"My mom bought a used 323 with 2,000 miles on it back in 1992. It's still in the family to this day. Throughout the 90s and the early 2000s we used the car as a dog hauler, for road trips, a commuter, and as an around town errand runner. The car has braved it all.
Although at 250,000 miles a vehicle transportation company employee damaged the car during a joyride (which he admitted), we were forced to swap out the original engine (which was doing great) for another. The 323s shared their engine with several other cars, so a replacement was easy to procure. The new engine is pulling strong and we plan on another 20+ years of service.
Performance and Reliability
This car is solid. First off, the engine is a workhorse. ‘Peppy’ is probably the best word to use. While it's not a straight line powerhouse, it's perfect for around the city. In fact it's geared so well that the first clutch job was at a very overdue 180,000 miles. Didn’t need to fix what wasn’t broken. Because of the small displacement, I highly recommend the 5-speed manual transmission so that you can fully utilize the engine. An automatic will just never get it right without simply flooring it all the time.
The car has a solid and fairly comfortable ride for a car in its class. The Macpherson strut suspension and short wheelbase allows for a composed ride and nimbleness around the corners. However, the car’s OEM tire and wheel size is the bare minimum. Larger tires and wheels help improve handing immensely. For those that wish to make this swap. We started with the original 175/75 13 inch wheels and went to 195/60 tires with 14 inch wheels which fit perfectly. The old tires look like they’re off a bicycle compared to the new ones. The increased tire width definitely helps in the corners and the ride is a bit smoother as well. Even at highway speeds, the car is comfortable and with the right tires, it isn’t even that loud.
Interior and Comfort
The interior is what you can expect from an early 90s economy car. Gray and black plastics abound. While the interior isn’t the most stylish, the quality is actually pretty good. Almost 20 years later, the dash has no cracks and the door handles are original. Knobs, gauges, and all controls still work. The HVAC controls and radio are laid out thoughtfully and are easy to use. If you’re really into music while driving, upgrade the stereo. The OEM 40-watt speakers won’t cut it for most people.
The 323’s interior is also roomy for this class of car. Most economy hatches are tight and have a bathtub feel. Not this car. We rented a Dodge Caliber recently for a road trip and felt as if we were on top of each other compared to the Mazda. I have plenty of headroom even at 6’3. I will complain about how close the pedals are. Fine for someone with smaller feet, but my foot swallows the pedals and I have to be careful so that the sides of my shoes don’t depress the wrong pedal.
Exterior and Versatility
Exterior styling is in line with other cars of the era, when the industry was moving away from boxy designs and into more organic and curvy profiles. While we all feel the front end has a good look and the rear suffers from the detracting light bar, prevalent on a lot of 90s vehicles, it’s all a matter of personal preference. I’ve found that hatchbacks and wagons aren’t as popular and “cool” in the U.S. as they are in Europe, but they are very handy in terms of hauling people and cargo. The 323 is no exception. Hatch opens all the way (the struts that keep the hatch need replacing by the ten year mark) which allows for easy loading/unloading. The backseats fold down nearly flat helping to increase space too.
All in all a well a planned and well executed car. Recommended for anyone looking for a no frills straight forward ride that’ll get the job done. Whether commuting, or in need of a city street go-kart errand runner, the 323 will cover you."
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