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When it comes to small, snappy sedans, the Protege is a tough act to beat.
Tight suspension, powerful brakes, superb steering feel, comfortable seats, attractive exterior styling.
No other body styles available other than four-door, suspension may be too stiff for some buyers, potentially expensive.
Available Protege Sedan Models
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Already one of the best-looking economy sedans on the market, the Protege receives freshened exterior styling for 2001. ES models now have standard 16-inch wheels, and 15-inch wheels are optional on LX models. A larger 2.0-liter engine replaces the previous 1.8-liter engine. All Proteges get a revised interior and improvements to ride comfort, braking effort and steering feel. Front seatbelt pre-tensioners are standard.
Now in its third model year, Mazda's current Protege is a snappy car that competes against vehicles like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and 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, a 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, 16-inch alloy wheels, and optional ABS and side airbags.
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 opt for the new 2.0-liter engine. Optional on the LX and standard on the ES, the new engine puts out 130 horsepower. Torque is rated at 135 foot-pounds, up 12.5 percent over last year's 1.8-liter engine.
The Protege is one of the best-looking economy sedans on the market, and the 2001 improvements should only further the car's lead. Mazda has updated the front end's styling, adding a new grille, hood, fenders and headlights. The attractive brushed-aluminum wheels go a long way toward giving the Mazda an upscale appearance, as do the jewel-like headlight reflectors, angular taillights and chrome accents.
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, and a commodious 12.9 cubic foot trunk. For 2001, the interior features a new center stack design, new seat and trim fabric, a new interior color, a modular audio system, improved cupholders, ignition key illumination, power window switch illumination, a map light, a lockable glove box, and a lock for the 60/40 split-fold rear seatback.
On the road, the Protege is a bit louder than expected, but it does provide an excellent drive. Credit goes to the first-rate steering system with gobs of feedback, perfect weighting and no on-center dead spot. Enhanced by a taut and well-damped suspension, Protege is the "driver's car" of economy sedans.
The Mazda Protege is a long-time favorite of ours. And although its price can rise to uncomfortable levels (especially with the ES model), the Protege deserves the attention of people 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.