2000 Mazda Protégé

By February 3, 2000
2000 Mazda Protégé

The Mazda Protege is as roomy as many of the more-expensive mid-size cars. The Protege offers a comfortable interior, a comfortable ride, good high-speed stability and excellent handling.

Mazda totally redesigned the Protege for 1999. The makeover included a new body style with a distinctly European look, a tough new frame, two new engines and a new transmission. It resulted in a vehicle that was hailed in many quarters as the best in its class.

The changes shone even more in the context of the previous Protege, which was so fundamentally sound and aesthetically pleasing that Mazda could have gone a few more years without an overhaul. Mazda’s decision to plow ahead with luxury-car styling, comfort, and roominess in an economy car raised the bar for its competitors.

For 2000, Mazda has improved the Protege even more with a number of refinements. They include optional side-impact air bags for the front seats and an optional anti-lock braking system with electronic brake force distribution — a stability-control system commonly found on much higher-end cars. New aesthetic touches for 2000 include chrome-accented interior switches, color-matched shifter and parking-brake levers, and illuminated power window and door lock switches to ease use at night.

Model Lineup

The Mazda Protege comes in three trim levels: The top-line Protege ES ($15,040), mid-line LX ($13,245) and entry-level Protege DX ($11,970.)

Protege LX and DX models come with a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine that puts out 105 horsepower. (For California buyers, the 1.6-liter engine meets that state’s standards as an ultra-low-emissions vehicle.) A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A 4-speed automatic transmission can be added as an $800 option.

The Protege ES is powered by a 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder, 122-horsepower engine that is essentially a slimmed-down version of the 2.0-liter engine that powers Mazda’s 626 midsize sedan. Protege ES comes with bigger front disc brakes and a higher level of standard equipment.

Protege competitors include the top-line Toyota Corolla LE, with a 1.8-liter engine and manual transmission at a base price of $15,068. The top-line Honda Civic EX sedan, with a 1.6-liter engine and manual transmission, is steeper, with a base price of $16,830.

Walkaround

We drove the top-line ES. The $15,040 base price includes such standard features as power windows, door locks and exterior mirrors, tilt steering column, rear defogger, power rack-and-pinion steering, cruise control, and 60/40-split fold-down rear seats. Our ES test model was equipped with two options: automatic transmission ($800), and a premium package that included front side-impact air bags, power sliding glass moonroof, and ABS with the aforementioned brake force distribution. Along with the $450 delivery charge, that kicked the total price up to $17,870.

The redesigned Protege is based on the narrow-platform version of the Mazda 626 sedan that is sold in Japan and Europe. Mazda’s designers have made no secret of the fact that they drew their styling inspiration from European cars. It shows. The Protege’s rounded corners, sculpted hood line and clean, uncluttered shape suggests a variation on BMW’s corporate look. The compact, chrome-accented grille, the distinctive front badging, the monochromatic body-side moldings, and the recessed door handles enhance that feeling. We love the big, bold wraparound tail lamps. More than just a vivid styling statement, these big tail lamps improve safety, making the car more visible to other drivers in rain, snow or fog.

Interior Features

The Protege offers an impressive amount of headroom and legroom. In fact the Protege is as roomy as many of the longer, wider and pricier mid-size sedans. Space is important for taller buyers and it’s something many compacts don’t offer. Front-seat roominess is comparable to that of a Honda Civic EX sedan.

The rear seats are also roomy. Mazda’s engineers cleverly mounted the front-seat tracks in a way that yielded more space for rear-seat passengers, whose knees are now mercifully spared from being scrunched up against the back of the driver’s seat.

Just as important, the interior controls are easy to operate. The stereo is placed higher up on the dashboard than on many cars, which allows drivers to flip stations and fast forward to favorite tracks with just a quick glance away from the road.

We applaud the sturdy grab handles above the rear passenger windows. These handles work better for hanging up a sport coat or a dress than the puny plastic clips that come in many other cars. Another nice design touch is the use of a grippy dimpled pattern — much like you’d find on the surface of a golf ball — on the door handles. The seats are comfortable and supportive, though we found it a bit hard to turn the knob to adjust the angle of the driver’s seatback. Rear-seat headroom is limited; at 5-feet, 11-inches, my hair brushed the headliner.

Driving Impressions

When Mazda redesigned the Protege in 1999, designers in Hiroshima made a number of chassis-strengthening improvements. They increased the bending strength by 22 percent and torsional (twisting) rigidity by 12 percent. Protege’s crash protection also has been improved by the addition of side-impact reinforcements. This stiff unitbody chassis, working in concert with responsive rack-and-pinion steering and a four-wheel independent suspension, translate into a comfortable ride, good high-speed stability, and excellent handling.

We tested the Protege during a wintry week in Detroit. Not all compact cars handle snow particularly well, but the Protege was able to plow its way out of a foot of snow — with no prior shoveling. Out on the highway, whether the pavement was wet, dry or covered with snow and ice, the Protege offered predictable handling and good grip.

Working with its 4-speed automatic, the 1.8-liter engine in our ES allowed us to pick through traffic without unnecessary theatrics. The car also offered good acceleration whether starting from a standstill or pulling out of corners. When coupled with the 5-speed manual transmission, the 1.8-liter powerplant will offer even better thrust in passing situations.

The Protege’s brakes — disc in the front and drums in the rear — bring the car to a quick, stable stop under hard braking. They showed no evidence of fading or locking-up prematurely. Optional ABS allows the driver to maintain control of steering during panic stops.

Road noise and engine noise can be a problem with small cars, especially on the freeway, but Mazda has expertly damped it out, making the Protege one of the quietest cars in its class. It seems quieter than the $21,400 Infiniti G20.

Summary

Automakers seeking to fill the bottom end of their product lines have come a long way from the spartan econoboxes of the past two decades. The Mazda Protege is a prime example of ever-increasing levels of refinement in base offerings. For years, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have been the kingpins of the economy car market and with good reason: They offer high-quality, reliable transportation.

But even before it was redesigned, the Mazda Protege was a durable, refined offering that could compete with those standard bearers. Mazda’s faith in the quality of its product can be seen in its warranty: 50,000 miles compared to the 36,000-mile coverage offered by most carmakers. And one full year after its redesign, continual refinements and a touch of style maintain the Protege’s status as a seductive alternative.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Protege DX ($11,970), Protege LX ($13,245), Protege ES ($15,040)
Engines:1.6-liter, dohc 16-valve inline-4; 1.8-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions:5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual airbags, rear door safety catch pin, triple-H body structure with side-impact protection, load-limiter front seat belts
Safety equipment (optional):N/A
Basic warranty:3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Hiroshima, Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Protege ES ($15,040)
Standard equipment:(ES) Air conditioning, cruise control, rear defogger, power steering, power windows/door locks/exterior mirrors, tilt steering column, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, remote trunk-lid and fuel-door release, reclining front bucket seats, height-adjustable driver's seat, tinted glass, 60/40 fold-down split rear seatbacks, wheel covers, 15-inch alloy wheels
Options as tested (MSPR):Automatic transmission ($800); ES premium package ($1580) includes power moonroof, front side-impact air bags, carpeted floor mats, ABS
Destination charge:$450
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$17870
Layout:front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine:1.8-liter, DOHC 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):122 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):120 @ 4000
Transmission:4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:24/29 mpg
Wheelbase:102.8 in.
Length/width/height:174/67.1/55.5 in.
Track, f/r:57.9/57.9 in.
Turning circle:34.1 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:39.3/NA/42.2 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.4/NA/35.4 in.
Cargo volume:12.9 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:Independent
Suspension, r:Independent
Ground clearance:5.6 in.
Curb weigth:2577 lbs.
Tires:P195/55R15
Brakes, f/r:disc/drum (ABS optional)
Fuel capacity:13.2 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of February 3, 2000.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-222-5500 - www.mazdausa.com

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