Compact car; Built in Japan
  • 2-door hatchback
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $1,400*

1990 Mazda 323 SE

1991 Mazda 323

1994 Mazda 323

1991 Mazda 323

1990 Mazda 323

  • Fuel economy
  • Handling/roadholding
  • Maneuverability
  • Passenger room (front)
  • Acceleration (automatic transmission)
  • Noise
  • Rear-seat room

All told, Mazda’s smallest model ranks as a solid entry in the competitive econocar category. Before buying, though, be sure to check out the Toyota Tercel, Honda Civic, Geo Prizm, and Nissan Sentra, among other subcompacts.


Two distinct models resulted from the redesign of Mazda’s front-drive subcompact for 1990: a 2-door hatchback, again called 323; and a longer, more costly 4-door sedan named Protege. Though similar in front-end appearance, the two shared no sheetmetal. An 82-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine again powered the 323. A 5-speed manual gearbox was standard; 4-speed automatic optional. Base and SE editions went on sale. The latter got cloth upholstery instead of vinyl, as well as tinted glass and upgraded interior trim. Motorized front shoulder belts and manual lap belts were installed.

Yearly Updates

1991 323
Only minor standard-equipment changes were initiated for the 1991 model year.
1992 323
New taillight lenses were installed in this season’s 323, but that was about the only change in Mazda’s subcompact hatchback.
1993 323
Once again, changes were few, led by installation of a new corporate logo to identify the smallest Mazda model.
1994 323
Unaltered yet again, the slow-selling 323 was in its final season, still devoid of antilock braking or an airbag. All 323s came in the same base price level.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Only two powertrain choices were available for the 323: a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, driving either 5-speed manual shift or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The overhead-camshaft engine developed 82 horsepower.

ohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.6/97
Engine HP 82
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 92
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

Automatic transmissions cut rather deeply into performance and mileage, but the 323’s acceleration and economy are impressive with the 5-speed manual shift. The only way to drive the 323 with automatic is to keep your foot to the floorboard much of the time. Even though you have to rev the engine for all it’s worth, the 323 gives good fuel economy, but engine and road noise can grow annoying at highway speeds.

For a subcompact, the 323 offers nimble handling and a stable ride. However, the small tires and short wheelbase do little for cornering power, and the tall hatchback leans over heavily in tight bends. Small size really pays off in around-town driving, of course, where the 323 feels capable and agile.

Interior room is impressive up front, with plenty of head and leg space. The back seat is short of both, and hard to get into. Luggage space is of decent size, and the split rear seats fold down to increase cargo capacity.


Model Tested: 1994 Mazda 323 5-speed

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 3
Fuel Economy - 7
Ride Quality - 3
Steering/Handling - 3
Quietness - 2


Controls/Materials - 4
Room/Comfort Front - 3
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 3


Value - 5

Total: 36


2-door hatchback
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
96.5 163.6 65.7 54.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
15.8 13.2 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.6 37.6 42.2 34.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1994 323 2-door hatchback


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 116
Injury 126
Theft 34

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: The A/C may gradually stop working because refrigerant may leak from pinholes in the plumbing. (1990)
Description: Original equipment brakes are prone to squealing and/or pedal pulsations. (1990-93)
Description: The original clutch may make a squealing noise due to a problem with the springs on the disc. (1990-94)
Steering problems
Description: Vibration in the steering wheel is due to bad motor mounts and radiator mounts. (1990-91)
Steering problems
Description: The steering wheel may be off-center necessitating repositioning or adjusting the tie rods. (1990-94)
Water leak
Description: Water enters the passenger compartment because of a lack of sealing material on the heater pipes. (1990-93)

Recall History

Description: Rail of automatic shoulder belt can wear, so cable becomes jammed in the rail.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.