New cars:

Mazda 323

Mazda has produced new versions of its 323 range which is set against cars such as the Ford Escort, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Cherry and Vauxhall Astra. A prospective buyer has a choice of three or five door hatchbacks, a four door saloon, 1.1 (54.5 bhp), 1.3 (68 bhp) or 1.5 (70 bhp) litre engines and either a five-speed manual gearbox or a three-speed automatic. A 115 bhp, fuel injected performance model will be imported shortly.

On a recent launch in Portugal I had the opportunity to sample several variations of the range over a wide range of driving. conditions and can report that, even if the cars do not exactly stir the blood, they are spacious, well-equipped, quiet and free of any apparent vices, something which makes one suspect that the fuel-injected model will work well.

The new range represents no technical breakthrough, Mazda’s engineers having concentrated on producing a good package. Aerodynamic refinements have resulted in a claimed cd factor of 0.37, the body shell has been stiffened, attention has been paid to paring weight and modifications to the engine’s blocks and heads are claimed to have °both reduced vibration and noise and increased economy and mid-range torque.” The effect of all this attention to detail is marginal in any given area but, taken as a whole, adds up to a thoroughly competent package.

Handling, braking, steering and ride are all above average for the class, the five-speed manual gearbox is excellent but there were times when the engine of the 1.5 litre model I tried displayed a curious hesitancy when using the throttle to balance the car in corners. The level of equipment is a cut above Mazda’s declared rivals without being extraordinary in itself but the cars are keenly priced and the importers should have no difficulty in selling their quota. -ML.