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Mighty Minica ZZ-4

We test the most sophisticated Kei-class performance car of the late '80s - the Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ-4!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • The most sophisticated late '80s Kei-class performer
  • 5 valves per cylinder, DOHC, turbo and intercooled
  • Constant AWD
  • Cheap ? but a nightmare to find parts for!
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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 seen.

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...

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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 rivals.

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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 basis.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 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 ‘em?

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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...

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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 ‘box.

But, then, for AUD$4000 (plus ADR-ing) you might want to write off the ZZ-4 as a personal entertainment expense...


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