Pros: Consumer-sporty looks, solid feel, lots of interior room.
Cons: Unresponsive highway driving with 1.6 liter.
Due to my business travels, I tend to drive a variety of cars. When a model I haven't driven yet is offered, I like to make it my choice... As such, this will not be a review from a "long time owner" but rather like an unbiased test drive bullet-point review.
Most recently I had a trip out to Los Angeles, and I rented a 2001 Mazda Protege for three days. In that amount of time I had driven it for a few hundred (mostly highway) miles. To expand the test I did take the car up some of the hills around the Palos Verdes (South of Los Angeles)area.
The car exterior looked consumer-sporty. Initially I found the car interior pleasantly configured, although it also struck me as simplisticly mediocre.
Interior & trunk:
- The interior felt roomy (even the back seats), more like a mid-size car.
- The seats seemed more springy than most other cars I've driven, but were very comfortable.
- Dashboard and steering wheel had a hint of a "sport" look and feel.
- I did not find any quality problems (no squeaks nor rattles, no loose trim).
- The sound system sounded very good, with separate settings for treble/mid-range/bass. CD player was included.
- A nicely quiet ride under normal driving conditions.
- Cup holders nicely placed, however they are meant to hold standard-sized cans and bottles, and do not contract to handle smaller cups.
- The trunk was a very good size - could probably handle at least a couple of large suitcases.
- Steering felt responsive and nicely precise.
- Braking was also responsive and nicely precise.
- Engine (1.6 liter; 103hp) had a 4-speed automatic transmission with a locking torque converter and was peppy in gears 1 through 3, but overdrive killed the acceleration and made the car feel as sluggish as an early-generation Hyundai Excel.
- The 1.6 Liter got decent mileage: 30 with the varied driving which was mostly highway.
- Acceleration on the highway was not good. Once the car reached 40-45 and overdrive kicked in, it took a stomp of the accelerator pedal to the floor to get the transmission to downshift and for the car to accelerate. I found it better to manually click off overdrive when I knew in advance that I had to accelerate.
- Engine was smooth except when the highway downshifting happened, then you heard the engine revving.
- The engine worked well going up the large hills, but again because it was not in overdrive when doing so.
- I found that the windshield wiper control was too close to the steering wheel (and it was short; it did not extend past the steering wheel). I oftentimes would hit it when making a sharp left turn that required me to "pitter-patter" the wheel alternating with my left and right hands.
I do recommend this vehicle, but I strongly recommend the 2.0 liter engine (130hp) instead of the 1.6 liter (103hp).