Not to start this one off on a braggy note, but just today I realized that I am a pioneer. I may shop at
natural food stores, work a steady job, file taxes and drive a utilitarian vehicle, but I am a pioneer in my own way.
How? some might ask. Well, it's because of this website. As far as I know it was the first of its kind; a website devoted
to the driving impressions various Gran Turismo vehicles have made over the years, on me and others I've met.
I would like to see others out there who would be inspired enough to also partake of this endeavor. If I'm doing the
virtual version of Road & Track (...okay...Car & Driver) it would be awesome in
my opinion if there was a Motor Trend out there, or even a Hot Rod. Some other schmuck doing
the same thing as I: driving & racing a variety of cars and then writing about them. I would look forward to any new writings
from this other writer (or writers). I would see it almost as competition...a sort of friendly competition, if you will. At
some point this other writer discovers and contacts me, or vice versa, and we both wind up digging (sometimes
criticizing) each other's work.
As I start this next review, I imagine this other writer wondering if I've lost
a few marbles. "Dude, you're writing about another slug" he IM's me one day. "I mean, you just wrote about
the Chrysler Prowler, Tesla Roadster, and '70 Plymouth Superbird, and now you're writing about a KEI CAR? Nobody
wants to read about a Kei car, trust me, nobody even drives them!" he drawls on. He's from Texas, you see...Texans don't
speak, they drawl.
Anyways, I would then write back to him: "Not true. I drive Kei cars occasionally,
I even race them. Surprisingly, some of them are interesting to drive and race. Lol. And
guess what? I got inspired to write about another 'sluggy' automobile as I took it to some tracks.
As I drove teh Minica through GT5's Sunday Cup, I kept thinking of different things I'd like to say about it. So I am doing
so! And this time, I'm even going to take it a little more seriously than I have taken a few other Kei reviews in
the past. What do you think of that!?"
The other writer laughs ( rofl ) as he ambitiously brags about
his next review, which is to be devoted to an R34-era Skyline Vspec II. Well, hmm...he's got me there. After all these
years, I have yet to write a proper R34 Skyline review, one that doesn't go off on a tangent about Barney, anyways.
The Minica line of cars started way back in 1962. The first version had a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine with a solid rear-wheel
drive axle. I think its chassis was based on a Mitsubishi truck of the times. From there, things have only improved
for the better with each generation.
Matter of fact, the Dangan ZZ is actually from the 5th generation of
Minicas. Scary thought to some, huh? There have been MULTIPLE generations of Minica. In comparison, here in America it's rare
a small car (not even Kei-small...Civic small) gets to have more than one generation. Anybody remember the Geo
Metro? The Yugo? The Dodge Colt? The Civic has managed to last all these years in America partially because a few here like
economy cars, but also because of its performance aspect. The Metro, Yugo, and Colt had no performance aspect...not straight
from the factory, anyways.
It may come as a surprise to some that there are all
kinds of Minicas...all grades of Minicas. Looking at a Japanese specs website called www.amayama.com we can see there are the following grades of Minicas to choose from (and this is not even a complete list). We have the S
version, the XS, Pe, XPe, Xf, Lettuce, Pf, Pe, XPf, F-4, Dangan Si, etc. Like I said, that list is not even complete,
which means PD actually weeded out a few "repeat" cars! Take note that the Dangan ZZ and Dangan ZZ-4
of this review are supposed to be the sportiest of the Minicas, the KING of the Minica-line. Just imagine if we got something
Super-lightweight (flyweight, actually) these cars definitely are, even when compared to other Keis. My front-drive Dangan
ZZ weighs in at 1,410 pounds, while the 4-wheel drive version (the ZZ 4) almost broke the scale with an amazing
1,587. A trip to weight-watchers will not usually be needed, then.
----------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN-------------------
It's been awhile since I've played Red Faction. This is a silly first-person shooter game in which there's
a bunch of weapons which can be picked up in these huge maze-like dwellings of all sorts. Guns of all kinds, mostly,
with a few grenades and bombs, etc. Handguns are better for short range attacks, others (rifles) are best when some distance
is involved. When somebody says "choose your weapon", therefore, most players are gonna want to choose what they feel
will suit them best, as everybody has a different style of playing Red Faction.
When the game starts, and assuming
we get to pick our weapons, obviously machine guns and flamethrowers are going to get snatched up quickly. But there
are some benefits also to choosing a shotgun, or a Magnum, or whatever. I'm no expert on guns. What nobody would
choose is the BB gun. Compared to the others, a BB isn't a 'real' gun. It fires little round pellets instead of actual bullets.
Somebody wearing a thick flannel shirt would not even be affected by a BB attack.
Uh...I am assuming there actually
are BBs in Red Faction...it's been awhile since I've gone and tried this game. Probably not, though.
it may come as a surprise that today, I did choose the BB gun. The Minica's miniscule 3-cylinder engine is what is
basically a junior machine, like something a teenager might feel comfortable with (as many teenagers have BBs as their
first guns). That imaginary virtual car-reviews site might therefore dismiss the Dangan ZZ, or not ever consider
driving, racing, or even making fun of it! Hey, at least I make fun of Keis sometimes as I write about them.
there are a few items of notice to actually take seriously about this one. Like, the ZZ's engine was the first ever
in the entire automotive world with 5 valves per cylinder. I did not know that, Johnny. It also has a gigantic
9,500 rpm redline. That's a lot of revs, even in the world of other Keis, some of which have similarly large
areas of revving to plunder. A surprising amount of ZZ revving action is useful during races, too; anywhere from
3 or 4 grand on up. Granted, I admit I'm only racing the Minica in some beginner's level races (Sunday Cup and FF Challenge
in GT5), but this is still an advantage.
There already have been several times I've been neck-to-neck against
a Megane or some other Sunday driver. We're battling in those turns and come to a straight area. The Megane shifts gears,
the Minica does not. The Minica does not need to, since it's still got an extra 1 or 2,000 rpms of tachometer space to
go. There are also those times like at Tsukuba, as this hatchling is leaving those three hairpin turns. One might think
the Minica will need to be dropped into 2nd gear (like many cars need when their trannies are stock), yet I've been choosing
3rd instead. The revs drop to about 4,000, yet that intercooled turbo still manages to power up; often PASSING some others
as it exits!
It's behavior like this that made me sit up a little higher out of my mushy 22 year-old armchair and
take notice. I don't have a whole hell of a lot of experience with Keis in any game except GT2, and even in that game there
were still dozens I never got around to driving. GT2 offers the most chances for a Kei to advance further since power can
be pushed higher for many Keis in this game, you see. There is a '90 Minica Dangan ZZ in GT2, but I have no spec sheet
for it, which means I never drove one. According to Pupik's website formulanone.org, the ZZ can accept an amazing 174
horsepower. Man, I wish I could get some-a-this in GT5.
I did drive the '89 Dangan ZZ in GT4 as well. In
this game, with all parts 'n' power loaded up, we can only make a disappointing 130 hp at max, although we
can still do at least 4 or 5 events in this game, with power less than 130. Then we get to GT5. Amazingly, we're actually
allowed to play with some power now that we're here.
Many Kei cars in GT2 got to become little superstars, since we
could pump their power up to near 200 in some cases. This doesn't sound like much, but it's surprising how much damage I did
with Keis in this game against cars with sometimes over twice this amount of power.
In GT3 and 4, all of this took
a huge nose-dive. Any respect Keis garnered in GT2's day was now mostly lost with these two latter games, as it was rare to
be able to get past 130 hp in any Kei. So GT5 has brought back the magic. Well, some of the magic. In this game,
the Dangan ZZ can now make .
There are some...um...points of contradiction
here, of course. The engine may have lots and lots of revs to play with, it may make lots and lots of noise, but we can't
brag about speed or acceleration at any point of the ZZ's career. Gearing is a bit tall, but the baby-3 is also quite torqueless
with its delivery. There will be plenty of times during which the ZZ will be rolling down some longer straight areas
with a half dozen cars far behind, because it's out-cornered them all. That 3-cylinder powerplant sounds as if it's
giving all it's got, yet the tach is barely moving! It's as if there's a giant invisible hand pushing against the car as it
Bottom line: I've managed to turn my Minica Dangan ZZ into a little racing demon, but there's still
a long, long line of drivers out there who could care less. Let's try and see if we can change some of their minds.
------------CHASSIS / HANDLING--------------
Since the Dangan ZZ is the top of the Minica line, the cream of the Minica crop, one might expect great
things here on an intuitive level. Although I knew nothing about this car before I researched it, I could tell it at least
has a sporty look. Yes, it's a tiny, boxy hatch, but there's something about it that also seems like it's at least trying
to look racy. Check out the Black & Decker ShopVac-sized hood scoop, for instance. Check out its offset grille. It's
also got that 5-valve intercooled turbo system mentioned earlier, a pioneering effort from Mitsubishi. Not Audi. Not Honda.
So does this car handle well? From game to game results vary, as they often do. I did drive the '90 Dangan ZZ
in GT2 (which happened to be four-wheel drive) around Tahiti a few laps. Didn't want to spend all day "getting to know" this
car the way I've done for others.
So as a fast write-up, the ZZ in this game has a grippy front-end on entry, amazingly grippy.
Tiny amounts of steering are needed to get this mailbox to turn a huge amount, so be careful. But the ZZ starts to lose
these efforts mid-turn. It didn't exactly understeer, but its front-end also isn't so grippy. The entire car leans heavily once
it's in turns, but rarely does this lead to an oversteer situation.
So now we move on to 4, and Hong Kong
as the test track. Front-end is still grippy, but not quite as razor-sharp about this. There's often a moment of lag before
the front-end digs in when steering left to right, right to left, but once it starts digging, it feels very pointable,
easy to aim. The downside to all this is that as we "aim" the ZZ into turns, there's a huge amount of body movement (GT2's
leaning x10) that tends to throw the car into orbits we weren't planning on. Not truely oversteer, but these sort of movements
can destroy cornering situations, nonetheless.
The main difference from 2 to 4 is there's now a lot more
understeer happening, especially in and out of slower areas. Big surprise, huh? Give a little too much
steering input, and those front tires (sport tires) start to lose grip. Give a little too much gas, and there's some beefy
torque-steer happening. Mid-to-late cornering can be disastrous if we're not careful; I've gotten over-enthusiastic and mowed
some grass plenty of times in this car. Mostly though, all of this happens in smaller turns. The Minica does better with
medium-sized and larger curves; often starts feeling just as grippy as it did in GT2.
Once it's got Stage
2 power, which is just over 100 hp, this playful tyke also has a habit of losing small amounts of traction as it
leaves slower areas. This is obviously because GT4 has more extensive programming for tire-spin than 2 did. Overall traction
remains in place mostly, assuming at least medium sports are shod.
Braking is tops. This is one of those economy cars
in which there isn't much power, but this car feels a lot stronger in the stopping department, to the point of prowess. Braking
can be attempted extremely late in a Minica. I found myself braking much too early several times, and then having to compensate
by blipping the throttle as I entered turns. This is something I'm not noticing in GT5...in this game, brakes are a bit mushier.
Dangan ZZ: Let's talk about the front-drive version first.
handles some curves like it was born to do so, especially larger turns where the Minica gets to stretch its rubber with little
fear of understeer. I'm often entering some of these larger turns (like the final curve of Tsukuba) with no brakes,
letting the car's tiny front tires take the brunt, and everything works out fine. It's those tighter turns,
surprisingly, that the Minica often fails at. This only surprises me because, well, usually smaller cars excell in tighter
You might think braking in this car might be one of its stronger traits, and this would be correct. Even
though it didn't have ABS in real-life (and I didn't have ABS on as I drove) the Minica always feels confident during braking.
The fact that it doesn't have ABS can actually help its cause at times! Notice there are times it'll pivot into turns, losing
a bit of grip at the rear. This helps get the Minica into a tighter angle, assuming the driver manages not to lose composure.
All of this feels completely safe, as if no speed is getting lost while these mini-pivots occur, even though in a heavier
car speed would get lost.
The Minica often can be braked later than others, too...or if the driver opts,
it can be braked a bit early (leaving the rest of that turn for powering-out with more confidence), yet we must always
be prepared for a shocking amount of understeer mid-turn and when exiting tighter turns, especially hairpins.
I'm noticing this understeer can sometimes also show up while entering such turns. It comes out of nowhere sometimes.
Those front tires are still light blue, they are not overheating, yet the car isn't turning. The Minica has braked and turned-in
fine initially, but then starts to lose it all. It's not a huge, major issue, it's more like something to watch for,
....for those of you who actually drive such a car at all!
But there are some good
things to note. Traction in this car is always great, even as power gets raised. I'm also noticing that if the Minica is not
actually in a turn yet, it often has plenty of options, zipping around, in, and out of heavier traffic, like Cupid on
a Starbucks binge. "Here! Over here! Nope! Now I'm here!" The Minica Dangan ZZ jumps around the track like a good game of
checkers. It aims to please even more in those turns, but after all, it's only a Kei. It eventually (and quickly) meets
Still, this is one of the things I really love about these lighter vehicles, the ones everybody
is so afraid to drive & race. They actually do have their merits on the tracks. So excuse me while I have
some fun in my ZZ. Oh, and that Skyline review? Maybe I'll get that done by 2014. ;p
1). One of those
minicars that can zip thru traffic, finding racing lines a larger, heavier car would not be able to choose.
5-speed gearbox actually matches its low-powered environment (something of a rarity in the world of Keis).
can be had at a low price. GT5 cars have suffered the most inflation over the years, yet still can be had at less than
4). Also lighter than many other Keis, sometimes by hundreds of pounds.
5). Kind of a sporty look. Other
Minicas below the Dangan ZZ look nowhere near as exciting.
6). GT2: lots of power upgrades to be
had. Close to 180 hp.
7). Sport-tuned suspension with higher-than-normal spring rates.
1). Lack of power? Do ya think?
Also, a general lack of driving excitement once we're on a straight section
3). Goofy, ugly looks (opinion of some).
4). "Yet another Kei car", all the hatahs whine. Yea, keep whining, haters. :-)
5). GT4 & 5: A surprising
amount of understeer in slower turns. Understeer some newer Keis (even some of the vans) would never display.
6). A lack of stability, too...over bumps and (depending on the game) as it's steered aggressively
7). Suffers from a typical lack of speed ..uh...at higher speeds. Straightaways are not this car's best area.
GT2: no race mod. :+(
9). GT5: one of the rare cars in this game that cannot be painted.
Published: July 14, 2011
Small edits to GT4 material: April 24, 2015