Car reviews - Mazda - 323 - Astina 5-dr hatch
Styling, handling, reliability, versatility
Room for improvement
Limited head room, parts can be expensive
18 Jun 2003
THE first of the Mazda front-wheel drive series of models was introduced in 1980, superseding the well liked rear-wheel drive version.
Mazda was the first of the Japanese manufacturers to move to front-wheel drive, setting a trend followed almost universally by manufacturers in this class across the world.
Mazda developed a four-wheel drive version of the front-wheel drive 323 to contest the World Rally Championship, joining Toyota and Mitsubishi.
The Astina was introduced in 1989 as the flagship of the 323 range in five-door hatchback form - the four-door sedan only came with the facelifted model in 1994 - and is equipped with a 1.8- litre engine, compared to the 1.6-litre of the normal 323 range.
It has sleek, wedge shaped sports coupe body styling and an excellent level of equipment.
Known as the BG series Astina, it is powered by a fuel-injected, four-cylinder, single cam, 16-valve engine. A special inlet manifold system and relatively large capacity give excellent torque in the low to middle rev range, but the engine can spin to 7000rpm without effort.
Drive is through the front wheels with the option of a five-speed manual or four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.
The suspension is independent all round, using MacPherson struts and coil springs, with A-arms at the front and twin trapezoidal links at the rear.
Because of the low bonnet line, the front struts are very short, and gas filled. The rear system is designed to eliminate toe changes at the back under acceleration or bump conditions.
Steering is power-assisted by rack and pinion.
The Astina has a pleasing shape with low bonnet line, concealed pop-up headlamps and a rear spoiler. Inside, the cowled instrumentation is basic but adequate.
The sporty deep-sided front seats offer a high, comfortable driving position, well placed in relation to the pedals, but still giving adequate headroom. The steering wheel is adjustable for height. Rear seat room is adequate for sub-six footers with plenty of shoulder room for two people.
Boot space is excellent and with the rear seat backs folded flat there is a heap of luggage space. Standard equipment includes power mirrors, central locking, four-speaker sound system, map lamp and adjustable seatbelt shoulder anchorages.
On the road, the Astina is impressive. The 1.8-litre engine is smooth and flexible around town but can also spin freely to over 7000rpm when called on to produce maximum performance.
The ride is quite firm, almost in the sports car category, with the 60 series tyres giving good steering response but producing a high level of road noise over coarse surfaces.
The four wheel disc brakes are powerful and predictable.
A well proven design with a long service history, the 323 Astina has no inherent problems. Nevertheless, a complete check a reputable organisation is always a wise course before committing to a purchase.
The Astina is a well finished, well equipped five-door hatch with distinctly sporty overtones. Its attractive appearance and excellent performance make it a popular choice and the resale value reflects this.
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