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By Jim Flammang
December 19, 2002
Vehicle Overview After the front-wheel-drive Protegé sedan received a front-end face-lift for 2001, Mazda strived to revive the small hatchback body style with its new Protegé5 sport wagon, which was launched as an early 2002 model. During the 2001 model year, Mazda introduced a limited-production variant of the Protegé sedan dubbed MP3 to denote its Kenwood audio system, but it also promises increased performance. For 2003, Mazda has a follow-up called the Mazdaspeed Protegé, which cars.com classifies as a sports car.
The 2003 Protegé features a new four-speed Sport AT Shifter that is incorporated into the optional automatic transmission; it permits manually selected gear changes. New five-spoke 16-inch wheels go on the ES model, which also gains a pair of tweeters for the sound system and a silver-colored shift boot. Side marker lamps are new, and this years headlight housings feature a smoke treatment. Silver-colored gauges replace white on the ES. A new moonroof and six-CD changer package is available for LX and ES models. Air conditioning is now a stand-alone option for the DX. All models except the Mazdaspeed Protegé use a 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine designed by Mazda.
Mazdas compact sedan is offered in DX, LX and ES trim levels, and it was last redesigned for the 2001 model year; another face-lift is likely in 2004. Because Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, when that update does occur, the Ford Focus platform may be used. Mazda continues to promote itself as a sporty car company by using its familiar zoom-zoom advertising theme.
Exterior Measuring slightly longer than the Honda Civic, the Protegé 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, rear spoiler and fog lamps are standard on the ES sedan. Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires on the ES, and 15-inch wheels are installed on the DX and LX models. A power moonroof is available.
Interior The Protegé is one of the roomier small cars on the market. As a result of what Mazda calls OptiSpace design, this car can actually accommodate five passengers. The Protegés interior volume amounts to 92.6 cubic feet, and the sedan has adequate rear legroom and headroom for adult passengers. A split, folding rear seat supplements the 12.9-cubic-foot trunk space.
Air conditioning is optional in the DX sedan and standard in other models. The LX sedan includes a CD player, a remote entry system, and power windows, door locks and power mirrors.
Under the Hood All DX, LX and ES models carry a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 hp. Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-automatic transmission can be installed.
Safety Side-impact airbags, antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution are available in an option group. The ES sedan has all-disc brakes.
Driving Impressions The Protegé is among the more spacious and well-equipped compact sedans on the market. It is highly competent on the road and fun to drive, befitting the claims for sportiness made by Mazda. The Protegé is priced in the same league as more ordinary sedans, and it stands a strong cut above in the handling department. The Protegés performance is also appealing, especially when it is equipped with the manual shift and larger engine.