Car reviews - Mazda - 323 - 4-dr sedan
Simple, honest, economical small car motoring
Room for improvement
A little bland, not very well equipped by today's standards
18 Jun 2003
THE Series 3 version of the Mazda 323 was introduced in 1989 and its style immediately set it apart from the horde of small front- wheel drives in the same class.
Fully imported from Japan, the Mazda had a finish that set new standards for its rivals.
The first of the Mazda 323 front-wheel drive models appeared in 1980, leading the almost universal change to front-wheel drive for small family sedans.
The 323 has since evolved into a polished performer, offering a range of models right up to the rally-winning four-wheel drive turbo model.
The Series 3 version saw the introduction of the Astina with a 1.8-litre engine, smart looks and outstanding performance.
The model under review here, the 323 four-door sedan with 1.6- litre engine, was aimed at the family segment of the market, providing low-cost transport without being too upmarket.
The engine is a carburettor equipped, four-cylinder, single overhead camshaft, 16-valve unit coupled to a three-speed automatic transmission or five-speed manual driving the front wheels.
A 1.8-litre engine version was also available, coming with a four-speed auto and other extras at a higher price. The four-door sedan has adequate accommodation for four adults and a conventional boot with low loading lip and good luggage space.
Inside, the instrument panel design is simple but efficient. A black band incorporating the ventilation louvres and switches links the left-hand and right-hand door grips.
The rear-seat back has a 60/40 split, giving access to the boot, the seats have cloth trim and the front bucket seats are specially designed for lumbar support.
Suspension is independent all round by MacPherson struts with coil springs at the front and struts, coil springs and twin trapezoidal links at the rear.
Steering is power assisted rack and pinion and the brakes are vacuum power assisted discs all round, ventilated at the front.
The 323 is a willing performer on the road, capable of 180km/h. Despite its good performance, the engine is designed for economy of running and has strong torque in the middle speed range for flexible driving around town.
Directional stability is excellent. The car steers well, turns into corners without excessive understeer and brakes firmly.
Fuel economy is important in a car packaged for family use. The 323 sedan with 1.6-litre engine and manual transmission should return about 9.0L/100km around town and 6.0L/100km on the highway. Add about 1.0L/100km for automatic transmission.
The Mazda 323 is well proven in regard to durability and most service problems have been sorted out over the long life of the model.
Special attention has been paid to body rust-proofing - a problem with early rear-wheel drive 323s - so this should not be a worry. Generally speaking, the car has no service problems and spare parts are readily available from an extensive dealer network.
The Mazda 323 1.6-litre sedan is a good choice as a four-seat family car.
It looks good, performs well, has a proven service record and is economical to operate. Quality of finish is high and it has a good feel on the road. It is hard to beat as a value package.
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