Mazda Protege5 (2002)

4 Jun 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Mazda Protege5 (2002)

Mazda Protege5


By Matt/Bob Hagin

(Bob Hagin says four-door compact sports wagons like the new Mazda Protege5 are in style with thirty-somethings that are tired of the SUV scene. Matt Hagin notes that it’s deja vue for the company.)

MATT – I have to smile when I read the Mazda publicity for their ’02 four-door sports wagons – like the concept is something new for them. I was a Mazda mechanic in the ’70s and ’80s when Mazda’s rotary-powered RX3 wagon was on the market. It could blow the doors off any stock domestic V8 of the day in a drag race and in sedan form, it was an SCCA road-racing GT class winner until it died out by attrition.

I still have all the tools and jigs I used for rebuilding those engines.

BOB – I well remember those hot Mazda sports sedans of 30 years ago. The only thing that they couldn’t pass was a gas station. Their fuel economy was terrible. But that’s not a problem with the Mazda Protege5. Its EPA mileage ratings are 25 MPG around town and 31 on the highway, strong selling points in today’s market.

But gray-haired tire- kickers shouldn’t expect rotary-type performance from any of the new Mazda mini-wagons or sedans. The standard Protege engine is a 2.0-liter four-banger with twin overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, and it puts out 130 horses along with 133 pound-feet of torque. It can be had with a four-speed automatic but the standard five-speed stick shift is more in keeping with its generic sports wagon designation.

MATT – For a long time the term hatchback has been a downer in this country but now some of the carriage-trade European auto manufacturers are building coupes that have rear lids that swing up. The Protege5 fits nicely into this category. It’s somewhat inappropriate to call it a simple station wagon, since its non-vertical back door wasn’t designed strictly for cargo space.

Its styling would be pretty flashy for a plebeian station wagon too. Its forward-thrusting nose is pretty sporty, with an air intake box and a couple of built-in round fog lamps. The cladding below the body line simulates ground-effects add-ons and the five-spoke polished aluminum wheels mount relatively low-profile P190/50R-16 tires.

BOB – The front suspension uses conventional MacPherson struts, but the rear is labeled by Mazda as TTL or Twin Trapezoidal Link with a locating arm. I didn’t do well in high-school geometry, so I had to look up what than meant. It turned out to be two unequal, but parallel trailing arms on each side. I guess TTL sounds fancier. The shocks and springs are tuned’ for a more sporting ride than the plain models and I think it’s based on the Protege ES sedan.

The combination adds up to good handling, though drivers can’t expect the situation-saving electronic traction and speed control systems that are found on the high-priced sports wagons. All the brakes are disc and an anti-skid system is an option that our test car didn’t carry it.

MATT – The Mazda promotional stuff that came with the car states that the company expects 20-percent of its sales to be the Protege5 wagon and it’s obviously aimed at the youth market that’s one step older than the spiky-hair Import Scene street racer set. The target is the 25 to 35-year-oldS who haven’t yet lost their pizzazz. It’s got the look, but there’s also room to haul groceries, a couple of tykes in the back seat and a diaper bag in back.

The rear seat folds flat in a 60/40 configuration in case the owners want to go skiing and it may even be possible to strap surfboards on the standard-equipment matte-black roof rack.

BOB – But it will take Mazda producing a hot hatchback coupe to really get into the youth market. The so-called Import Scene is currently populated by the 18-to-25 market and it’s the hottest market in the business. Mazda’s parent Ford is into it and is producing concept cars that are as wild and garish as anything that comes out of the Los Angeles import speed shops.

MATT – I know that Ford builds world cars and has them made in lots of other countries, but I’m not sure it should be called part of the Import Scene.

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