Pros: great gas mileage, cute looking, roomy
Cons: seem to vary greatly
Two weeks ago I bought a 'new' car. I was replacing an '89 Ford Taurus with either a Protege or a Ford Focus.
The trim levels for the Mazda Protege are:
DX - basic
LX - nice-y nice
ES - hello, fancy pants!
The ES has an option for a slight engine upgrade which loses gas mileage at a highly unequal rate. At the ES level the dealer will also start talking about sun roofs, cd-cassette stereos, rear spoilers, and detachable bike rack, (la-dee-dah).
All of them had super-tight rack and pinion steering but a few made a weird sound at start up and took a few taps for the engine to turn over, that's not what I like to hear when test-driving!
Another thing that seemed rather sketchy was that the odometer was electric! Some things should be mechanical: clocks, simulated bull rides and ODOMETERS!! I don't like having to wait for some car-dealer to find the key to check mileage while they ramble on about cup holders and LED displays, grr.
Every single Protege I looked at had BEIGE interior (and you know how I feel about beige!) the dealers I talked to swore there was also grey interior but since I was looking at used models I didn't get to be as picky as I would've liked. They also all have crumple zones on the front, rear, and sides which at some point in the 90's apparently became standard in small(er) cars. I don't know how much I like this feature but hopefully I will never have to test it out.
The automatic transmission is a bit more as well but one strange thing I noticed was all the Proteges had tachometers standard. I'm sorry, why do I need to know RPM's if it's an automatic? If the car's not shifting when it's supposed to what can I really do besides hope the crumple zones thing works out? For me that just means the other more important lights and gauges are that much smaller but I guess having that information may help me in the future.
The backseat area was a bit roomier than the Focus and the seats fold down at a 60-40 split for skies or really long party hoagies I suppose. The trunk is also big, I move a lot (and end up helping a lot of friends move too =P) so that's dear to my heart.
I just realized most of this review sounds really negative but I actually liked the Protege a great deal. I found one that ran much smoother than most and that was only a year old with 13K (kind of high but it was in good shape). The Protege also rated #1 in Consumer Reports' reliability and resale value, ba-dam! It also runs very smoothly and quiet but not so quiet you don't know if it's on or not.
Plus one completely frivolous thing I liked about the Protege that the Focus lacked was they both have cd players but the Protege has places to put cd's! There's a little cubbyhole in the console, a hidden spot behind the cupholders and the armrest opens up and has plenty of space for your listening items. It's these little details that come from the manufacturers a few years to redesign.
My beloved Taurus was a GL and I ended up going with an LX model Protege, I guess I'm a middle grade girl. Hmmpf.