What's New for 1997
Styling revisions inside and out update this roomy compact sedan.
We've been unfair to the Protege. Last year's review criticized Mazda for requiring consumers to buy the top-of-the-line ES to get the goodies on the options list, and we bitched about the Protege's price, which has pegged this smart sedan near the top of the compact sedan cost list since its debut in 1995.
These days, compacts regularly top $15,000 with a modest load of equipment. Mazda has been pricing cars more aggressively, resulting in better values despite the fact that all Proteges are shipped to the U.S. from Japan. Incentives and subsidized leases make the Protege even more desirable.
Not that the car itself isn't appealing. The Protege boasts the largest interior in its class, and J.D. Power and Associates found that the Protege finished among the top ten cars in its most recent Initial Quality Study. For 1997, exterior styling is spruced up with a new front bumper, grille, fenders and headlamps. Inside, a revised dashboard makes it easier to operate climate and stereo controls. New wheelcovers give the LX a more upmarket appearance.
Protege is available in DX, LX and ES trim. DX is very basic, nothing more than a price leader powered by an adequate 1.5-liter 92-horsepower engine. LX is the most popular Protege, and it comes standard with tilt wheel, cruise control, cassette stereo, power door locks, power windows, and power exterior mirrors. Step up to the ES, and you'll get a mini sport sedan equipped with a 122-horsepower 1.8-liter engine, disc brakes all around, air conditioning, and the ticket to alloy wheels.
Fully-loaded, the ES nearly reaches $19,000 including destination charges. While the ES is our favorite, we recommend the more sensible LX for budget-minded shoppers. Decently equipped with automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes, buyers can get into the LX for less than $17,000 sticker. That's still a good chunk of change for a small sedan, but not unusual in 1997. Take the Protege for a test drive, and find out for yourself if this attractive little Mazda is right for you.