A stronger engine and new front styling were introduced for the 2001 Protegé, which arrived in January. A 130-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard on the ES model and optional on the LX, replacing a 1.8-liter with 122 hp. DX and LX versions will continue with a standard 105-hp 1.6-liter -four-cylinder.
Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, but the new 2.0-liter engine is a Mazda design and is not the 2.0-liter four-cylinder used in the Ford Focus. The Protegé is expected to switch to the Focus platform by 2004 — two years later than originally anticipated.
At 174 inches bumper to bumper, the Protegé is less than an inch shorter than the best-selling small car, the Honda Civic. Mazda says the European-inspired styling emerged from a collaboration among designers in Europe, Japan and California.
The five-passenger Protegé is one of the roomier small cars, with an interior volume of 92.6 cubic feet. This translates into adequate rear legroom and headroom for adult passengers. A split folding rear seat supplements the 12.9-cubic foot trunk, giving the Protegé commendable cargo space for a small sedan.
Under the Hood
DX and LX models use a 105-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The top-line ES has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with 122 hp. Four-speed auutomatic and five-speed manual transmissions are available with both.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are optional on the LX and ES models.
It is easy to lose sight of the Protegé in the herd of small sedans, especially because Mazda doesn’t have the advertising budget of some of its rivals. A closer look reveals a roomy car that is well equipped, competent, fun to drive and competitively priced.