Looking for a vehicle that delivers good gas mileage when the roads aredry and above average stability and pulling power when the pavement is coveredwith six inches of snow?

And you want the best of both worlds in a package that costs less than a$20,000 utility vehicle?

The subcompact Mazda Protege is such a machine now that the Japaneseautomaker has added a four-wheel-drive version.

We`ve driven the front-wheel-drive Protege (Cartalk, Sept. 11, 1989) andfound it a roomy, responsive, attractive, nimble machine that delivered topmileage.

We`ve now driven the four-wheel-drive Protege and found it differs inonly a few respects. It`s still roomy and attractive and fuel efficient, butit`s missing snap getting off the line and in cornering.

The reason is that the single overhead cam, 16-valve, 103-h.p., 4-cylinder engine that powers the regular SE Protege is asked to haul about250 more pounds in four-wheel-drive hardware plus the weight associated withlarger 14-inch all-season radial tires (13 inch on the Protege SE) and four-wheel disc brakes. You feel the weight in the wheel.

Despite the added girth the dimensions remain about the same, 98.4-inchwheelbase and 171.5-inch length. The addition of four-wheel-drive added ascant 0.4 inch more in overall height and a meager 0.2 inch in groundclearance. You`ll have enough clearance to get aboard without a step ladderand to maneuver through the slush on the road, but you should take a pass onoff-roading in the Protege.

This is a full-time four-wheel-drive system with no buttons to push orhubs to lock. If the going gets really rough, however, you can press a switch on the instrument panel to lock the center differential and pull out of a jam.

The fuel-economy rating is 24 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway with standard 5-speed, 21/26 with optional ($750) automatic. The base front-wheel-drive SEis rated at 28/36 with manual, 24/31 with automatic. So you`ll sacrifice some mileage for four-wheel-drive pulling power. In July you may kick yourself; in January you`ll pat yourself on the back.

Mazda helped Ford develop its new `91 Escort using the Protege platform.With that heritage, you`d think Ford would add a four-wheel-drive Escort toits fold. Not yet, but such a prototype has been developed and is being testedin Dearborn.

The four-wheel-drive Protege starts at $11,239. With air conditioning at$785 and AM/FM radio with cassette at $450, the test car reached $12,474 plus $279 for freight.