1989 Mazda 929

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chicagotribune.com
Three out of four ain`t bad.

The Mazda 929 is one of the most comfortable, smooth riding, luxurioussedans on the market.

The Mazda MPV mini-van is sensational, perhaps the best mini-van amongthe glut of competitors in showrooms.

The Mazda Miata MX-5 two seater will make you forget in one block all the horror stories you heard or experienced about roadsters thanks to its British and Italian predecessors.

So when we test drove the Mazda 323 subcompact, we expected a vehiclewith the elan of a 929, people and cargo capacity of an MPV and performance ofan MX-5.

What we got was a functional, high-mileage subcompact, a little workhorse to get Dad, Mom and a couple of kids to wherever is needed withoutclaustrophobia or need for frequent refueling-though with kids, of course, pitstops are considered mandatory even if you travel only around the block.

The 929, MPV and Miata are so good we got spoiled into thinking thatevery Mazda leads a charmed life.

It`s not that the 323 should be mentioned in the same breath with a Yugo. It`s just that when it came to the Midas touch this time, Mazda came up with amuffler, not a pot of gold. The 323 has to wait its turn until late thissummer when a new version will be introduced in the U.S. Dramatic changes are promised by Mazda.

We drove the 323 LX four-door sedan, which is built on a 94.5-inchwheelbase and is 169.7 inches long. Call it petite. Though the dimensions are meager, interior room is more than ample and trunk space is cavernous. Ifchanges need to be made it would be to add an inch or two to width, especiallyin the glass or greenhouse area for a bit more feeling of roominess. And therounded, saucer-like trunk floor should be made flat to avoid having tobalance any cargo.

Mazda said one of the more notable changes for the 1990 version will beimproved space utilization.

The 323 is powered by a fuel-injected 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine teamed with 5-speed manual as standard, automatic as an option. Though the 1.6develops only 82 horsepower, it has no trouble propelling the light-weight(2,300 pounds) 323. A few extra pounds of insulation, however, would makefor quieter 0-to-30 mile-an-hour acceleration off the line.

The EPA rating is 28 miles per gallon city/33 m.p.g. highway with 5-speed, 24/30 with automatic, as in our test car. The automatic lever comeswith a push button to activate overdrive to conserve fuel.

Ride and handling are nothing out of the ordinary. You feel some of thetar marks and lean a bit in sharp turns. It`s no Miata suspension. But itwasn`t designed to be. The 28/33 or 24/30 tells the story of 323`s purpose.

Standard equipment includes power brakes, power steering, color-keyedcarpeting, rear window defogger, split fold-down rear seats, color-keyedelectric mirrors, digital quartz clock and full-wheel covers.

Among the popular options, automatic transmission runs $700; AM-FM stereo with cassette, $450; air conditioning, $760; and a power window/door locktandem, $300.

Base price is $9,799, up $300 from the outset of the model year thanks to the decline of the dollar against the yen. Add $269 for freight.



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