New & Used Mazda Protege: In Depth
2002 Mazda ProtegeEnlarge Photo
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Mazda's reputation for "zoom zoom"--its fun-to-drive qualities, despite its economical market position--weren't born with the Protege, but it did embody many of Mazda's better characteristics, along with a friendly, mild-mannered design and good general-purpose abilities.
Though the Protege traces its lineage back through the 323, the car we knew as the Protege in North America first arrived in the sixth general for the car's overall family, hitting American shores in 1989.
Like many of Mazda's cars at the time, the Protege donated much of its engineering and running gear to other cars, including the Ford Escort Wagon, the Ford Escort GT, and the standard Escort. Kia's Sephia also used much of the Protege's hardware under its skin. This widespread use reflects the car's inherent utility and keenly targeted design.
The standard layout for the Mazda Protege was a front-engine, front-wheel-drive system, with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. An optional all-wheel-drive system was available during the Protege's first two years in the U.S., but was later discontinued. A range of four-cylinder engines supplied a moderate amount of power. This generation of the car, the first generation of the U.S.-market Protege, was built through 1994.
Mazda's next take on the Protege featured the same core proportions and the same core philosophy of economical, fun driving, but wrapped in a fresher, rounder exterior. Otherwise, the features were very similar to the previous Protege's, though one variant, the Protege ES, used the same 1.8-liter twin-cam engine found in the popular Miata sports roadster, though it used slightly downgraded components.
The third time, they say, is the charm, and the third example of the Protege was a good example of that adage. Still adhering to the proven proportions and understated design of the previous two models, the third-generation Protege was built from 1998 through 2003. The new car offered more power and more equipment, including special high-performance editions. The first sporty Protege to hit North America, the Protege MP3, arrived in 2001. Packing a 140-horsepower boost over the stock model for a total of 140 horsepower, an upgraded suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded stereo, and the exclusivity of a model run of just 1,500 units, the Protege MP3 was a hit with enthusiasts.
In 2003, Mazda followed up with the Mazdaspeed Protege, a more daring and higher-performance take on the same theme. The Mazdaspeed version yieled 170 horsepower from a turbocharged version of the four-cylinder engine, a better upgraded suspension, larger brakes, and new 17-inch alloy wheels. Partway through the 2003 model year, Mazda introduced a mid-year update, changing the look of the body with a new aerodynamics kit and the interior with some custom trim panels. A total of 4,500 Mazdaspeed Proteges were sold.
Despite the success of the Mazdaspeed and MP3 models with enthusiasts, the Protege line was discontinued after 2003, as the rest of the global family of cars it was based on was discontinued as well.