THREES ON A SPREE
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.