- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

MODEL: Mazda Protege5
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan
MILEAGE: 25 city, 30 highway

Carmakers sure don't make station wagons like they used to. Thank goodness.
The newest wagon, the 2002 Mazda Protege5, is about as far from the big, loose-handling and wallowing family wagons of the 1960s and 1970s as you can get.
The nimble, compact-sized Protege5 is all about a new style and a new kind of buyer. With front and rear air dams, side sills, rear roof spoiler, 16-inch chrome wheels and large fog lamps outside and silver-colored accents, black-on-white gauges and a three-spoke sport steering wheel inside, the Protege5 seems to have just emerged from a customizer's shop, not an auto factory.
In fact, Mazda hopes this wagon attracts buyers who like a youthful, customized look, even on a station wagon. Projected age for Protege5 buyers is just 31.
"We found people thought it was sporty," said Gary Roudebush, manager of product planning.
With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $16,815, the Protege5 also is affordable. Based on the Protege sedan, the wagon is just $800 more than the top Protege sedan, the ES.
A bit heavier than the sedans, the Protege5 uses the same 2-liter, double-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine that's in the Protege ES and LX sedans. It develops the same 130 horsepower and 135 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
It was enough to get the test Protege5 with optional four-speed automatic transmission up and running acceptably and moving well in traffic. There were lags, however, when I tried to accelerate while in mountainous terrain.
I also heard the four-cylinder working whenever I slammed down on the accelerator to try to get quick power.
Some wind noise came through, too, at highway speeds, and the crossbars on the standard roof rack caught the winds and made it noisy when I opened the Protege5's optional moon roof. Note that the roof rack is removable.
The Protege5's power-assist, rack-and-pinion steering was decently responsive. This wagon has the same steering ratio as the Protege sedans.
The ride was pleasant, with mostly a bobbing sensation over rough pavement. If you open the hood, you'll see a strut tower bar in the engine compartment. This usually is equipment for race cars, as it adds stiffness to the chassis, making a car's reaction to steering inputs more precise.
The bar is not included in the 2001 Protege sedans. But both four-door models and the wagon have front, independent MacPherson strut suspensions and a rear, independent, strut design with a twin-trapezoidal link.
I especially enjoyed how nimble the Protege5 was in parking lots and how easy it was to park in smaller spaces. The wagon has the same, 67.1-inch width as the sedans.
Mazda officials said there's 19.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, and 24.4 cubic feet if those seats are folded down. The seat backs split one-third/two-thirds.
A Protege sedan offers just 12.9 cubic feet of trunk room, in comparison.
Visibility out the back of the Protege5 is good, thanks to the windows in the cargo area.
The car's dead pedal for the driver's left foot is well-positioned and good-sized. I liked that the radio buttons in the test car were large, and there were two knobs one for volume, the other for tuning.
But the textures and patterns on the Protege5 dashboard looked rather thrown together. There were plastic pieces here and there that were silver-colored with a bit of gold mixed in that Mazda officials call "warm silver accents."
Around the dashboard controls, there also was shiny, gray plastic with a crosshatch design. Adjacent, over on the dashboard in front of the front passenger, the vinyl had a dimpled design. It's all sort of mixed together.
Still, during the test drive, I found the Protege5 test car brought stares and interest from men of all ages.

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