Curbside Classic: 2000 Honda Z UM-4 — Umm … What Is This?

2000 Honda Z Um 4 1

(first posted 1/19/2016)     When I first spotted the rear view of this Honda Z UM-4 I thought it was some sort of electric vehicle I had not yet heard of. As I got closer the Honda H came into view. I had not heard of a recent Honda EV like this. The Z and UM-4 badging added to the mystery. Closer still I noticed it had a turbo call out badge so, it is definitely not an electric. After snapping a few photos I headed home for a little research and discovered this was a late entrant to the nostalgia wave that swept over Japan in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

The Honda Z (Z600) of 1970 to 1974 is allegedly the car that inspired our example today. I suppose I can see it as both vaguely resemble a high top athletic shoe, but it is perhaps more of a visual reach than say an air cooled classic Volkswagen Type 1 to New Beetle.

Both generations of Zs are supposed to be a sporty coupe based on a more humble sedan. In the older Z’s case it was based off the N360/N600. Engine displacement was modest at either 354 or 598 cubic centimeters depending on the model and market. The Z was quite advanced for its day with some variants offering red lines of 9,000rpms and surprisingly sprite (compared to its peers) performance.

"Honda Life 1998" by Kuha455405 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Honda Life – Image source –


The new era Z continues on the tradition of borrowing from a more modest donor as it is loosely based off the Honda Life. The third generation Honda Life sports a 658cc three cylinder engine with either front or four wheel drive. Buyers had the choice of a five speed manual or three speed automatic gearbox. This engine, which was shared with the Z, developed 52hp @ 7,000rpm and 45lb-ft @ 4,000rpm in base form.

Image Source:


Starting in the year 2000 one could get their Life with a turbocharger and intercooler. The turbo model boosted power to 64hp @ 6,000rpm and 69lb-ft @ 3,700rpm. The turbo car was bizarrely dubbed the Honda Life Dunk.  The Z UM-4 like our example today could also be optionally equipped with this engine.



The Z has a surprise which these internet sourced images illustrate. Virtually opening the “hood” on the Z reveals what at first glance looks like a plastic engine cover but is actually a modestly sized storage container. The Z is a more radical than a mere re-style as it ditches the Life’s front engine placement for a mid engine design. The Z was only offered with four wheel drive and a four speed automatic transmission.


The UM-4 name stood for Underfloor Midship 4WD which gave the Z a 50/50 weight distribution. Mid engined, four wheel drive and turbocharging put the Z UM-4 in some very exotic company specification wise.


My shots of the interior did not work out so we’ll have to make due with this internet sourced image. There is seating for four with the rear passenger seat sitting on top of the engine. Routine maintenance is done via an access panel under the seat.

Honda Z UM-4 side

With the body colored bumpers that came standard with the UM-4 model we know that this is at least a 2000 model and thanks to Canada’s rolling fifteen year exception we can narrow it down to no newer than 2000. So a 2000 Honda Z UM-4 is what I believe it is. For reference the Z is 133″ long which is roughly 10″ longer than a Scion iQ.

Honda Z UM-4 rear

While I am still not sure exactly what the Z UM-4 is, some sources call it a Kei class SUV while others call it a sporty variant on the Life, I am glad someone took the time to import it to Canada. It is not everyone day you learn about a vehicle that is totally new to you.