Mazda's 2.0-litre, 147bhp V6 is a jewel of an engine, but one that has to be spurred quite hard to deliver the goods in terms of acceleration. There is a marked change in character, from mellow to mettlesome, at just over 4000 revs. One snag is that this high-spirited engine, allied to a slick gearbox and a genuine fun car's agility, begs to be driven in a manner not guaranteed to flatter fuel consumption - the 28.8mpg average also reflects a lot of fifth-gear cruising with only the driver on board.
Such niggles aside, perhaps the only notable problem is the fact that Mazda has only 155 dealers in this country - a figure to be compared with Ford's 1000, Vauxhall's 600 and Volkswagen's 320.
One previous owner
Judith Campbell, sales manager
My Mazda 323 comes with the job, for which I do lots of driving. I'd had a succession of Astras before, which I liked driving: this is just as good, but with more oomph. I particularly like the fact that it's very steady when you're going at speed on motorways. The steering is good, too - the car's great for manoeuvring into tight spots. My only slight grumble is that I find the boot a tiny bit too small for my golf gear.
Mazda 323F 2.Oi GLX, pounds 17,820. Engine: 2.0-litre V6, 147bhp at 60OOrpm, five-speed gearbox, 0-60mph in 8.8 seconds, top speed 127mph, average fuel consumption 28.8mpg. Servicing cost after 12,000 miles: pounds 112.46.
Volkswagen Golf VR6 five-door, pounds 18,839 Sizzling performance and reasonable economy supplement its space and versatility.
Ford Escort RS2000, three-door, pounds 13,995 Good value, but the lack of a five-door version reduces the convenience factor.
Vauxhall Astra CDX 2.0i, five-door, pounds 15,895 Pleasantly brisk performer, although not as powerful or agile as the Mazda.