Mitsubishi Mirage Cyborg ZR – A 90s JDM Hot Hatch Hero

In the 1990s, Japanese car manufacturers were on a roll when it came to building great hot hatchbacks.

In particular, the Japanese domestic market was blessed with a dizzying array of “economy hot hatches”.

Taking basic, popular economy cars, companies like Honda were using common models such as the Civic, stuffing in larger and more powerful engines, and building true future legends in the process.

These more affordable Japanese hot hatches might never have achieved the same level of cachet and desirability as the big sibling turbocharged cars, but as daily drivers were probably better from an affordable-but-fun motoring perspective,

One example from Honda was the Honda Civic SiR, which was effectively the precursor to the first (and some – myself included – would say best) Honda Civic Type R:

Credit: Reddit JDM

Other manufacturers such as Nissan and Toyota were also getting in on the act, with the likes of the Pulsar GTI (the non turbo version of the Pulsar GTI-R) and Levin BZ-G.

The formula was simple:

  • Take a “normal” car (like the Civic, Levin, Pulsar etc)
  • Put in a larger and/or more powerful engine, usually using some form of twin cam, valve timing/lift technology
  • Improve brakes, handling and suspension components
  • Add a couple of internal/exterior visual mods
  • Launch a future modern classic
  • As an added bonus, ensure that various options and specifications were poorly documented from the outset so that people like myself writing about these cars the best part of 30 years later go crazy trying to find accurate information

Mitsubishi decided to get in on this action as well, launching in 1996 the Mitsubishi Mirage Cyborg ZR (which was the replacement of the earlier Cyborg R)

What Is the Mitsubishi Mirage Cyborg ZR?

The Mirage Cyborg ZR was Mitsubishi’s answer to the likes of the Honda Civic SiR, intended to compete in the competitive non-turbo hot hatchback segment.

mirage cyborg zr front
The front end of a 1997 Mirage Cyborg ZR (credit – JDM Auction Watch)

It was basically a souped-up, high performance version of the fifth generation Mirage (also sold in some markets as the Lancer or Colt) that was available from the mid 1990s to early 2000s, depending on the market. 

My first introduction to the Mirage Cyborg ZR was playing one of the Gran Turismo games on PS1 – I believe the car debuted in Gran Turismo 2:

I’ve also always loved the name “Cyborg” … who doesn’t want a car called Cyborg? 

The Cyborg name had been used on earlier Mirages/Lancers/Colts (depending on the market) most notably the early 1990s models that featured a turbocharged engine and which formed the basis of the Lancer GSR. 

There was also a Cyborg R from the previous Mirage generation, which followed the same light weight + free-revving DOHC MIVEC formula as the Cyborg ZR. I prefer the later generation Cyborg ZR, but these earlier cars are also worthy of consideration (you might also find one sold as a Lancer coupe or sedan; there is a hospital near my house, and every day I walk the dog past someone who parks in the staff parking lot a light blue early 1990s Lancer GTI sedan that is basically the same as the Mirage hatch)

The earlier/previous generation Mirage Cyborg R. Notice the distinctly different headlight shape. 

One thing to note here is that if you’re on the market for a “fast Mirage” there’s every chance that somebody selling one won’t know exactly what they’ve got. For example, you might see a Cyborg ZR sold as a Cyborg R, or vice versa, you might find somebody selling a 1.8L instead of the higher revving 1.6L. I would recommend paying close attention when inspecting any potential purchase, and cross-verifying any information and claims using engine codes, chassis codes etc. 

Even in researching for this article there is just so much conflicting information that I was able to find. I therefore welcome any corrections and suggestions you can contribute; just leave a comment below or email admin@garagedreams.net 

Mirage Cyborg ZR Specifications

  • Engine: 1.6L DOHC MIVEC 4G92 
  • Transmission: Five speed manual or four speed automatic
  • Power: 175hp
  • Weight: 1070kg
  • 0-100kmh: ~8.3 seconds, although some claim high 7s are possible depending on driver skill, conditions and launch

As with most JDM cars of the era, numerous different options were available including desirable ones such as genuine Recaro seats. Manual-equipped cars featured a limited slip differential to improve handling. 

Similar to the likes of the Honda Civic SiR and the Toyota Levin BZ-G, the 4G92 engine was designed for economy when pootling around at low RPM, with MIVEC kicking in at higher RPM and giving a substantial surge in acceleration all the way to a ~8200 RPM redline.

Reading some forum posts on the Mirage from people who have driven this compared to the likes of the DOHC VTEC Civic of the same vintage, the Mirage is apparently smoother in its power delivery whereas Honda’s VTEC kicks in more aggressively.

Was The Mitsubishi Mirage Cyborg ZR Any Good?

I, for one, think so.

Performance-wise, the Cyborg ZR was largely ‘on par’ with its peers. According to this article (which references an old episode of the Japanese car show Best MOTORing) in a straight line drag race against the Honda Civic SiR the Civic came out on top despite the Mirage having a lower curb weight, but it did beat the Toyota Levin/Trueno.

This full episode of Best MOTORing (mentioned in the link above) shows the Mirage Cyborg ZR in action against some of its top competitors from the time:

In my experience – having driven a number of these 90s JDM ‘economy hot hatches’ and done plenty of research on them for this site – they are all largely competitive with one another until you get to the launch of the original EK9 Civic Type R which blew everything else out of the water and ushered in a new phase in the NA, high-revving hot hatch arms race.

Because of rarity, condition of remaining survivors, and rising prices, my personal opinion is that if you are into this “genre” of JDM performance car (non-turbo ‘economy’ hot hatches such as the Mirage Cyborg ZR, Levin BZ-G/BZ-R, Civic SiR etc) your best bet is probably to purchase the nicest example of any of them that you can buy unless you are completely committed to purchasing a specific car.

If you’re looking to purchase a Mirage Cyborg ZR, I’d be looking out for:

  • Obvious signs of abuse, damage and excessive wear and tear – these cars (along with the likes of the Levin, Civic etc) were very cheap as used ex-JDM imports up until recently when classic car prices started skyrocketing. When I was at high school in the mid 2000s, something like a Mirage Cyborg or twin cam Levin BZ-G was an affordable entry into performance motoring, and “boy racers” got their hands on these cars and have ragged many of them to within an inch of their lives. You’re unlikely to find one with much service history, so buying on condition is key.
  • Incorrect specification – Because of the relative obscurity and rarity of these cars outside of Japan, many used examples have found their way into markets such as NZ, Australia, UK etc where the importer and/or subsequent owner(s) haven’t necessarily understood what they are buying or selling. Don’t take the seller’s word that the Mirage Cyborg ZR you are looking at is what it claims to be; verify by checking the car has the correct engine, look up the chassis codes and so on. I’d strongly recommend you use a third party vehicle history check tool such as Car Vertical to cross-reference and verify basic information about the car. 
  • Parts availability in your local area – Call up your local Mitsubishi specialist, main dealer or parts specialist and ask them what they can and cannot supply. Availability is becoming an increasingly large challenge with respect to parts for some of these 90s JDM cars. 

All things being considered, if you could find a nice, clean and tidy Mirage Cyborg ZR you’ll no doubt be pleased with the performance and enjoyment factor. 

I’d be equally happy with a Mirage, or a Levin, or a Civic or anything of that nature – with each bringing different strengths and weaknesses.

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  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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