The 2003 Mazda Protege is much more fun to drive than the average economy sedan, fitting in well with Mazda’s “zoom-zoom? promotional campaign. It isn’t the result of the engine power, as the two-liter four-cylinder is adequate, but not much more than others in the class. What really makes the Protege a zippy and well-handling machine is its solid suspension, powerful brakes, and precise steering.
The Protege’s exterior lines are very sleek for an economy sedan, with newer hood and fenders. The interior is unusually stylish for this class, with nice looking and easy to use black-on-white buttons and metal accents on the dash. The seats are very comfortable.
Body Styles: four-door sedan
Engines: two-liter, four-cylinder DOHC 16-valve
Transmissions: four-speed automatic with lockup torque or five-speed manual
Models: Mazda Protege DX, Mazda Protege LX, Mazda Protege ES
Major changes were made in 2001 and 2002, so there are only minor tweaks in 2003 model. The low end DX model now comes standard with a CD player and the LX has 15-inch wheels standard. There is a newly designed center console inside.
The exterior is pleasing a recently redesigned hood, fenders, mesh grille, and headlamps. Overall, this means a much less boxy look than some of its competitors. The 16-inch wheels on the ES model make it even more stylish.
The car is very well insulated resulting in almost no road noise. The instruments are numerous and stylish in black-on-white. Everything is easy to find, including improved climate control knobs, and the driving position is comfortable. The materials are high quality for its class and overall the look inside is very stylish. The newly designed center console and metal accents on the dash add to the nice look. The higher end models have an in-dash CD-changer.
The seats are very comfortable with decent lumbar support and two-way tilt adjustment.
Performance & Handling
The car feels fast and fun to drive despite an engine that is only average. It sports a two-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower but also produces 135 lb-ft of torque which gives it solid performance when shifting through the mid-range. Of course the shifting on the manual is more solid but the automatic performs adequately.
The suspension uses thick-gauge fortified with a bolt-on stamped plate that connects the control-arm attachment points. The rear suspension has reinforced anchor points for the struts’ lower transverse links and two additional brackets to connect the sub-frame to the car’s body. The rear spindles are also more rigid and the front and rear anti-roll bars are stiffer. The steering is an engine-speed-sensitive variable-assist power rack system that has stiff shaft mounts and steering torsion bar. All of this combines to make for one seriously stiff, well-cornering vehicle.
The downside to the tight suspension is a sometimes rough ride on city streets with their dips and bumps. Whether this is a good trade-off is up to the driver.
There are dual airbags on all models and optional anti-lock brakes.
EPA Fuel Economy
Mazda Protege DX four-speed automatic: 22/28 mpg city/highway
Mazda Protege DX five-speed manual: 22/28 mpg city/highway
Mazda Protege LX four-speed automatic: 22/28 mpg city/highway
Mazda Protege LX five-speed manual: 22/28 mpg city/highway
Mazda Protege ES four-speed automatic: 22/28 mpg city/highway
Mazda Protege ES five-speed manual: 22/28 mpg city/highway
- The handling, particularly around corners
- The interior style
- The sleek exterior style
- The lack of road noise
You Won't Like
- The lack of engine power
- Bumpy ride on uneven city streets
Fun to drive for an economy sedan, thanks to a very solid suspension and precision steering.
If You Like This Vehicle
- Honda Civic
- Hyundai Elantra