What's New for 2002
The enthusiast-oriented MP3 goes on hiatus as Mazda tries to extract more power from the engine. In other news, the base 1.6-liter engine is dropped, making the 130-horse 2.0-liter standard on all trim levels. Each model gets added equipment: larger tires and full wheel covers come on DX; air conditioning, body-colored mirrors and remote keyless entry are standard on LX; new carbon-fiber appearance decor and silver trim debut on the dash and doors of the ES. All models get a sporty three-spoke steering wheel and a 14.5-gallon fuel tank. Foglights and an auto-dimming mirror are available on any Protege for 2002.
Mazda's Protege is a snappy little sedan that competes quite competently against vehicles like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. 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 16-inch alloy wheels, optional ABS and side airbags, and an available sunroof.
For 2002, all models are powered by a 2.0-liter engine putting out 130 horsepower and135 pound-feet of torque. While sprightly, especially when matched to the standard five-speed manual transmission, Protege isn't going to win any drag races with souped-up Nissan Sentras. What it lacks in straight-line acceleration it more than makes up with responsive steering, capable brakes and a tautly tuned suspension that conspire to make the Protege serious fun to drive. On the road, the Protege is a bit louder than expected, but not much more so than others in the class.
Not only can this car entertain, but also the Protege is one of the best-looking economy sedans on the market, exhibiting more class than a car at this price has a right to. The attractive aluminum wheels (LX and ES) go a long way toward giving the Mazda an upscale appearance, as do the jewel-like headlight reflectors, angular taillights and tasteful 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.
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.