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Car reviews - Mazda - 323 - Protege 4-dr sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Compact, spacious, refined, zippy 1.6, fun-to-drive, economical, well-made, quality-engineered
Room for improvement
Parts and services can be expensive, some engine and road noise

Mazda logo18 Jun 2003

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

THE Mazda 323 has been a long-running success story in Australia. Since 1980, when the design switched from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive, the 323 has earned a reputation as a well built, reliable family car.

As the years have progressed the 323, like its competitors, has grown and can no longer be described as a small car. It now fits the small-medium tag and its smaller brother, the 121, has filled the gap.

Also sold as the Ford Laser in this country - with appropriate differences - the 323 follows the standard class formula of front-wheel drive, four-cylinder engine of between 1.5 and 2.0- litres with accommodation for four people in comfort and five if required, and sedan and hatchback body styles.

The front engine, front-wheel drive layout offers significant labour savings in the build process as all the mechanicals - engine, gearbox, radiator, drive shafts - can be pre-assembled and then fitted to the body as one unit.

The Protege is at the lower priced end of the 323 model range, fitting below the more sporty and expensive Astina.

It is available as a four-door sedan only and has a transversely- mounted 1.6 or 1.8-litre engine driving the front wheels through a choice of four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmissions.

The model under review has the 1.6-litre, twin cam, 16-valve engine which has been well proven over many years, with constant refinements to improve power and economy.

The five-speed manual gearbox features crunch-free syncromesh on reverse gear while the four-speed automatic has a "hold" mode which allows the driver to keep the car in a given gear on twisting roads or steep descents.

The all-independent suspension is by MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front and Mazda's unique twin trapezoidal links at the rear. Each MacPherson strut is located by twin lateral links and one trailing link.

Brakes are discs all round, ventilated at the front and vacuum power-assisted by a tandem booster. ABS is not available on the 1.6-litre model. Wheels and tyres are 185/65 R14 on steel wheels.

Steering is by rack and pinion with power-assistance an option.

The body of the 323 is attractively styled with a long wheelbase, wide track and "cabin forward" design that gives maximum interior space and minimal overhang front and rear.

Priority has been given to ease of entry and exit, and generous luggage space.

Doors are fitted with side impact beams while rigid cabin design and energy-absorbing front and rear sections add to passenger safety in a collision.

Inside, space has been maximised by the longer wheelbase and wider track.

Rear seat headroom is good and the rear seat back has a 60/40 split to allow long objects to be carried.

Instrument panel and interior trims are smoothly designed and the front seats feature a special back support pad.

Storage includes a glovebox, large door pockets, lidded centre console box, sunglass box, cupholder and seat back pockets.

Features include central locking, power mirrors and a four- speaker radio/cassette, with driver's airbag standard from 1996.

The willing 1.6-litre engine provides good road performance and the all-independent suspension coupled with sharp steering provides good roadholding and ride.

The brakes are progressive in operation and the well shaped seats give the driver plenty of support during hard cornering.

The Mazda 323 Protege is a well developed package with attractive looks, good interior space, excellent road performance and a long pedigree which will ensure reliability and good resale value.

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