Here and now in the British parc, 'mainstream' remains an apt description, and while the new 323 doesn't have the chic nor sporty lines of its coupe-like predecessor, that simple, roof-mounted cosmetic has helped lift the car's presence way past lacklustre and mundane. It should be as visually appealing to potential user-choosers as a Renault Megane, Volkswagen Golf or Vauxhall Astra. And to those with particularly conservative tastes it's far less of a plunge into modern art than a Ford Focus. Mazda says the C-segment market it's aiming for wants functionality, not funky.
The biggest fleet-seller is likely to be the 1.5-litre model, just launched in GXi trim with standard traction control and priced at ú14,420 on-the-road. A marginally less well-equipped 323 2.0-litre turbodiesel, due in the new year, will be priced the same as the 1.5 GXi featured here. Also from early in 1999, the range will have a ú11,720 1.3 LXi entry model and an LXi-specification 1.5, marked up at ú13,470 (plus ú800 for automatic transmission). Top 323s are the 1.8 GSI at ú15,220 (plus auto option), and the 323 SE at ú16,070.