In a market full of rivals which offer style, fun and character, Mazda's 323 never really made an impact. But the criteria for a good used car are completely different from those of a brand new model and, for the second-hand buyer, the Japanese hatchback is well worth a look.
So why have sales been so disappointing? This Mazda's main problem is that it stands accused of being bland. The post-1999 323 is much better to look at than its predecessor, but it still hasn't managed to shake off that image, which is a real shame as the car is very reliable, with some strong engines and low prices.
Auto Express readers will already know that the replacement for the 323, called the 3, goes on sale in the autumn. So values of its predecessor are set to take a dive - which can only benefit the shrewd used buyer.
* Some owners have reported poor paint quality, but it isn't a common fault.
* Alloy wheels are easily damaged, so inspect them closely for blemishes.
* The 323 is reliable, coming 16th in our Top 100 chart in the Driver Power 2003 reliability and satisfaction survey. However, we recommend you stick to cars serviced by a main dealer.
The 323 never really set the new or used car markets on fire, despite its reliability, good build quality and reasonable price. Trade bible Glass's Guide says second-hand versions are hard to find, and as a result prices have remained fairly steady since launch. Higher-specified models such as the GSi are the most sought after. But the Mazda is a sound car, often overlooked by potential buyers.
Life With A 323...
Knowing the history of any particular vehicle always makes you feel more comfortable about buying it. So when Ben Sloan bought this Mazda 323 from his father - who had owned the car since new - he was confident that the motor would be a sound purchase. Thankfully, Ben hasn't been disappointed, and his V-registration model has performed faultlessly over the past year.
The 25-year-old control systems engineer, from Carlisle in Cumbria, loves the way the 323 looks, and he also likes the fact that you don't see many around on British roads. He had been tempted by a Ford Focus, but wanted more exclusivity than it could offer, and he reckons the Mazda also provides an equally involving driving experience. One major flaw, however, is that the 1.5 LXi constantly feels underpowered. Ben says his next car will have a bigger engine.
All the maintenance on his 323 has been carried out by his local franchised Mazda dealership. Apart from one occasion - when there was some confusion over a courtesy car - Ben has been completely satisfied with the standard of care he has received from the garage.
When buying a car that struggles to attract the masses, you can afford to go for plenty of kit and top condition. Our pick is a post-2001 facelift 1.6 GSi with air-con, alloys and metallic paint. A fine Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra alternative.