- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Automotive manufacturers have long seen the value of adding a performance vehicle to their lineup. Until recently, they were special-edition vehicles coming to market in very limited numbers, with a very high collectability as well as a high price.

We now see the manufacturers of more economically orientated vehicles jumping into the arena that once was occupied only by the likes of Mercedes AMG and BMW M-series. Today we see Mazda adding vehicles such as the Protege modified by its performance arm, MazdaSpeed.

With bright, exciting paint jobs, flashy wheels and lots of performance under the hood, the MazdaSpeed Protege attracts attention from nearly everyone it passes.

With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 160 foot-pounds of torque, the MazdaSpeed Protege runs with spirit. Developed jointly by Mazda and Callaway Cars Inc., this Protege shows what can be done with a little modification.

Because torque steer can be a problem with small but powerful front-wheel-drive cars, a limited slip differential is standard. Even with this, there is still a tad bit of torque steer just before the differential takes up the slipping wheel.

Not only does this Mazda have the sizzle under the hood, it has it all over the hood, down both sides of the roof and speeding across the trunk lid and special spoiler. Two new colors are available on the MazdaSpeed Protege, but my test car was decked out in Blazing Yellow Mica paint that got big high signs from everyone under 25.

Over that age, it was a whole different situation. Some liked it while others couldn’t look at it at all. It is a polarizing paint scheme.

However, if you prefer to draw a little less attention, especially from those guys in black-and-white cars, you can get your ride in Titanium Gray Metallic.

Accenting the dazzling body are racing alloy wheels, on which low-profile performance tires are mounted. A good suspension system is always necessary, but without superior performance tires handling goes right out the window. This Protege has both.

The strut-type suspension is fortified with racing-tuned components that allow the vehicle to take advantage of the excellent Bridgestone Potenza tires.

Of course, if you are going to go hard you had better have the ability to stop, with the MazdaSpeed Protege you have large European-specification, ventilated disc brakes at all four corners. Anti-locking brakes are standard here as well.

The interior is just as unique as the exterior with sporty bucket seats complete with colored stitching. A sporty, leather-wrapped steering wheel and Sparco shift lever knob tastefully combine leather and aluminum. Your feet rest on racing-styled aluminum pedals.

This may not be the most powerful car you can buy, but you wouldn’t care because you will be having so much fun and getting all the attention.

Even when those more powerful cars stop at the gas station to refuel, you’ll be cruising down the road with a smile on your face and money in your pocket.

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