The Mazda 323 range is a popular choice amongst New Zealander's with a first rate reputation as a well equipped, reliable vehicle.
Designated names have changed for the revised and restyled 2001 models with the Protégé sedan now being simply, 323 Limited sedan and the Astina name replaced by the GLXi Sport Hatch.
Three different engines are fitted to each version in the range with the sedan having a 1.8 litre unit, the Sport Hatch a 1.6 litre and the dynamic SP20 Hatch has an energetic 2.0 litre unit. We found our Sport Hatch test car comfortable and an easy vehicle to drive in all conditions.
The repackaged interior offers plenty of space for four adults, there is a fifth seatbelt in the centre rear position but as it is just a lap belt - rather than the recommended a lap/diagonal belt. We suggest not using this to restrain an occupant unless absolutely necessary.
New hard wearing seat fabrics present a bright interior and the revised two-tone dash layout puts all controls within easy reach of the driver.
Front seats are very comfortable and supportive with plenty of moveable adjustment. The driver's seat has height and tilt adjustment controlled by twin knobs at the side and the steering wheel can be set for height.
Large glass areas with narrow pillars give good all round visibility. Instruments set directly in front of the driver are clear and easy to define with the large central Speedo having a digital odometer and twin trip recorders. Rear positions have plenty of head and leg room with space under the front seats to place the feet. Rear seat backs and squabs split fold 60/40 to provide an extended flat floor area for the already capacious boot. A full size spare wheel sits in the boot floor covered by a board and carpet.
Four tie hooks are set in the boot floor for load security.
The 1.5 litre engine in the Sport Hatch performs well and is free revving through its range. Strong mid-range torque makes city and slow traffic driving a breeze and responsive acceleration for quick overtaking manoeuvres however; this did result in only average fuel returns of 7.8l/100km.
The precise and easy movement of the gearshift allows for quick flowing ratio changes with the clutch having a firm, smooth feel underfoot.
Some might find the suspension settings are a little firm, but on the whole we consider them a suitable balance for good handling and passenger ride comfort. The power assist steering has a positive and nicely weighted feel.
The 323 Sport Hatch is good value buying and standard equipment levels include, dual air bags, remote central locking, electric adjust exterior mirrors, electric windows, air conditioning and a stereo system and single CD player. General build quality and paint finish is excellent and although it is a bit of a 'Plain Jane' in the styling department it offers a comfortable, spacious interior with responsive and reliable motoring.