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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 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 company.

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.

Score: Four and a Half Pints

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 groceries.

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.

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