The microstructural and mechanical properties of an ultrafine-grained (UFG) Al–Zn alloy processed by high-pressure torsion (HPT) are investigated using depth-sensing indentations, focused ion beam, scanning electron microscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy. Emphasis is placed on the microstructure and the effects of grain boundaries at room temperature. The experiments show the formation of Zn-rich layers at the Al/Al grain boundaries that enhance the role of grain boundary sliding leading to unique plastic behavior in this UFG material. The occurrence of significant grain boundary sliding at room temperature is demonstrated by deforming micro-pillars. Our results illustrate a potential for using UFG materials as advanced functional materials in electronic micro-devices.