After the compact front-wheel-drive Protegé sedan received a front-end face-lift for the 2001 model year, Mazda strived to revive the small hatchback body style with its new Protegé5 sport wagon, which launched as an early 2002 model. For 2003, the Protegé5 gets some new options, including a four-speed Sport AT transmission that permits switching between automatic and manual operation. Black leather-faced seats are also available. Black-on-silver gauges are now installed, and occupants can enjoy a six-CD changer.
The front of the Protegé5 looks similar to the Protegé sedan. It is led by a five-point grille with black chrome and a large Mazda logo in the middle. The Protegé5 has front and rear air dams, side sills and a rear roof spoiler. Monochromatic bumpers, protective moldings and door handles are installed. The rear end of the wagon-style body is gracefully angled to yield a rakish, playful profile. The chassis has been tuned for more responsive handling than that of the Protegé sedan.
Seven youth-oriented hues are available: Sunlight Silver Metallic, Mica Black, Midnight Mica Blue, Laser Mica Blue, Classic Red, Pure White and Vivid Yellow which really is vivid. The tires measure P195/50VR16 on new five-spoke alloy wheels.
The Protegés are among the roomier small cars on the market, and that is a result of what Mazda calls its OptiSpace design. The Protegé5 seats five occupants with front bucket seats and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Cargo capacity is 20.0 cubic feet and expands to 38.2 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.
The 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. Only 12 options are available, and some of those include a power moonroof, a perimeter alarm system, a cargo net, polished alloy wheels, leather seat trim and an in-dash CD changer.
Under the Hood
Like its four-door sedan counterpart, the Protegé5 holds a 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a Sport AT four-speed automatic is optional.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are a joint option. LATCH child-safety seat anchors are standard in the rear. Mazda claims that the instrument panels main member supports the steering column, and this layout permits the drivers airbag to deliver maximum protection.
The Protegé5 is cute and competent and has essentially the same underpinnings as the Protegé sedan, but its tauter suspension quickly becomes evident. The Protegé5s steering is quick and takes a bit of effort, but its markedly more precise than what is customary for a small wagon. Its behavior is truly crisp in tight curves and near corners. Even in demanding situations, the car appears to be in total control by yielding a solid and cohesive feel.
Acceleration with the manual shift is good but by no means startling. On long upgrades, the Protegé5s engine begins to tire, but it doesnt really strain. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the excellent, easy-to-read gauges are fully calibrated. Add flexible cargo space, and Mazda has packed a lot of value into a small package.