15th May 2002, 12:14

I have come to feel that the purchase of my 2001 Protege ES was among the best I have ever hade. Having researched every other car it its overcrowded class, I came to the now brilliant decision that this car was the best for the money.

Nothing beats the Protege as far as looks. The new headlight and bumper design changed its look from "sleepy" to "just plain mean." Having seen the MP3 model with its lowered suspension, I can honestly say that it is the most bad-a** looking small sedan on the market.

The car is over a year old now, with a little over 18,000 miles on it, and I have had no major problems with it to date. Sure, the dark interior gets dirtier than other cars I've driven, but the interior design and the incredibly comfortable seats more than make up for it.

This car is so comfortable to drive. I'm 5'8", not big by any means, but my daily 6'4" passenger constantly remarks that he's never been more comfortable in a small car. I can ferry four average sized co-workers to lunch without a peep of discomfort from the rear passengers (even with the 6'4" guy up front!).

As with every other review of this car, the power train is my only complaint. My automatic is peppy enough, but 3100 RPMs @ 70mph is a little too "revvy" for my tastes. I've driven a Civic Si and the new RSX Type S... revvy is OK if you're getting an output that's worth it. 130HP is not worth the engine noise/fuel economy I experience. The gearing is weird, and you really have to wonder who decided to mate this engine to this transmission.

My only problem with this car (mechanically) so far is a strange floating shift point that often lets the engine rev too high before finally shifting, or downshifts at the wrong time. I'll be seeing my mechanic about this condition next week. Other than that, the hardware has held up excellently, there are no squeaks or rattles to speak of, and everything electrical works like new.

I would gladly buy another Protege if the transmission was re-geared to an "appropriate" range, and if everything else about the car stayed exactly how it is (with the exception of the auto-stick transmission on the 2002 Protege ES...I'll take that).

18th Jul 2002, 17:27

A follow up to previous review statements:

Now going into the 10th month of ownership of my Protege, I will add that it's a fun car to drive. It continues to handle better than any other car I've ever driven (except for a Porsche Boxter S). This is an admirable characteristic.

With nearly 10,000 miles on the vehicle now, only two problems have been noted: There are rattles from both front doors that I haven't been able to determine the cause of (I'm counting these as 1 problem), and the brakes do not stop the car smoothly. When making modest stops (i.e. not hard braking), it's noticeable that the car jerks slightly as it slows down (with the transmission also in neutral, by the way, so it's not drive train induced).

I determined that the trunk squeak mentioned earlier was due to the particle board flooring rubbing against the metal back of the car. I repositioned it and eliminated the problem.

Other than these issues, my Protege ES has mirrored the exemplary reliability noted by Consumers Union, and that which I expected from the beginning when I made my purchase.

Other things I've continued to note:

The engine is still noisy, especially when you start it up from a cold state. Very irritating.

The center "arm rest"/storage bin continues to be useless-- It's just plain sad design.

Fuel economy doesn't measure up to others in the small car class. The new Toyota Corolla, for instance, is a smaller engine (1.8 liter), yet it delivers the same horsepower and provides superior fuel economy (40+ highway). Current Mazda engine design, from an efficiency and noise standpoint, is sub standard in the Japanese vehicle segment. Honda, Nissan, and Toyota-- They all build much better engines. Period. The Protege's engine, while reliable, is very annoying and inefficient. This will hopefully change then the new MZR engines are released in North America with the Mazda6 mid size sedan/5 door/wagon. We'll see.

The ride quality is stiff and uncomfortable on long trips, punctuated by that bloody lack of a center arm rest.

The design placement of the lock mechanisms was chosen by a complete and total ergonomic moron (as was the center armrest). I love superfluous redundancy.

The engine runs at much higher than necessary RPMs at standard highway speeds. I continue to be shocked that Mazda saw fit to design the Protege with this sad transmission configuration. I hate it. Shifting has become smoother, however, as the transmission has been broken in. Hondas still feel better, though.

The paint and windshields are easily prone to gravel damage; much more so than my last car, a 1991 Nissan Sentra. This bodes caution to potential buyers.

The Protege looks *awesome*. There are NO manufacturers that match it. Still. Even with the new Corolla. Oppositely speaking, the Mitsubishi Lancer is almost as ugly as the Ford Focus, and I find the it the second most ridiculous car currently being offered. It's not recommended by Consumers Union, either. Go figure!

Roominess is a hallmark of the Protege that has been matched by the new Corolla, but it's still a great feature of the Protege.

Despite many of its shortcomings and my lack of hesitancy to speak of them, I still look forward to driving this car when I hop in. It indeed is a good car, in general. I will, however, consider the Mazda6 and other mid-size vehicles soon. I insist on quiet, smooth, comfortable driving, and I'm just not completely getting it with the Protege. I also want leather, and Mazda decided we don't deserve that option in the Protege sedan; even their top trim ES, which I own. If I may be bold enough to speak frankly, that omission *really* pisses me off...

17th Feb 2003, 11:11

I Love your review! I rolled on the floor laughing as I read some of the comments you made about those morons. You should write for a car magazine. Awesome writing!!!

21st Jun 2003, 12:16

Honda Civics are awesome cars, and aren't ugly. I happen to own a 2003 Honda Civic EX Coupe, and everywhere I go, heads turn.

12th Oct 2004, 08:30

If the gear ratio is that much of a problem for you, than why not consider the five speed manual with an overdrive gear?

16th Jan 2005, 14:03

I have a Protege ES and I agree with everything you said. The gearing however stupid, is not that different in a Civic EX or VW Golf. They both run about 3500 rpm at 120km/h. It's not as noticeable because the Civic has a smoother engine, and the Golf has much better insulation.

One thing I've noticed on my car is that the stock 16" Dunlop tires grip well, but have poor noise and harshness performance. There are a few Grand-Touring tires out there that will make the car noticably more comfortable. You can safely up the size to 205/50/16 for more options and longer gear ratio. To top it all off I've been getting better fuel mileage out of them and they wear slow and even.

There is a fix for the cold start noise as well. There's a system on theses cars called VTCS that opens tumblers in your intake manifold to optimize cold weather performance. You can unplug it without much consequence, and the rough idle will go away.