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By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview The Proteg� sedan received a front-end face-lift for 2001. Now, Mazda is helping to revive the small hatchback body style with its new Proteg�5 sport wagon, launched as an early 2002 model.
During the 2001 model year, Mazda introduced another variant of the Proteg�, dubbed MP3 to denote its Kenwood audio system. The MP3 also is fitted with a high-output 140-horsepower engine and a number of performance-oriented components from racing suppliers. Only 1,500 units were built initially, and they were sold out before they reached the United States, but Mazda is considering bringing back the MP3 later in the 2002 model year.
Except for the MP3, all models now use a 130-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine designed by Mazda. The 1.6-liter engine, previously standard on the DX sedan, has been dropped. Each 2002 vehicle benefits from a reinforced body/chassis structure, and a new modular audio system with a standard CD player is installed in all sedans.
A redesign isnt likely until 2004, but when it does occur, the Ford Focus platform may possibly be used. Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda. Meanwhile, Mazda continues to promote itself as a sporty car company, using its zoom-zoom advertising theme.
Exterior Slightly longer than the Honda Civic, the Proteg� has a 102.8-inch wheelbase and measures 175.3 inches long overall. What Mazda describes as European-inspired styling emerged from a collaboration among designers in Europe, Japan and California. A black-chrome grille, fog lights and a rear spoiler are part of the DX, LX and ES sedans. Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires, but 15-inch wheels are optional on the DX model. New body-colored mirrors go on the LX and ES, and a power moonroof is available.
The MP3 sedan features a large front air dam with integrated driving lights, side sill extensions, a large rear spoiler and low-profile tires on special Racing Hart 17-inch wheels. MP3 models are finished in Laser Blue or Vivid Yellow.
Interior This is one of the roomier small cars on the market. As a result of what Mazda calls OptiSpace design, the Proteg� can actually accommodate the five passengers that it claims to hold. Interior volume amounts to 92.6 cubic feet, and it has adequate rear legroom and headroom for adult passengers. A split, folding rear seat supplements the 13.2-cubic-foot trunk space.
Air conditioning is optional on the DX sedan and standard on other models. White-faced instruments and a new modular audio system with a CD player are standard, and a new center console includes covered storage. The MP3 sedan includes a Nardi three-spoke steering wheel and MazdaSpeed lightweight pedals, and the Proteg� has a shorter gearshift lever.
Under the Hood Mazda has dropped the 1.6-liter engine, so all DX, LX and ES models now carry a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 130 hp. The engine in the MP3 sedan develops 140 hp, using a low-back pressure Racing Beat exhaust system and working with a manual shift. In other models, either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission can be installed.
Safety Side-impact airbags, antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution are available in an option group. All models now have all-disc brakes.
Driving Impressions The Proteg� is among the more spacious and well-equipped compact sedans. It also is highly competent on the road and fun to drive, befitting the claims for sportiness made by Mazda. Priced in the same league as more ordinary sedans, Mazdas compact stands a strong cut above in the handling department. Performance also is appealing, especially when equipped with the manual shift and larger engine.
As expected, acceleration in the MP3 is stronger than that of the regular Proteg�, though the difference is not dramatic. Its a little more taxing to drive, due to the need for heavier pressure on the clutch pedal, and the exhaust tone adds to the MP3s sportiness. Where the MP3 really shines is in its handling talents. In quick, tight turns, the MP3 clings tenaciously to the pavement. Body lean is minimal, and theres only moderate penalty to be paid in ride comfort.