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Car reviews - Mazda - 323 - Astina 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Creamy smooth V6, refined and sophisticated engineering, practical hatchback body, great build quality, classy styling
Room for improvement
2.0 V6's absent low down torque and thirst when pushed hard

Mazda logo18 Jun 2003

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

THE Mazda 323 has been one of the mainstream small cars since it was released in 1977.

The last decade has seen the 323 grow in size and move upmarket while the new wave of budget-priced South Koreans have moved in underneath and now dominate the small entry level car sector.

When a new generation of the Mazda 323 range was released in mid- 1994 the top of the range Astina V6 set new benchmarks in styling, performance and refinement for small cars.

Compared to the previous model, the Astina was more aerodynamic, had more power and a larger interior.

The Astina was sold as a four-door hardtop or a five-door hatchback. To most peoples eyes, the hatchback was the better looking of the two and this made it the most popular buy.

The Astina's steep new price made sure it would never be a volume seller but the high level of equipment went a long way towards justifying the money and it cornered a sizeable share in the hot- hatch market niche.

Dual airbags, a good five-speaker sound system with CD player, electric windows and cruise control were part of the Astina package.

The only options were air-conditioning and anti-lock brakes but ABS was moved onto the standard equipment list in 1995 to help justify a hefty price increase.

The Astina's 2.0-litre engine is a high technology statement which sets it apart from its rivals.

The little all-aluminium V6 has double overhead camshafts, variable length inlet manifold, four valves per cylinder and multi-point fuel-injection. The result is an extremely smooth and powerful engine with 104kW which is willing to rev right up to the 7000rpm red line.

Transmissions are either a five-speed manual or optional four- speed automatic.

The suspension is typical small Japanese car with MacPherson struts at the front and struts at the rear.

On the road, the results are much better than average. The handling and cornering ability is almost up there with the best of the European hot hatches, which translates into competent, stable and safe without too much compromise in ride quality.

Mazda also worked hard on reducing road and suspension noise in the cabin and the Astina is much quieter inside than most of its competitors.

The Astina has retained its value better than most small cars, especially if it is a well cared for car with a service history. The extra complication of the high tech engine will make repairs more expensive and regular service will maximise the car's life.

The Mazda Astina V6 is a neat package of small, sporty and luxurious with styling that has stood the test of time.

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