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New Car Review

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SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

Mazda has been selling cars in the U. S. for 25 years. From a start with a single model in 1970, it now markets 10 automotive products from pickup trucks to luxury sedans. There are Mazda technical, research and design, and parts distribution centers throughout the country and it also has a joint venture partnership with Ford at the Flat Rock, Michigan production facility for the manufacture of a variety of Mazda and Ford models.

Although it is best known for innovative engineering and technology, as exemplified by the Wankel-rotary-engined RX-7 sports car and the Miller-cycle-engined Millenia sedan, Mazda also makes bread and butter family sedans. In fact, its current best-selling model is the compact Protege sedan, which has been extensively redesigned for 1995.

Three trim levels of the new front-wheel drive Protege are available - the entry -level DX, the mid-range LX and the top-of-the-line ES. The DX and EX are designed for economical, efficient family transportation while the ES offers increased power and convenience. Our test car is a the top- of-the-line ES, and is fitted with a comprehensive list of standard equipment including anti-lock disk brakes, and an upgraded chassis and interior specification.

APPEARANCE: The Protege is a friendly looking small car with a strong resemblance to other Mazda sedans. Its new lines are softly rounded and smooth from the low front grille and wraparound headlights to its higher rear decklid. The relatively large cabin uses plenty of glass and provides good all-around vision. All trim is black except for the bright trim around the grille and the cast alloy spoke wheels upon which are mounted Bridgestone Potenza all-season tires.

COMFORT: One of the design goals for the new Protege was optimum space efficiency. Using a concept that Mazda calls "Optispace" results in a car that looks small on the outside for easy parking and quite spacious on the inside for passenger comfort. The Protege has the largest interior of any vehicle in its class, and will easily hold carry four adults in comfort on a long ride. The front seats are very supportive and all controls are logical and well placed. The ES model is fitted with all of the power accessories including windows, locks and mirrors The rear bench seat is as comfortable as those in front, with good leg and head room. It folds down in a 60/40 split when more cargo area is needed. The large low-liftover trunk is flat for easy loading and unloading and has a cargo net.

SAFETY: The Protege is designed for both active and passive safety. Nimble handling and excellent four-wheel antilock disc brakes help active safety. Passive safety features include deformable crush zones front and rear to absorb impact energy in an accident, dual air bags and adjustable-height shoulder straps. The passenger compartment meets all 1997 side-impact standards.

ROADABILITY: The latest Protege has a new, stronger platform with a four-inch longer wheelbase and a much more rigid body structure. This chassis, with a fully-independent suspension, anti-sway bars and good tires delivers impressive road manners whether driving in town, the country, or on the interstate. All-around vision is good, and the ride is quiet. No rattles were apparent, nor was there any appreciable wind noise. Tire noise is mostly a factor of the road surface or weather conditions.

PERFORMANCE: Two four-cylinder, dual overhead cam, 16 valve, electronically fuel injected engines are available in the Protege. DX and EX models have a new fuel-efficient 1.5 liter, 92 horsepower motor while the ES has a 1.8-liter, 122 horsepower unit that is a cousin to that in the Miata roadster. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. An electronically-controlled four-speed overdrive automatic transmission is optional and our test car was so equipped. It shifts quickly and smoothly and works very well with the torquey engine. In city and commute driving the automatic is almost a must, and when quick additional power is needed to merge or pass just touch the overdrive lockout button on the shifter.

CONCLUSION: Mazda's current advertising slogan says it all: "It just feels right!".


           Base Price              $  16,145  
           Price As Tested         $  18,645
           Engine Type             I-4, dohc - 16v, pfi
           Engine Size             1.8 liter/112 cid        
           Horsepower              122 @ 6000
           Torque (ft/lbs)         117 @ 4000
           Wheelbase/Length        103"/175 
           Transmission            four-speed automatic w/overdrive
           Curb Weight             2620
           Pounds per Horsepower   21  
           Fuel Capacity           13
           Fuel Requirement        Unleaded regular (87 oct)              
           Tires                   Bridgestone Potenza P185/65R14 M+S
           Brakes                  antilock-standard  ventilated disc/disc
           Drive Train             Front engine/front drive
           EPA Economy - miles per gallon,        
             city/highway/observed         23/29/24.4
           0 to 60 mph                     9.8 sec 
           1/4 mi (E.T.)                   17.8 sec   
           Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)       .32