Guest Opinion -- Owen
I have been inspired to write a new car review, one for my current vehicle,
a 1993 Mazda 323 3 door hatch with absolutely no options or extras. I had
planned on not reviewing this car until after I got rid of it in order to
maintain impartiality, but then I figured, "Hell, I'll have this thing for
years yet, why not review it now and get it over with?"
I went looking for a new (to me) car when my brother moved out and took
Tubby with him, leaving me with no real means of personal
transportation. Stoopid mad props go out to www.megawheels.com for being a
great used car search engine in much of the Commonwealth and States, through
which I found a shortlist of about three or four vehicles which I would take
a look at. The criteria? Manual transmission, under 8000 $Cdn, reliability
(as assessed by another automotive information gem, Phil Edmunston's
Lemon-Aid guide), good fuel economy, and less than 10 years old. Many of
the available cars were of highly questionable reliability, and I even
considered a compact pickup as an option, but I sorted out the wheat from
the chaff, and set out to check out my shortlisted cars.
The first one I saw was a 4 door Subaru Justy, but the paint was orange
peeled by rust all around the wheel wells and hatchback, and the service was
really, REALLY, rude, so I headed over to a Honda dealer a few blocks away
that had (and still has) a great selection of used vehicles in a large price
range. It was here that I found the second car on my shortlist, and the one
which I would buy.
No rust, about 100,000 km, 5 speed, clean, and a not bad cassette player (no
CD). It looked like a good deal, so I got in and put the driver's seat all
the way back, (right about where I have it for driving) and then climbed
into the back seat and strapped myself in.
Neither my feet nor my knees touched the back of the seat in front of me.
In a car that is more than a foot shorter than a Toyota Corolla, this is
some kind of minor miracle of design.
Why do I like my car? It has about triple the horsepower that Tubby
had,(not saying much) the heater could turn the thing into a rolling sauna
on the coldest winter day, the interior is cavernous (I can fit four in
comfort, five if the three in the back are friendly), I can even fit my
buddy Malcolm (6'7") into it without feeling like a jerk. Not only that,
but it has never failed to start on the first try, even in the coldest
depths of January after eight hours of being parked at the airport, or
overnight in the driveway. Furthermore, it has a working tape player, it
gets about 35-40 mpg in the kind of driving I do to commute to work (not
much starting and stopping), and it is _fun_.
Fun, you ask? A crappy little hatch that was the base model even when it
came out eight years ago? Hell yes! The shifter is silky smooth, with
shortish reasonably precise throws, the engine has a pretty good power band
for a small four, it revs freely, and the exhaust note it subdued and
growly, not the annoying blaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhht of certain imported
hatchbacks whose initials are HC who shall remain nameless. Also, although
it won't go around corners with the unquestioning blind loyalty of Tubby, it
still turns and burns, if not with authority, at least with persuasiveness.
It is very well balanced for a front engine-front drive design, with a
slight tendency for the front end to push when you are pushing on an on ramp
to beat the traffic behind you. Ease up on the throttle a tiny fraction and
you're back in line, tap the brakes and you're in a bit of a 4 wheel slide,
which I have learned not to do anymore, as it is scary as hell when you
can't afford any kind of bodywork.
Knock the back seats down and you have a cargo area with an almost flat bed
and low lift over which will carry any one of the following:
- A computer and monitor in original boxes
- a queen sized futon, rolled
- a 7 foot Christmas tree
- a patio table and chairs
- an armchair with ottoman
- two dozen 45 day wine kits
- fifteen 23 l carboys
- or thirty potted poinsettias in bulky paper wrappers
So I like it. I really like it. I even like the colour. Is it perfect?
No. Why not? Glad you asked.
There is no right hand side mirror. It isn't missing or broken or anything,
that was the way it came from the factory. Way to go to all of you guys at
Mazda who put safety first every day.
The seats are some kind of ugly evil woven vinyl that appears
indestructible, but is about the most uncomfortable thing I have ever sat on
in shorts, and that includes the seats in Tubby.
Opinionated Editor's note: I am under the distinct impression that Owen likes these seats because he thinks they will be easy to clean off if his friend Malcolm pukes on them after drinking, say, an entire bottle of Sambuca.
The gearing allows for keeping up with traffic in the city, and cruises very
happily at 80 kmh in 5th on Crowchild Trail, however above 90 it is
incredibly loud. I have had it up much higher than that, I have exceeded
the speed limit by a large margin on highway 2 (rather larger than I
intended, but the fellow I was following at a reasonable speed seemed to
have cranked up his cruise control a bit at a time until we were going
_really_ fast.) But it is not a pleasant experience.
No Cruise Control, forcing me to sink to the level described above, slotting
in behind someone traveling at a reasonable speed and just following them.
I really don't like doing that because it leaves me at the mercy of other
drivers. I guess I could keep an eye on my own speedo, but I'd really
rather watch the road.
The windows, when rolled down, let in all kinds of rain, in great rivers,
from the windshield. This never happened in Tubby because of the incredibly
ugly but very useful rain gutters all around the window.
The back windows open out no-draft style, which doesn't help, because there
is really no draft. If I didn't want a draft, I would keep the damn windows
shut. Oh wait! That's what I do with the back windows!
The floor of the cargo area is made out of an incredibly flimsy sheet of
like, 1/8th inch plywood, which warps when the slightest weight is put on
it. It has never broken, but it is really annoying.
The rear window washer tank is in the cargo area under the carpeting, and it
took me forever to find. Also, it is impossible to fill without spilling
the fluid in the trunk.
So how does it rate?
I think the best way to say is that my car has no name. Unlike the last two
cars that I drove regularly, Tubby and Tippy, the Mazda has no name. It's
just "the Mazda" or "my car". It is a good car, but it has never had enough
character for me to name it. There is no electrical tape keeping the sun
visors reasonably rectangular, or keeping the shifter from vibrating. There
is no u-bracket and lamp-hanging-chain assembly in lieu of an inside door
handle. There are no incredibly ratty fake fur seat covers. There is no
duct tape holding the driver's side door in one piece. I have never had to
spend an entire afternoon with rubbing compound taking rust spots off of it.
I have never considered repainting the Mazda in blue with white racing
stripes. I don't keep booster cables in the Mazda (though I should.
Everyone should). I have never had to hose purple vomit off of the Mazda
after a Mahones concert. I am not afraid of what would happen if I took the
Mazda through an automatic carwash. There is no guesswork involved in how
much gas is in the tank. I am not afraid of taking the Mazda on a long road
trip (however unpleasant it might be). I have never pushed the Mazda more
than a foot. (I didn't own Tubby when my brother and I pushed it four blocks
to have a new starter put in it. It was easy, actually, between the two of
us, we got the thing up to running speed within a really short distance.
Happily, my mum took it really easy on the brakes, so we really didn't have
to push it much after that until it got to the shop's parking lot.) I
actually need to insure the Mazda against its own future. (Tubby really
only needed liability).
So the verdict?
I have mixed feelings about the Mazda. I like it, but I really don't _love_
it. Would I buy another? Maybe. I would certainly _recommend_ it to
anybody who wanted a fun, practical, roomy, reliable vehicle for less than
ten thousand dollars. But I would only buy another one if it was likely to
be the only car I would have available to me. It makes a great _first_ car
for the kind of person who believes that cars will get lonely if they have
to live alone. I will certainly keep it now that I have it. I'll run the
thing into the ground, probably until after I finish articling and want to
look at getting into a newer if not bigger car. My dad's Toyota will keep
It's basically a good car, and I can't rally complain too much about
anything about it. It is great in the city, bearable on the highway, and it
runs all the time. It gets Four and a half pints, but they are pints of
mass marketed premium beer. Why? Because they are as good if not better
than the local microbrew from a technical viewpoint, but they just don't
have the same loveable character.
If I had the same amount of money right now to go out and buy a sibling for
the Mazda? There are a few options.
- Acura Integra RS (2nd generation 1989-1993)
- Mazda MX-3 V6
- Hyundai Tiburon (late 90s)
These fellows would all probably be great little sports cars and good enough
in their own way, but I would be afraid of having the same problem that
keeps me from really loving the Mazda.
- Mazda Miata 1990-92 (exceptionally ill-used)
- Toyota MR2 1985-88
- Honda CRX 1985-1990
Now we're starting to get into less practical cars. Two seaters whose
reliability, although decent, may be questionable enough to satisfy my
automotive masochist, and whose cargo space makes rude gestures at a week's
- Porsche 914
- Porsche 944
- BMW 325 (1984-87)
- Any doddering old Mercedes
These are the automotive relics that can really break the bank even in just
day to day repairs. Worth the effort for the leather wrapped sport-luxury
kitsch, but only if I have a regular income and alternative transportation.