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2001 Mazda Protege Photo
Reviewed by John Pearley Huffman
Editor, The Car Connection
BASE INVOICE
$12,334
BASE MSRP
$12,765
Quick Take
What’s resulted is a better car in a market where its corporate cousin, the new-in-2000 Ford... Read more »
N/A out of 10
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Mazda’s Protegé was already one of the best small cars. And since it was new back in ‘99, it’s not really that old in the marketplace either. Still the company has decided it’s time for significant revisions to their smallest sedan.  

What’s resulted is a better car in a market where its corporate cousin, the new-in-2000 Ford Focus, has emerged as the leader and standard-setter, and Honda has just introduced a new version of the traditionally best-selling Civic. The question is whether a better Protegé can catch, equal, or better the Focus and Civic. 

Stronger, faster, heavier

The big Protegé news comes in the form of a big engine. Gone is the 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter, DOHC four that powered the top-of-the-line ES and was optional on the mid-grade LX in favor of a new 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter, DOHC four. It’s more than a simple increase in displacement; the 1.8 was shared with the Miata sports car, while the new 2.0 comes from the same engine family as the base engine in the larger 626 sedan. A 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter, DOHC remains the base engine in both the bottom-line DX and the LX, and should be avoided by anyone interested in merging successfully into freeway traffic. 

The new engine isn’t the rip-snort sportster the same-size powerplant was in the much beloved ‘91-’94 Nissan Sentra SE-R (which was rated at 140 horsepower), but it’s comfortable moving the Protegé. Peak power comes at 6000 rpm, but the peak 135 lb-ft of torque comes at a significantly more relaxed 4000 rpm. This engine doesn’t zing to its redline eagerly, but doesn’t feel flabby either. It’s a quiet sedan engine with an anonymous exhaust note and its easygoing torque production is probably as well, if not better, suited to the optional four-speed automatic transmission as it is to the standard five-speed manual. 

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