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TWO months without driving a new car might sound like a tiny inconvenience in the current coronavirus closedown but it's proved an interesting exercise in reality.

For what do we want in our daily driver? No, not what we merely fancy but what is the basic bottom line of our transport needs.

Surely, the answer is to get us safely and reliably to where we need to go.

If that means a daily journey of just a few miles to check on a vulnerable housebound relative in lockdown (a lot closer to home than Durham, since you ask), then I have the perfect candidate for the job.

It's covered a carefully driven 70,000-odd miles since it sprang off the production line in Japan in 1997 and for the last 22 years (after the first one with a different owner) it has never failed to start when asked and always got to journey's end too.

We're talking about the Mazda 323F owned, admired and loved by the Navigator-in-Chief (aka wife) of the writer of these words, who spends his time mostly at the wheel of brand new cars fresh off the computer screens of the world's motor makers.

Eight weeks at the wheel without a newbie in prospect showed just how cars have changed since this lovely blue baby was born. And not always for the better.

Let's get the looks out of the way first. A personal thing, of course, but the usual daily driver refuses to think of a replacement because "my car is just so pretty." Who am I to disagree?

It was even considered smart enough for the Mazda people in the UK to borrow for a few days when it launched the latest in the 323's bloodline - complete with spotlights and bearded hipster popping corks at the reception.

It was on parade to show the automotive heritage that peaks, for the moment, in the latest Mazda3. Between them they show how cars have changed, all of them growing much larger and now laden with kit undreamt of in 1997.

On paper, today's mid-sized Mazda is superior in every respect to its ageing sibling.

Far faster, for instance (121mph plays 109mph flat out) and despite the sparkling performance, easier on the pocket at the filling station, despite an engine enlarged from 1.5 to 2.0 litres. My evaluation of the latest one showed 44mpg; the veteran works hard to beat 35mpg.

Show the oldie a decent hill and you'll be down two gears to maintain your speed, while the latest '3' hardly notices the incline.

But... find a corner and the old fashioned hydraulically powered steering in the 323F feeds back the road better than the newer one's electrically assisted set up.

And there's a delightful honesty about the easily read round dials on the oldster's dash and a heating system with just two simple sliders to adjust. Not everything has to be complicated, you have to think.

And then there's the shape. Personal, I know, but just look at those lines...

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