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Used Mazda 323 review: 1994-2003

EXPERT RATING
7
Mazda3 has been at the top of the sales races in Australia many times in the last few years. Today we take a look at how honourable ancestor, the Mazda 323, fares in the used-car market. The 323 was offered with a full range of bodies: four-door sedan, four-door hardtops, five-door hatch and station wagon. While the

Mazda3 has been at the top of the sales races in Australia many times in the last few years. Today we take a look at how honourable ancestor, the Mazda 323, fares in the used-car market.

The 323 was offered with a full range of bodies: four-door sedan, four-door hardtops, five-door hatch and station wagon. While the station wagon was withdrawn in 1989, the five-door hatchback from 1998 was almost wagon-like in its styling and practicality. 

Many owners say these later hatchbacks made a perfectly acceptable family car. The sedan from 1994 until 1996 continued to use the old body, first released in 1989, not the sleeker shape of the hardtops and hatchbacks.

The Mazda 323 is simple to drive and handles reasonably well for its class and age. It has good ride comfort on most roads, however, rough and ready bush roads can throw the older models about as they have short-travel suspension.

Marketing was interesting at times. While the 323 was sold as a regular car for its class several attempts were made to push it up into the luxury segment. Between 1994 and 1998 it even came with the option of a V6 engine. That expensive Mazda 323 wasn’t a success and the company crept quietly back into its usual market area. 

Still you have to have a go… and the Mazda 323 V6 is something interesting in a used car scene that’s totally dominated by four-cylinder cars.

The lovely little V6 1.8-litre unit gave the 323 an exceptionally refined feel. However, it doesn't always have as much performance as the 1.8-litre four-cylinder, being set up in the European fashion with a strong emphasis on the top end of the rev range.

Four-cylinder units have capacities of 1.6 and 1.8 litres, the 1.6 being by far the most common.

Gearbox options are five-speed manual and either three or four-speed automatic transmission. The three-speed auto was only used on the lower cost models and only until 1996, when it was replaced by a four-speed.

Mazda's 323 is reasonably easy to work on, with a simple underbonnet layout. As is often the way with Japanese cars it’s best to remove the complete engine/ transmission assembly when doing anything more than the more basic of repair work. 

Good amateur mechanics can do smaller jobs, but as always we recommend anything concerning safety should only be done by professionals.

Because of the latter day sales success, the Mazda dealer network is widespread and there are dealers in most country towns of any size. 

Spare parts are generally readily available, though some less-common bits for the oldest models are starting to become scarce.

Insurance premiums are moderate and we don't know of any of the major insurers that differentiate between the four and six-cylinder engines.

Ford’s Laser shared many components with the Mazda 323, though not the six-cylinder engine, offering a further source for spare parts.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Sun-damaged paint, at its worst on the horizontal surfaces, can be the result of a car that has spent much of its life in the open air.

The interior trim is finished to a high standard and generally stands up well. However, pay particular attention to the condition of the dashpad if the car is getting on in years.

Rust is unusual in the Mazda 323s of this era, though it was a major problem in older ones, particularly those with rear-wheel drive. To be on the safe side check the lower areas of the car’s body, around the front and rear windscreens and the fuel filler cap.

Check the engine’s cam-drive belt has been replaced according to the servicing schedule. Failure to do so can cause expensive engine damage.

Be cautious of engines that blow smoke from the exhaust, especially under hard acceleration. Let it idle for about a minute before carrying out this test. 

Manual gearboxes should be light and simple in their operation. Any reluctance to go into a lower gear should be treated as a likely problem.

Be wary of an automatic transmission that is either reluctant to change, too eager to change, or which is harsh when it does change gears.

Drive the car with the steering on full lock in one direction then the other and listen for clicking sounds from the front-axle universal joints.

CAR BUYING TIP

The first thing we check on any car inspection is the left-front wheel. Damage there caused by the wheel crunching the kerb is often a sign of poor driving. If there’s damage there the rest of the car may also have suffered.

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2003 $2,300 $4,840
2002 $1,900 $4,840
2001 $1,850 $4,070
2000 $2,100 $4,070
1999 $2,100 $4,070
1998 $1,900 $4,730
1997 $1,800 $4,730
1996 $1,800 $4,510
1995 $1,900 $4,070
1994 $1,800 $4,070

View all Mazda 323 pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$2,935
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$1,800
Highest Price
$4,070

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Astina 1.8L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,100 – 3,630 1994 Mazda 323 1994 Astina Pricing and Specs
Astina SP 1.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,400 – 4,070 1994 Mazda 323 1994 Astina SP Pricing and Specs
(base) 1.6L, ULP, 3 SP AUTO $1,900 – 3,300 1994 Mazda 323 1994 (base) Pricing and Specs
Astina 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,400 – 4,070 1994 Mazda 323 1994 Astina Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7