Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - FEATURE -

SO what did your Mazda 323 have back in 1977? The model that was to be­come a sales phe­nom­e­non ar­rived here as a three or five-door hatch­back.

Its 1.3-litre four-cylin­der en­gine sent a mere 45kW to the rear wheels via four-speed man­ual gear­box. 323 had live axle, rolled on tiny 13-inch wheels shod with cross-ply tyres and had kerb weight of just 812kg.

Con­tem­po­rary ad­ver­tis­ing lauded the 323’s padded dash­board, air ven­ti­la­tion (not air­con) as stan­dard, front disc brakes push-but­ton ra­dio. Mazda claimed long-term dura­bil­ity been ad­dressed “most” body pan­els had

spe­cially treated to help pre­vent rust. cabin. Seats and doors were even more vel­vety in their light tan love­li­ness; wood ve­neer had moved to the gear stick sur­round we now a rev counter (in lu­mi­nous green) and a cas­sette deck.

The front-drive 33-year-old un­der­steered in wet less than I’d ex­pected, dis­played de­cent sta­bil­ity was an­other rev vy treat. If any­thing, the gear shift throw even longer and steer­ing less re­spon­sive than the older car — light easy were most likely or­der of day in ’84. Next up, a lit­tle gem. The 1991 Astina SP Hatch with its fast­back body styling and popup head­lights: the sporty 90s had ar­rived. On track steer­ing was sharp 323’s chas­sis a beau­ti­fully bal­anced thing, it blessed with a slick lit­tle five-speed man­ual.

Down­sides? The black­est cabin man has yet cre­ated and an in­te­rior smell re­call­ing boozy taxi rides home in the ’90s.

A 1996 323 Astina with 104kW V6 was next, fit­ted with four-speed auto and clunky CD player/cas­sette deck combo. The sleek 21-year-old tiny head­lights had the power to match well sorted chas­sis.

Next up, look-at-me yel­low 2001 Astina SP20 felt mod­ern and solid, if lack­ing charm of those be­fore it.

Fi­nally, the Mazda3 of 2005, still sharp de­sign clean

sim­ple cabin. User friendly as­sured de­spite the sod­den track, it was a fine blend of con­fi­dence, per­for­mance and driver in­volve­ment.

Drive 2017 Mazda3 Astina with its sat­nav screen, lane keep as­sist, head-up dis­play leather fin­ish you can see how far things have come. Yet the DNA be traced back to those first 323s.

Why do Aus­tralians love this model? Be­cause the lit­tle Mazda does most very well: han­dling, per­for­mance, de­sign or prac­ti­cal­ity. And to be a pop­u­lar car of peo­ple, that for­mula is tough beat.

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