2003 Mazda Protege consumer reviews

$13,580 starting MSRP
side view of 2003 Protege Mazda
93% of drivers recommend this car
Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.2
  • Interior design 4.1
  • Performance 4.4
  • Value for the money 4.6
  • Exterior styling 4.3
  • Reliability 4.4
Explore the 2003 Mazda Protege

Great, Cheap Fun!

My 2003 ES currently has around 121,000 on it. I bought it used from a dealer in 2009 with 80,000. It's a great little car! A little slow by today's standards, but the engine likes to rev and has adequate power for the highway and scooting around in the city. You're not going to get into much trouble due to the lack of power, but I suppose that can be considered a good thing. The ES has excellent stock suspension. I've autocross'd mine on stock tires and have put down some respectable times for a bone-stock car (auto too!). The steering in communicative and handling is sharp! Mazda usually always gets this right, which is why it's my favorite car company. They know how to keep cars affordable and fun. I'm still surprised when I attack an off ramp at a pretty high speed and the thing just sticks (again on stock all season tires). I've made plenty of high speed turns without much trouble in regards to understeer, this is where the independent rear suspension and slightly better shock valving shines. The auto sportshift is... nothing special. It's great because you can rev the nuts out of it and hold 2nd gear in autocross, however it shifts really slowly and the ratios are pretty wack (probably for better fuel economy). Still, it can be a little fun from time to time. The body is pretty weak up against Midwestern, salted roads. If you read online forums there are lots of tips out there in regards to preventing rust, FOLLOW THEM (I didn't think I had to since mine was clean, however the rust got pretty bad after just one Winter - huge mistake). My engine and trans are in perfect condition for their age, no leaks, weird noises, or oil burning. The suspension though needs to be looked after. Bushings, the independent rear suspension bits, shock mounts, wheel bearings, etc. wear out a tad faster than say a Honda. Though, their all cheap to replace. Make sure to replace the timing belt sometime around 90,000 miles. I'm not quite sure what the recommended mileage is, but its sometime around then. I played with fire by replacing mine around 115,000, definitely a dumb move because its QUITE expensive if it breaks and destroys the valvetrain in a 16v head. The interior is nice. I'm 6'3 and right at the limit of headroom in an upright driving position, though plenty of leg room. The seats are decent, though my back gets a little sore on roadtrips. All in all a great car. I really wish I had held out for a manual in good condition though, I'd be a lot more apt to tuning the suspension (shocks, springs, rear sway bar) and doing some mild power mods (header, intake, exhaust and protege MP3 ECU). In fact, I've been keeping an eye out for a cleaner, lower-mileage, 5-speed replacement =)


Very Reliable

I bought my Protege with 13,000 miles back in 2004. I now have 145,000 and have had with no major issues. The only reason I'm looking now is rust has developed on the driver side rear quarter due to the salt up hear in Ohio. Had I washed it more than two or three times since purchasing it that might not even be a problem. I've been test driving a lot of new cars lately and I still prefer the handling of my Mazda.


Mazda Protege 2003 LX

I had my Mazda Protege LX (2003) for nearly 6 years and it was my first car. I bought it when it had 37k miles on it and sold it at 83k. This is an excellent car for daily use although I used it for regular long drives on the highway. Mazda's hybrid design is unique. It has the looks of a passenger car but handles like a sports car. 2003 Protege is very responsive. Over the time period I had it, I changed the tires, replaced the serpentine belt, cleaned the rotors, and replaced breaks one time. These are just standard maintenance. The key is to service your car routinely (every 3000-5000 miles) at a reputable place where they do a consistent point check. For example, you will know when to change breaks (don't rely entirely on service people because they usually tend to exaggerate services required. Just decide based on your gut after carefully reviewing their recommendations). 2.0 engine is great for highway driving. I once drove a 2011 Honda Civic on the highway and it was screaming to get up to a modest 57 mph. The Protege, however, can reach 65 mph fairly easily. The car is very reliable, 2003 Protege is probably the best Protege that Mazda ever made and the last of its kind.


great little car

i'm quite possibly going to be trading this car in within the next few months, so i just wanted to say a few words after driving it around for 32,000 miles. overall, the car is great. it's my second mazda and i just might get another one in the future. this car was more affordable to something like a civic due to it's name. honda is a good car, but you pay for the name. with this car i felt like i paid pretty much for the car, and didn't have to pay a premium for the name. however, the value of the car dropped because of that. so consider this whenever you buy a car: will you buy it and drive it till the engine chokes, or do you plan on trading it in? i paid $7000 for mine when it had about 61,600 miles on it. and now it's worth about half that after 32,0000 miles of driving. kinda shock, but the car will last an additional 100,000 easy. comfort: front seats are nice and supportive for 6+ hour drives. rear i think could use a little more thigh support, but other than that are good too. leg room can suffer if you are on the taller end of average height. performance: i think i averaged between 32-35 (maybe even 40 at times) on hwy and about 26/28 town mph. the lower number is with studs on. the car picks up speed quickly within the 0-50 mph, after that slows down and even in 5th gear, the car sounds like it could use another gear. road noise is pronouced, but that depends on the road and how good your tires are. a bumpy road and worn tires = plenty noise. car has pretty stiff suppension, and it takes a bit for it to lean in a corner (a corner that some sign recommends you to take it at 45, i go at 65 and can feel the car lean). stearing wheel is responsive and you just have to barely touch it to turn the car. one issue i had just recently is with the cruise control cable. the housing got dry so the cable was stuck and would leave the engine reving high till i went and freed it back. just a minor issue, more of an annoyance than critical. get it checked out though if you can cause i had the car pick up speed indefinately till i manually shifted it down, stopped, and got it fixed. exterior styling: the car looks fine, i don't think it needs a make over, but that's an opinion. it's a commuter car, so that says it. interior styling: good, some plastics have bigger gaps that collect dust. i think of the doors when i'm saying this. value for the money: i think i paid a fair price for the car. i just need a bigger car with a little more room in the back, thus my reason for trading it in eventually. reliablility: i've only had to change the oil and other schedualed maintanence.


Great first time car

Purchased the car new in 03.differing for door locks going crazy when first purchased;I've had no issues.Car gets up to speed fast (except when the a/c is on).Great mileage,comfy ride, good price($12,000 with every manufacturer upgrade)plan on keeping the car until it's dying days.


Great car!!!!!!!!!

I bought the car in when it was new in 2003. I put 106,000 miles in 8 years on it with only minor maintenance, didn't have to use any of the warrenties. The only problem I had with it until I hit a deer and totaled it was the digital display on the stereo would go on and off. I really miss this car and if I had a chance to buy this car again I would do it in a heartbeat.



Love the feel of this car, but sometimes it doesnt start, sometimes it does. Very unpredictable. But it was my first car, very special to me, and I'll probably always drive a Mazda. :)


Great Reliable Car

We've owned this vehicle for 7 years for commuting purposes ... it has yet to give us any issues. Gas milage is outstanding and even though it's a small engine, it has enough pep to get you around.


i love my car

the best ever no problems bought it new in 2003 and had a thermostat break 3years ago none since 120000 miles and loving every minute of it it handles like a porche as says my father in law who owns 3 and loves to drive my car


Stu's Review

My 80+ year old father bought it for my mom and to have as a second car. A nice little ride with excellent gas mileage!