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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Jim Flammang
February 27, 2002
Vehicle Overview Once a popular body style among smaller cars, hatchbacks especially the five-door variety fell out of favor during the 1990s. While European and Asian drivers continued to buy them enthusiastically, most automakers abandoned hatchbacks in the U.S. market.
But lately, theyve been making a comeback in the United States. Mazda is taking advantage of the trend with the five-door hatchback thats been sold elsewhere in the world by modifying it as needed and then bringing it to U.S. dealerships.
The Proteg�5, which was initially referred to as a sport wagon, claims a heritage that dates back to the 1977 Mazda GLC (Great Little Car) hatchback. Designers sought to create a vehicle like no other on the market, said Steve Odell, executive vice president of Mazda North American Operations. Goals included exceptional seating and cargo flexibility, as well as a sporty, distinctive appearance that maintains the companys image of sportiness. The chassis has been tuned for more responsive handling than that of a regular Proteg� sedan. Mazda expects to sell at least 12,000 Proteg�5s in the first season and about 17,000 units per year thereafter. The typical buyer is expected to be 31 years old.
Exterior Up front, the Proteg�5 looks similar to the Proteg� sedan, led by a five-point grille with black chrome and a large Mazda logo in the middle. In fact, the front fascia is the same as that of the limited-edition MP3 introduced as a midseason model in spring 2001 which includes huge round fog lamps. The Proteg�5 has front and rear air dams, side sills and a rear roof spoiler. Monochromatic bumpers, protective moldings and door handles are installed. At the rear, the wagon-style body is gracefully angled to yield a rakish, playful profile.
Six youth-oriented hues are available: Sunlight Silver Metallic, Mica Black, Midnight Mica Blue, Classic Red, Vivid Yellow which really is vivid and Pure White. The Proteg�5 rides a 102.8-inch wheelbase, measures 170.5 inches long and stands 57.8 inches high. A black roof rack is standard. Tires measure P195/50R16 on 16-inch alloy wheels.
Interior The Proteg�5 seats five occupants with bucket seats in front and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat with cloth upholstery. Cargo capacity is 24.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded (measured to the top of the seat rather than to the roof).
Dark charcoal trim has silver accents, and the interior features a center panel and side treatments with the look of carbon fiber. White-faced gauges are used on the dashboard display. Standard equipment includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, four-speaker stereo with CD player, tilt steering wheel, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and cruise control. Fewer than a dozen options are available, including a power moonroof, perimeter alarm system, cargo net, polished alloy wheels, floormats and an in-dash CD changer.
Under the Hood Like its four-door sedan counterpart, the Proteg�5 holds a 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional. About 60 percent of the vehicles are expected to have the automatic transmission. More rigid front and rear stabilizer bars have been installed for sportier road behavior.
Safety Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are available as single extra-cost options. LATCH child-safety seat anchors are standard in the rear. Mazda claims that the steering column is supported by the instrument panels main member, which permits the drivers airbag to deliver maximum protection.
Driving Impressions Cute and competent, the Proteg�5 has essentially the same underpinnings as the Proteg� sedan, but its tauter suspension quickly becomes evident. Although it rides smoothly on good roads, handling is the Proteg�5s primary virtue. Steering is quick and takes a bit of effort, but its markedly more precise than what is customary for a small sedan or wagon.
On a twisty autocross course, the Proteg�5 performed impressively well: truly crisp in tight curves and near-corners, snapping smartly back to center in the straightaways. During the entire test drive, the car appeared to be in total control, yielding a solid and cohesive feel. Control is its hallmark, along with confidence thats more often found in an all-out sports car than in a compact sedan or wagon.
Acceleration with the manual shift is good but by no means startling. On long upgrades, the engine begins to tire, though it doesnt really strain. Downshifting to third and then into second is required relatively often when the hills become steep. Seats are comfortable and supportive, and the excellent, easy-to-read gauges are fully calibrated. Add the flexibility of its cargo space, and its obvious that Mazda has packed a lot of value into a small package.