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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For Space inside is good and the boot is practical. It's reliable and drives well, too

Against The ride is firm and choppy around town, and some of the engines can become noisy at speed

Verdict It's reliable, practical and fun to drive, but not the most comfortable or refined

Go for… 1.6 GXI

Avoid… 1.3 petrol

Mazda 323 Hatchback
  • 1. There's plenty of room for both front- and rear-seat passengers
  • 2. Take a thorough drive and test the electrics, engine, gearbox, clutch, steering and suspension
  • 3. You might find the 323’s 9000-mile service intervals come around all too frequently, but dealer rates are competitive
  • 4. The boot is a generous size, and all models have a split-folding rear seat
  • 5. The 1.6 petrol and the 2.0 Di models are the ones to track down
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Mazda 323 Hatchback full review with expert trade views

Here’s a car that can fulfil the family-car role and still be fun to drive. The 323 suffers from very little body roll, so it's plenty of fun on a twisty, country road. Although the steering may feel too light for some tastes, it's precise and accurate.

Town driving isn’t quite so much fun, though, as the suspension is too firm.

Behind the wheel, the dash has a rather hotchpotch feel to its layout, but there is plenty of room in the cabin for both front- and rear-seat occupants. The boot is a generous size, and a split-folding rear seat is standard across the range, as well as plenty of other equipment.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Looks old now, late special editions sell well, GSi or SE the best specs

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Find a post-June 2001, 2.0-litre turbodiesel, and you’ll have a refined yet swift hatchback - and the best model in the range. Although the engine's power was reduced by 10bhp at that point, the whole range benefited from a face-lift with a new bonnet and grille. An even later post-November 2001 GXI model comes with electric sunroof, side airbags and traction control.

A 1.3-litre petrol engine was also added to the range in 2001, but with just 72bhp, it’s the weakest of the seven engines, and life on the motorway can be a struggle. The 96bhp 1.6-litre is a shrewder choice and is also available with a four-speed auto as well as the standard five-speed manual.

The 131bhp 2.0-litre petrol, borrowed from the 626 to replace the 323’s outgoing 112bhp, 1.8-litre in August 2001, is free-revving and flexible. Available as a Sport only, it tops the 323 range with alloy wheels, a CD multichanger and an RDS-equipped stereo.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Low failure rates - a very reliable car

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

One advantage of the 72bhp, 1.3-litre petrol engine is that it comes with the lowest insurance rating - group 6. Don’t worry about stepping up to the more powerful 87bhp 1.5-litre or the 98bhp 1.6-litre, however. They are only rated one group higher. Fuel economy isn’t a big deciding factor between these engines, either. All three get close to 38mpg.

The larger 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre petrols offer reasonable 33mpg fuel economy, but insurance is pricier, with a group 10 rating. The best fuel economy comes from the two 2.0-litre turbodiesels, with figures varying between 48 and 55mpg. Insurance costs are reasonable, at group 7.

High-mileage drivers will find the 323’s 9000-mile service interval comes around all too frequently, but dealer labour rates are very competitive. Warranty Direct and other bodies have always rated the 323 as reliable and relatively cheap to repair when it does go wrong.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Looks old now, late special editions sell well, GSi or SE the best specs

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There’s nothing as depressing as checking what recalls there have been on a car you are interested in only to find the list reads like the flight departures board at Heathrow Airport.

Well, with the Mazda 323, you don’t have to worry - there has only been one recall. That was to address the possibility of the fuel tank heat shield working itself loose, and concerns cars built from the start of October 1999 up to the end of June 2000.

That glitch aside, the 323 has managed to keep its nose clean. It always stays at the top end of its class in What Car?’s JD Power and other customer satisfaction studies.

Happily, there is no list of potential problems to work your way through with this model although, as always, take a very thorough test drive and put the electrics, engine, gearbox, clutch, steering and suspension through their paces.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Low failure rates - a very reliable car

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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