In the late ‘80s, Japanese car makers were battling it out to produce the
ultimate Kei class micro car. Suzuki relied on its Alto Works RS-R while
Daihatsu released the Mira TR-XX – and Mitsubishi? Well, despite keeping a low
profile in the segment, they offered the most sophisticated Kei performer ever
The Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ-4 is a kick-arse piece of compact technology.
We’re talking constant AWD, intercooled turbo, DOHC, full engine management and
5-valve-per-cylinder breathing. And you thought five valves per cylinder was the
stuff of late-model Ferraris...
Released in 1989, the Minica Dangan ZZ-4 employs a dramatically enhanced
version of the Japanese-market 550cc, three-cylinder engine (coded 3G81). In
ZZ-4 guise, the 3G81 wears a 15-valve DOHC head with needle roller bearings,
hydraulic lash adjusters and multi-point injection. A knock sensor is also used
to determine ignition timing. Boosting the little three-pot is a water-cooled
turbocharger and a small top-mount air-to-air intercooler which is fed by a
bonnet scoop. Maximum output is the class regulation 47kW (at 7500 rpm) and
there’s 75Nm of torque at 4500 rpm – virtually identical to its
Tied to a 5-speed manual gearbox, the 3G81 turbo engine is very flexible in
normal driving but needs a good rev to start hauling along. From about 5000 to
8000 rpm (1000 rpm shy of the redline) the engine fills the cabin with a frantic
mechanical symphony and gets the little hatch scooting along. The ratios are
quite closely stacked which means you’re reaching for another gear on a frequent
The ZZ-4 delivers its mountain of grunt to the bitumen using a constant AWD
system with a viscous centre coupling. There’s absolutely no wheelspin when you
jump on the power while exiting a tight corner but our test car showed
considerable understeer. This can probably be attributed to the mud and snow
tyres which were fitted. And that raises the point – the Dangan ZZ-4’s AWD
system is aimed at maintaining stability on wet and snow-covered roads. It isn’t
intended as a handling fix.
The fitment of AWD to the little Kei hatch adds a considerable percentage to
the car’s overall weight – the ZZ-4 tips the scales at 700kg while the
front-wheel-drive ZZ version weighs just 640kg. That’s almost a 10 percent
weight penalty. Inevitably, this extra weight impacts straight-line performance –
our test Minica accelerated from standstill to 100 km/h in around 12 seconds
(though this was with a relatively gentle launch as we didn’t want to destroy
the clutch and/or gearbox). Fuel consumption is in the vicinity of 7 litres per
100km – just the thing for today’s escalated fuel prices!
Like its all-paw Suzuki and Daihatsu rivals, the ZZ-4 uses a live axle rear
which is located by five-link suspension. The front-end uses MacPherson struts
and you’ll find a swaybar at both ends. Braking is taken care of by discs at the
front and drums at the rear – there’s no ABS. Interestingly, there was no option
for power steering and the relatively heavy ZZ-4 can be difficult to turn in
tight conditions. Its turning circle is miniscule but we did bash our elbow on
the door trim while muscling the steering wheel.
Inside, the Minica Dangan ZZ-4 is compact but it doesn’t feel tiny. The large
areas of glass, low waistline and excellent interior space utilisation help
avoid the sensation that you’re trapped inside a small tin can. Standard kit
includes sports seats, a sports steering wheel and pedals, power windows and
mirrors and air conditioning. There’s a rear bench seat that provides a modest
amount of rear accommodation – the rear backrest is also 50:50 split and folds
forward to increase the load carrying area.
The Mitsubishi Minica (let alone the high-performance ZZ-4) was never
officially imported to Australia so you’re guaranteed a few extended glances
from other road users. The body looks a bit awkward from some angles (like some
other Mitsubishi models of the era) but the rear spoiler, bonnet scoop, skirts,
fog lights and 13 inch alloy wheels add style. But the most intriguing feature
of the ZZ-4 is its bizarre triple outlet exhaust tip (which was,
unfortunately, badly rusted in our test car).
Our 1989 test car (supplied by www.yahoomotorsport.com.au) has been imported to
Australia under the now defunct ’15 year old rule’. With 86,000km on the
odometer and in good overall condition (though in need of a good tidy up) the
car is offered at AUD$4000 plus ADR-ing.
The biggest problem associated with this car is parts – where do you find
The Minica H26A chassis was never sold in Australia, which means all body and
interior parts are virtually impossible to replace (not without a friend living
in Japan!). The three-cylinder engine is in the same category – it’s completely
unsupported in Australia. You might be able to find a compatible oil filter,
spark plugs, fuel filter and other regular servicing items but you wouldn’t want
anything major to go wrong. If there’s a replacement engine and gearbox
available at your local import wrecker you’d be wise to buy it...
Modification potential? Well, the ZZ-4 would perform a whole lot sweeter with
an upgrade exhaust (just 2 ¼ inch press-bent cheapie), free-flow cold air intake
and almost any other OE intercooler. These mods will give much improved
response, flexibility and top-end pulling power. We’d avoid boosting the turbo
beyond standard in fear that you might blow the irreplaceable engine and/or
But, then, for AUD$4000 (plus ADR-ing) you might want to write off the ZZ-4
as a personal entertainment expense...