Car Review: 2003 Mazda Protege5
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
Your emotions yearn for a sports car. Reality says you need space for four and/or lots of stuff, more space than is even found in a small, sporty sedan. A small crossover or SUV isn't in the picture - your enthusiasm is for driving. Oh yes, and you are on a budget - it would be nice to have change from $20,000. Tough order?
Not really. The Mazda Protege5 would appear to have your
name on it. It's a sporty-looking four-door hatchback with sports
car attitude that is more than skin deep. When it made its debut a couple of years ago, it had no real competition. Now, hatchbacks and small wagons seem to be undergoing a renaissance, with a few more entries in the field. But in the low-priced five-door (that's four doors and the hatch, or tailgate) sport category, the Protege5 still stands alone.
Life is full of compromises, but the Protege5 doesn't
compromise. Its mix of sporty looks and handling, five-door
versatility, energetic performance, and good fuel economy is hard
to beat. Mazda has added a new option to increase its popularity
this year, the ``Sport AT'' (tm) automatic transmission. While
manual-mode automatics are commonplace in upscale sports and
luxury cars, they are rare in the Protege5's price class. The Sport
AT adds manual-shift mode to the available four-speed automatic
to improve the driving experience for customers who need an
automatic, but want easy control of it at times. The automatic can
still be had without manual mode, and a five-speed manual gearbox
is standard fare.
I've been driving a Protege5 with the five-speed for the past
week, and I'll miss it when it goes away. It appeals to both my
logical side and my sense of fun, with a great combination of
usefulness and pleasure.
APPEARANCE: In proportions, the Protege5 is between
hatchback and wagon, with a passenger cabin that is longer than
typical for a hatchback. Relatively short, with short overhangs, it's a two-box variation on the current Protege theme, but where the typical small crossover vehicle points toward SUVness with high-profile tires and roof racks, the Protege5 looks the other direction. Its flat-faced ``air dam'' front bumper fascia incorporates an auxiliary air intake flanked by large foglamps, the rear fascia has ``venturi-look'' styling, side sills tie the ends together stylistically, and the small spoiler over the backlight is the finishing touch to its contemporary sports look. Low-profile speed-rated tires are mounted on alloy rims.
COMFORT: Inside, the Protege5 is equipped above its relatively
inexpensive station. It has all of the contemporary sports styling
cues, with silvery trim around the window lifts and console, and
faux carbon fiber flanking the center stack to add interest to the
interior. Standard upholstery is grippy cloth, and leather is
available. The front sport buckets are supportive, well-bolstered,
and much better than expected for the car's price class. The driver gets cushion height and tilt adjustment, classic-looking black-on-silver instruments, and a leather-covered steering wheel rim. A large locking glovebox, CD-sized console box, and door pockets in all doors provide useful storage. There is greater head and leg room than expected in the 60/40 split rear seat. Two adults shorter than six feet, or three children, fit easily, with ample covered storage behind, and the possibility of more with the rear seat folded. No compromises are necessary with the Protege5.
SAFETY: The Protege5 uses Mazda's ``Triple-H'' design for a
sturdy safety structure around the passengers, with front and rear crumple zones. Side airbags and antilock brakes are available.
ROADABILITY: Mazda likes to say that there's a little Miata in all
of its products. No ad hype here - the Protege5 is as close as you'll get to a Miata wagon. Chassis rigidity, already good, is enhanced by a standard front strut tower brace, and the fully-independent strut-type suspension is tuned for sporty fun. It's firm enough for good handling, with enough compliance for comfort. Standard four-wheel disc brakes ensure good stopping ability. The Protege5 can turn even a routine trip to the grocery store into fun.
PERFORMANCE: Reading the specs, the Protege5's 2.0-liter 16-
valve twincam engine doesn't sound all that powerful, with 130
horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 135 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Don't necessarily believe raw data. Relatively light weight and, with the standard five-speed manual transmission, a light flywheel and an acceleration-friendly final drive ratio work to make the best use of the engine's power. It has good low-rpm torque, a healthy midrange, and an entertaining rush of top-end horsepower, all accompanied by a classic small-displacement sports car snarl. And that's the best description of the Protege5 - a small-displacement sports car with large-capacity room. Because of the engine's flexibility, it should work fine with the automatic, especially with Sport AT.
CONCLUSIONS: What do you get when you cross a five-door
hatchback with a sports car? A Mazda Protege5.
2003 Mazda Protege5
Base Price $ 16,635
Price As Tested $ 18,835
Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower 130 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 135 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 102.8 in. / 170.5 in.
Curb Weight 2716 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 20.9
Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P195/50 VR16 Dunlop SP Sport 5000m
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc
Suspension,front/rearindependentMacPhersonstrut /independent twin-trapezoidal link strut
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 25 / 31 / 27
0 to 60 mph est 8.5 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
16-inch polished alloy wheels $ 500
Moonroof and 6CD changer package $ 690
Antilock brakes and side airbag package $ 490
Destination charge $ 520
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....