As part of a model sharing agreement Ford also marketed the Mazda as a Laser. The 323 had a better build quality and finish than its contemporaries when new, meaning that the model should age well.
The 323 was available in either the 1.6 or 1.8 litre versions with the smaller engine having a fuel consumption of about 9L/100kms and the 1.8 being about 10 per cent thirstier. Both use the normal ULP. The performance of the 1.6L model is muted by the automatic transmission but other than that the general performance is all you will need for a city commuter.
They were a bit dearer than the rest when new; partly because of the level of standard features like air-conditioning, central locking, engine immobiliser, power steering, radio/cassette and sporty rear spoiler. A driver air bag was also standard and when tested by Australian NCAP it received a three-star crash test rating for both its occupant and pedestrian safety.
As service intervals have generally crept out to 10,000 kms or every six months, adherence to these schedules becomes more important to minimise the risk of damage as the checks done during servicing can often nip a potentially expensive repair in the bud. As a case in point, the condition of the automatic transmission fluid needs to be checked for signs of having been overheated, to avoid expensive repair work. Protégés should have had their timing belt replaced at 100,000 kms or every five years on both, so buyers should check to see if this $295 job has been done before settling on a purchase. Also have the CV boot condition checked, as noisy CV joints are common.
Overall, the Mazda 323 Protégé is a good little car that ages well and its conservative design has appealed to the older buyers who tend to look after their cars a bit better than most, so keep your eye out for one that has come from this sort of home.