SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 15,040 Price As Tested $ 18,220 Engine Type DOHC 16-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/SMFI* Engine Size 112 cid/1839 cc Horsepower 122 @ 6000 RPM (120 in CA) Torque (lb-ft) 120 @ 4000 RPM (119 in CA) Wheelbase/Width/Length 102.8"/67.1"/174.0" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 2612 pounds Fuel Capacity 13.2 gallons Tires (F/R) P195/55R15 all season Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content Two percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 24/29/27 0-60 MPH 9.0 seconds 1/4 (E.T.) 17.0 seconds @ 82.5 mph Top speed 110 mph * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
The 2000 Mazda Protege is different from most economy cars. Completely redesigned in 1998 and continued relatively unchanged, it can be a good choice for those who require practicality, value and a just bit of prestige in what otherwise would be an uninteresting package. It's available in base DX, mid-trim LX or as our tester, Protege ES.
OUTSIDE - Mazda did a great job in making its economy car look a bit more upscale that its competition. It presents a handsome face, with a chrome accent across the grille opening that gives an expensive look. Its attractive profile centers around a relatively flat roof line and a rather upright C-pillar. There is a sharp crease in the lip of the trunk lid, and the taillights are integrated into the rear quarter panels. Its sculpted wheel flares offer a somewhat muscular look, while its body-color bumpers, door handles and side moldings are offset by black window trim and outside mirrors. We liked the assertive-looking set of five-spoke alloy wheels, which come standard on ES models, and appreciated the 195/55-series performance tires, which also are part of the ES package.
INSIDE - Protege is larger inside than it should be. When the new car was developed, Mazda worked on what it calls OptiSpace, a buzzword for the process of maximizing interior volume and minimizing the space taken by the vehicle's mechanical parts. The door panels were "scooped" outward, the windshield was moved forward and the seat tracks were redesigned to allow more toe room for rear seat passengers. The resulting space allows all but the largest of drivers to stretch out and find a comfortable position. And while there are five seat belts inside Protege, four average-size adults will be most comfortable. Climbing in the back seat is made easy by large door openings and lots of headroom for its class. Standard ES features include a 60/40 fold-down rear seat, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, rear window defogger and an AM/FM/CD stereo system.
ON THE ROAD - When the new car was developed in 1998, the previous model's 1.5-liter, 95-horse four cylinder engine was replaced by the current 1.6 liter unit which develops 105 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque, though in certain states it produces only 103 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque. This engine is standard in both the DX and LX, but ES models use a 1.8-liter four that is based on the standard 2.0-liter engine powering Mazda's uplevel 626 sedan. It produces 122 horsepower and 120 pound-feet of torque, with two less horsepower and slightly less torque in emissions-stringent states. This is the engine of choice for the Protege. It's powerful and peppy, pulling eagerly to speed and providing much more low-end pull than the engine in the lesser two models can muster. Both engines can be mated to either a standard five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - Most automakers these days strive to make their chassis' as rigid as possible. With Protege, Mazda built what it calls "Triple-H" construction, with gusseted and reinforced chassis components that produce an extremely rigid passenger compartment. The resulting 22 percent more resistance to bending and 12 percent more torsional rigidity is immediately noticeable when the doors shut with a reassuring "thunk." Its four-wheel independent suspension is basic, with struts front and rear, but stiffer springs, shocks and anti-roll bars, along with grippier tires than the DX and LX models, make it into sort of a sports/economy sedan. Its rack-and-pinion steering system is nicely weighted, with good road and on-center feel, while front disc and rear drum brakes feature optional anti-lock braking (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution on the rear, a system that automatically adjusts the braking force depending on vehicle load.
SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact door beams are standard; side-impact airbags and ABS are optional.
OPTIONS - Cassette player, $250; Automatic transmission, $800; ES Premium Package (side airbags, moonroof, floor mats, ABS), $1,580.