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2002 Mazda Protege 5

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SAN FRANCISCO: Hatchbacks have never been too popular in the United States. Most people seem to prefer large wagons, an SUV, or a minivan, over smallish economy cars with an increased carrying capacity, compared to a sedan. Enter the new for 2002 Mazda Protégé.

If you look around there are some new vehicles on our shores that could be considered hatchbacks, depending on how you look at things, and whether or not the manufacturer sees it as one. Mazda, on an upswing these days with many new and interesting products, has designed a "youth-oriented" vehicle that, they say, has exceptional seating and cargo capacity and flexibility and a distinctive, sporty style that reaches out to a diverse group of consumers. Can you say Hatchback?

Introduced as the Sport Wagon at the 2001 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Protegé5 is Mazda’s newest product to come from the Protegé platform, and is leading the industry in the new "five-door" niche with great looks and decent performance for an economically minded car.

Unlike the more pedestrian and useful station wagon of yore, the Protegé5 has a very small cargo area concealed by a rigid privacy cover. Most of us recognize this layout as the aforementioned "H" word. But, since doom and gloom come to carmakers that use the "H" word, most have decided to change the image of these runabouts by calling them something else, like a five-door "what-have-you". We have been very impressed with the arrival of these vehicles because the five-door is useful and stylish all at once, unlike a lot of the frumpy hatchbacks we had to buy in the 70s and 80s.

All of these new vehicles, including Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, the Suzuki Aerio, the Pontiac Vibe and the Ford Focus ZX5, to name a few, are attractive and offer more cargo hauling choices than their sedan counterparts. The flexibility of the rear hatch to swallow large loads when the rear seats are folded is the best point of these vehicles. While they cannot carry as much cargo as the traditional station wagon, they are a compelling alternative to an SUV, stylish and utilitarian in one compact package. Another point in favor of the sedan-based five-door is better fuel economy and much better handling than any SUV could hope for.

On the flip side, directly comparing the Protegé5 with the best selling small SUV and the newest five-door, cargo capacity is at a premium for the Mazda. With the rear seats folded, a good measure of true cargo capacity, the Ford Escape has 64.8 cubic feet of space to stow your stuff. The new-for-2003 Pontiac Vibe has 57.2 cubic feet available for your mountain bikes or whatnot. Consequently, the Protégé5 has only 24.4 cubic feet to carry what-have-you.

At the least the "Zoom, Zoom" factor of the Mazda outweighs the apparent cargo-carrying deficiency. When driving the Protegé5, you notice the crisp and quick handling within a few minutes on the road. The slightest movement of the steering wheel makes course changes instantly, while not being too twitchy. Cornering is above par on most surfaces, and traffic lines are cut as quick as the Fed has cut interest rates this year.

We really liked the full gauge cluster and ergonomic layout of the controls. We also liked the positive pedal feel and tight clutch. What was stellar was the shifter. It was the nicest front-drive gear selector we've driven lately and felt almost as good as its sibling's, the MX-5 Miata.

Interior accoutrements are on pace with other vehicles of the sub-$20,000 class. We liked the cloth covering the seats; it’s texture and pattern suited the sportiness and utility of the vehicle. Controls were well placed and easy to use. We definitely like the separate stalk with windshield wiper controls.

And we were very impressed with the Protegé5’s engine. Torque and horsepower in this engine merge to form a formidable line that propels this vehicle to speed faster than you might expect. With 130 horsepower and 135 lb.-ft. of torque, this little wagon gets going pretty well. One passenger, though, commented that the ride felt rough and the car jerked around quite a bit. While we really don’t disagree, we at least can attribute the jerkiness to a touchy clutch and taut suspension.

The styling of the Protegé5 is boy-racer cool, with ground effects all around and a monochromatic color scheme that could make any adolescent drool. As part of the Protegé5 package, you get 16-inch alloy wheels, P195/50R16 all-season tires, large front fog lights, an adjustable roof rack, rear roof-end spoiler, front and rear air dams and side sills, and body-colored power mirrors, bumpers, side moldings and door handles.

Our Protegé5 tester topped out at $18,395 that included a base price of $16,335 plus a small list of options and the obligatory destination charge ($480). The options on our tester, of the few that are offered, were carpeted floor mats ($80), ABS with side airbags ($800) and a power sliding glass moonroof ($700), the last two had to be chosen together to get either.

The Mazda Protégé5 is a veritable bargain in its price class: You get superior handling coupled with enough power to make the most of the handling in an attractively stylish automobile. Long live the hatchback! By James E. Bryson © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Mazda Home Page

Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  A Way-Cool Approach to the "H" Word
Topic:  2002 Mazda Protege
Word Count:   947
Photo Caption:  The 2002 Mazda Protege
Photo Credits:  Mazda Internet Media
Series #:   2002 - 16

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2002 Mazda Protege

Download the original image file here:  2002 Mazda Protege








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