running lights. It offers more interior space than many rivals, and people love the van’s storage spaces, some of which look to be almost too big.
Interesting that Volkswagen sells a van called California that you can’t actually buy in California, or anywhere else in the United States for that matter. The van features a pop-up roof for an old-school camper feel and can sleep up to four people. Buyers can equip a full kitchen in the van with available tables and chairs that stow away when not in use. Volkswagen sells three versions of the California in the U.K., none of which are cheap. The California’s camper features could make the van into a home for the right person, and the Grand California offers even more of everything, so the prices are understandable.
Why can’t we import these vans?
Beyond the fact that people in Japan and other countries drive on the other side of the road and have vehicles with the steering on the right side, there are a few disappointing but valid reasons why we can’t import random cars from wherever we want. Most other countries have different emissions and safety regulations than we do, and imported vehicles may not meet the standards that new cars must pass. That said, countless companies offer import services, and many will handle all the paperwork for you. But if you’re seriously considering importing any vehicle, including a sweet van, you’ll have to make sure it’s at least 25 years old in order to qualify for importation. That rules out a lot of the new vans you see here, but there are still some intriguing options for true aficionados, including some older Mitsubishi Delica models.