Japanese Integrale: Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo

The Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo was always facing an uphill struggle. Rather like the rally stages it was homologated for, the going was likely to be tough in the light of an army of hot hatches and the shadow of a certain Italian. Perhaps this is partly why only around 500 Mazda 323 4×4 Turbos were sold in the UK and just ten are left on the road today.

When was the last time you saw a Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo in the wild? Come to think of it, have you even seen one?

Side view of 1988 Mazda 323 4x4 Turbo

So naturally PetrolBlog was attracted to this Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo caught languishing in the classifieds. Being a 1988 car, this particular 323 4×4 is very much a last-of-the-line special, because in 1989 the sixth generation 323 was introduced. But fans of the fifth generation car needn’t have been too downhearted – in 1991 the 323-based Sao Penza was introduced. Although sadly they never made a Sao Penza 4×4 Turbo…

Anyway, I digress.

The Mazda 323 4×4 was powered by a 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine, good for 149bhp and a top speed of 124mph. Reasonable performance figures for a 1.6-litre shopping trolley. And yet despite being more powerful on paper than the likes of the Golf GTi and 205 GTi, the pace of the 323 could never be described as rapid. With a 0-60mph time of 7.8 seconds, it wasn’t that much quicker than the majority of hot hatches, partly because the 4WD system helped the 323 to tip the scales at 1,110kg.

Rear of 1988 Mazda 323 4x4 Turbo

Comparisons with the Lancia Delta Integrale were inevitable, but in truth the two were never really battling on the same (special) stage. At £11,750, the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo was around £5,000 cheaper than the Integrale, but out-trumped in just about every possible department. The fact that the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo barely merits a mention these days, whilst the Integrale’s iconic status rises with each passing year says it all.

The 323 was thirsty, with economy returns in the low 20s not uncommon. Those pressing harder to keep up with the Integrale could even find that figure dropping to the mid teens. But the 1.6-litre engine had to be worked hard to get the best out of it, so something had to give. It’s little wonder buyers looked elsewhere. Rather than being a Kwik-Save Integrale, it was just a heavy, relatively sluggish and less nimble alternative to a front-wheel drive hot hatch.

So should we dismiss it as a bit of 1980s folly? Happy to confine it to the history books and lavish all our attention on the usual suspects. Of course not.

Sift through the contemporary reviews and you’ll discover that the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo delivers fantastic wet weather pace and supreme levels of grip. It also offers a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ approach to handling – choose between oversteer, understeer and four-wheel drift. Nice.

Mazda 323 4x4 Turbo for sale

And it looks very cool, in a decidedly 1980s kind of way. The bodykit is topped off by a less-than-subtle rear spoiler and the red decals are delightfully retro. Especially cool is the fact the decals differ on each side, with FULL TIME 4WD on the offside and DOHC TURBO on the other. Brilliant!

Of course, being a Japanese child of the ’80s, it’s well equipped, with electric windows, sunroof, headlight wash/wipe, tinted windows and central locking all offered as standard. Plus you get a set of 14×6 polished alloy wheels, not to mention permanent four-wheel drive with a diff-lock button.

The Mazda 323 Turbo 4×4 for sale here is said to come with lots of history to back up its genuine 89,000 miles, an MOT until June 2014 and three previous owners. It also features the original radio/cassette, an interior in very good shape and new Goodyear tyres. The seller is quick to point out some rust issues, the most notable of which can be found on the rear arches.

Rust on rear arch of Mazda 323 4x4 Turbo

The price? Well at £2,499 or very near offer, it’s ambitious to say the least. But given the rarity of the 323 4×4, somebody could pay it. And besides, it’s only a matter of time before buyers start looking beyond the other, more glamorous cars from the same era with their artificially enhanced values.

Look, winter’s just around the corner. Do as Depeche Mode would have done in 1988 and Get Behind The Wheel of a Japanese Integrale that would beat Joe Le Taxi any day of the week. Even with Vanessa Paradis as the cabbie. Oh, wait…

If you missed the ad at the top, here’s the link to the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo again. Thanks to Cue (the seller) for the pics.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

7 comments

  1. November 30, 2013
    Will

    I owned one of these about ten years ago – a great car for an eighteen year old! (welcome to New Zealand, the country without compulsory insurance). It was great fun – I bought it off the original owner who had done 150,000km in it, but looked after it really well – it had about $15,000 worth of receipts with it!

    The Mazda did awesome four wheel drifts on wet grass… I sold it to a mate eventually when I decided I wanted a Honda CR-X VTEC. He blew up the transfer case and gearbox within a week…

    Reply
    • November 30, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      “Awesome four-wheel drifts on wet grass” – I’m hoping that was a line Mazda used in the brochure for the 323 4×4!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  2. December 19, 2013
    Neil

    I currently own two of these, they are great cars. Its a shame they never got the recognition it deserved.

    It might not have done so well in the European/US market but the front wheel drive version did really well in countries like South Africa. Although they came out with a 2.0L instead of the 1.6 turbo charged version.

    Reply
    • December 23, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Two of the ten on the road? Good effort, sir!

      What are they like to live with? Any trouble getting parts?

      Reply
  3. August 23, 2014
    Glenn

    Ive been around these for 15 years, had about 5 of them and currently own a black F plate facelift with the MS bodykit on it. Previous one i had was the same as the one above in silver, had that around 7 years, someone rear ended me and i could never source a rear panel and it sorta got neglected and the rot got to bad, ended up stripping all the parts of it and scrapping the shell. As as you can guess with a car like these, parts are not easy to come by so having a shed full of spares helps.

    A bit of turning, double the boost from a standard 7psi up to 15, lower the car a bit and its a hell of lot of fun and goes like stink.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2014
      Gary

      hi glen have you a number I could contact you on as I got a whole load of questions to ask you

      thanks#gary

      Reply
      • September 26, 2014
        Glenn

        Catch me on http://www.323gtx.co.uk, loads of info on there.

        A site dedicated to these cars and the later BG GTR shape.

        Reply

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