Mazda 323F (1994-1998): Monday modern classic


Every Monday we’re serving you up a delicious slice of pure postulation. That’s right, once a week we’re using our expertise and passion for the subject to predict what motors are destined for classic car stardom. This week, Parkers finance editor and former Classic Car Weekly news editor, Murray Scullion proposes the Mazda 323F. 

Gran Turismo driving game nostalgia is a real documented cause of car folk to irrationally wanting fairly bland cars. It explains a type of love specifically for fairly workaday Japanese hatchbacks - and explains why the Mazda 323F is destined for classic car status.

Mazda 323F: History 

The 323 nameplate was around between 1976 and 2003 in various guises, but the car that gets us really hot under the collar is the 323F sold between 1994 and 1998. It was built during a period rife in change at Mazda - chiefly because in 1995 Ford upped its stake in the Japanese firm from 25% to 33%. The 323 that followed this generation became blander and much more Ford-like as a result.

In other markets the 323F (F for Fastback) was sold as the Lantis or Astina, and you may see the odd Lantis grey import over here. When the 323F landed in the UK it was available with 1.5-litre and 1.8-litre four-cylinder engines, as well as a 2.0-litre V6 shared with the Mazda Xedos 6. While there were three-door hatchback and four-door saloon versions around too.

But back to Fastback. A few different models graced the showrooms before it was shuffled off sale in 1998. Base model was the GL, while there were also GLX, LXi, Executive, and ZXi being above it. As usual of Japanese cars of this era, all were well equipped with electronic wizardry.

Despite only being on sale in the UK for four years, it became a bit of a cult classic. It featured in five Gran Turismo games, was built into a BTCC racer for the 94/95 season - but failed to race, and became a darling of a very niche tuning scene that felt Max Power magazine was just a bit much.

Mazda 323F: Rarity

We’ve used the term cult classic in the paragraph above, and we mean that. It was so overlooked by the British public that the number of cars brought to the UK is hard to come by. It’s pretty hard to gauge a number of cars left on UK roads because of the way the DVLA reports the cars. But by judging by the trim levels, there are around 1000 323Fs of this generation still taxed on the roads in 2020.

This may not be the best of news for the types of people who love really rare cars, but it is good news for people who want to own one, as they are still readily available - and for not much money. Those 2.0-litre V6s were more expensive to buy and are rarer today. Only 100 or so are on British roads today.

Why should you care?


Early Gran Turismo games were famed for turning workaday cars into superstars overnight. Some of these cars have become less and less attainable over time (Skyline R32 anyone?) but the 323F is one of the very few to have bucked the trend. You can pick up a star of your heavily pixelated CRT TV for less than £500.

It’s attainable and it’ll tick enough retro boxes for some people. But it’s also a sensible and stylish product of the 1990s. In fact, it works as a cheap modern classic you could easily use every day. It’s similar money to a Mk1 Ford Focus but it’s rarer and older - if not quite as accomplished.

The Fastback coupe styling looks wonderfully curvaceous today, while the 2.0-litre V6 engine makes 147bhp, giving it a respectable 0-62mph time of around nine seconds. The 1.5-litre and 1.8-litre models are slower and cheaper but are still quick enough to potter round in. The interior is greyer than a Monday morning in Manchester, but what were you expecting 

Being a Mazda of the Nineties, mechanically it’s pretty sound. There’s nothing too sinister to keep in mind, even with those little V6s. But, being a Mazda of the 1990s, it’s worth keeping an eye out for rust...

The CCfS Classic Car Prediction

Despite early models being more than 25-years old, they’re still a long way off the classic car threshold. Give it another 10 years or so, and the shapely lines of the 323F will be appreciated by most classic car folk. V6s will be the first to be accepted because of the added power and rarity factor. 

Most classic car shows are still some way off allowing a late model 1.5 GL onto the grass - while some may even make the Mazda wait until its 40th birthday. Japanese car shows tend to be a lot less hung up on years, and often have categories in shows for 1980s and 1990s cars. A 323F would be welcome among these cars - and just imagine how rare it’ll be.

There’s even a 323F owners club, as well as a few Facebook groups knocking around. Now’s the time to buy too - we predict prices will slowly rise as cars become more scarcer. And If you’re looking for something that’s just a bit older and rarer there’s always the previous generation 323 with the pop up headlights. And if you want something really rare, the previous generation to that one was available with a turbo and four-wheel drive....


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