Zoomy Little Mazda Rocks
2002 Sports Sedan a Fun Ride
by Jim Bray
Mazda's new road rocket is hardly a subtle vehicle.
The brand new 2002 Protegé 5 is a cute five door hatchback/station
wagon that appears to be aimed at the youth market.
How do I know? Well, the bright "vivid yellow" model I drove, which
came complete with black racing stripes running its length (giving the overall
impression of a giant bumblebee), pulled in more stares per mile than any vehicle
I've driven recently, and most of the admiring gazes came from teen and twentysomething
So if you want to be a real babe magnet, this may be your car, but I felt
like a mid-life crisis guy trying to look cool. It was quite embarrassing
The bright yellow would also be a magnet for traffic cops, especially if you
drive the Protegé 5 with any kind of elan.
To be fair, however, when "zoom zoom zooming" around in my tester
I saw a couple of other Protegé 5's which had far more sedate coloring,
and they were pretty unobtrusive - which is the way I'd prefer it if I were
to own one of these little cars.
All this attention is well deserved, because the Protegé
5 is nifty little vehicle that, while just a tad underpowered, works as well
in a family situation as it does for the youth culture. Its four conventional
doors offer good access to a large and comfortable interior, while the big
hatch/tailgate opens up a positively cavernous space that, were you to fold
down the 60/40 split rear seat, would give you enough room for camping gear,
bicycles, bodies, or what have you.
Available with a standard 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic transmission,
the front drive Protegé 5's sporty styling includes fog lights, a front
air dam, rear spoiler and a set of attractive 16" alloy wheels. My sample
unit also had a power moonroof, a reasonable AM/FM/CD stereo, side air bags,
carpeted floor mats, a really nice steering wheel, well positioned pedals and
left foot rest, and most of the creature comforts one expects these days -
including cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls.
Protegé 5 starts at just over $16 grand, but the price of my well-equipped
tester came in at just under $19,000; a few more options (for instance a 6
disc in-dash CD changer) can kick that up a few hundred dollars more.
The Protegé 5 likes to call itself a sports sedan, with the "zoom
zoom zoom" commercials adding to that image, and for the most part it's
pretty accurate. On the other hand, while the engine cranks out 130 horsepower,
it's a mite slow to come on right off the bat. But once you reach the proper
rpm range the Protegé 5 will put a nice smile onto your face as long
as you remember it isn't a drag racer.
A nice touch is Mazda's inclusion of four wheel disc brakes, with antilock,
and they bring the car to straight and steady stops with no fuss. The rack
and pinion steering with variable power assist, coupled with the big wheels
and low profile tires (and front and rear stabilizer bars) combine to offer
a really nicely handing car that, power caveats notwithstanding, is a relative
blast to drive.
I particularly enjoyed taking the Protegé 5 through some twisty bits
of mountain road and, as long as I kept the revs up, it also handled the steeper
parts of mountain passes with confidence.
The interior is clean and uncluttered, yet everything you need is well at
hand. The dashboard display features black on white instruments (that become
black on red at night) and they're well laid out and easy to read at a glance.
The stereo controls are straightforward, though the audio quality of the "multi-function
stereo" (you can add cassette or minidisc - and there's even a Protegé MP3)
wasn't as robust as I'd hoped.
The big things are all done well, though. The driver's seat offers all kinds
of manual adjustments, the driving position is great and the sport seats are
comfortable and supportive (kind of like my wife). The gearshift throws are
long, but smooth and quick - and the clutch is very light. Wind noise is unobtrusive,
unless you leave the moonroof open at highway speeds.
In all, it's pleasant and easy to drive - and it's fun, too.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.