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When it comes to small, snappy sedans, the Protege is a tough act to beat.
Attractive styling, comfortable interior, peppy acceleration.
Odd interior details, no other body styles other than sedan offered.
Available Protege Models
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Front-seat side airbags and an improved ABS system are new to the LX premium and ES premium packages. The LX and ES also get illuminated power window switches. Chrome plating has been added to the inner door handles, and a Mazda symbol now appears on the steering wheel, the parking brake button and the automatic transmission shift-lever button. The Twilight Blue Mica exterior color has been discontinued and replaced with Midnight Blue Mica.
Now in its second model year, Mazda's current Protege is a snappy car that competes against vehicles like the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, and the Ford Focus. Sold only as a four-door sedan, the Protege is available in three trim levels: DX, LX and ES. The base-model DX comes with standard features like power steering, tilt steering wheel and a split folding seatback. For options like a driver's height-adjustable seat, power windows and locks, a tachometer, and cruise control, you'll have to step up to either the LX or the ES. The ES also comes with features like standard air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels, and optional ABS.
Both the DX and the LX use a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 105 horsepower and 107 foot-pounds of torque. Power from the 1.6-liter is tolerable, but buyers looking for more acceleration should go for the ES. This version gets a 1.8-liter engine that puts out 122 horsepower and 120 foot-pounds of torque.
The Protege is one of the best-looking economy sedans on the market. The creased and folded sheetmetal lends the car a more elegant and sophisticated look than you find on a Ford Escort or Nissan Sentra. The attractive brushed-aluminum wheels go a long way toward achieving this upscale appearance. Jewel-like headlight reflectors, angular taillights and chrome accents give the impression of a more expensive car.
The firm seats are comfortable, and the seat height and cushion angle adjustments (on the LX and ES) are greatly appreciated. The driving position is excellent, with a thick steering wheel rim to grip and a properly placed dead pedal for the left foot. There's also a proper Germanic front-passenger door grip, nicely padded upper door panels where elbows often rest, lots of storage nooks and crannies, a large rear seat, a commodious 12.9 cubic foot trunk, and a great stereo. Too bad Mazda decided to go with standard-issue econobox interior plastics, however. While not an unpleasant place to spend time, the Protege's interior is simply an example of form following function. For safety, there's standard dual front airbags and load-limiting front seatbelts with height adjustment.
On the road, the Protege is a bit louder than expected, but it does provide a good drive. The suspension is equal in both performance and ride quality when compared to the other top cars found in this class. Both engines come with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The Mazda Protege is a long time favorite of ours. And although the new Ford Focus will be getting a lot of hype this year, the Protege deserves the attention of commuters looking for a comfortably quick commuter with spicy style and a good reliability record.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.