The fun alternative

Pre-owned: 1999-2003 Mazda Protegé

By Mathieu St-Pierre
Pre-owned: 1999-2003 Mazda Protegé
The fun alternative

How popular is the Mazda Protegé and Protegé5? If you take a second and step outside on a busy intersection anywhere in the Greater Montreal area, you will notice that every other car seems to be a Protegé or, its replacement, the Mazda3. To be this successful, one must be able to tap into people's psyche and find out what they want. In Canada and more precisely, in Quebec, we love our fun economical compact cars. Mazda was clearly in tune with our desires.

Driving home the point that this car was such a fantastic triumph was that for a number of years during this generation's run, it was the second best selling car in Canada behind only the Honda Civic. This explains why there is such an abundance of these Protegés on the used car market.


For 1999, the Protegé gained sharper lines and crisper, more pronounced edges. Some say that it resembled a shrunken Audi A4 but all agreed that it certainly had a European flair. This meant that the car was elegant and subtle at the same time. What was mostly appreciated about the outer shell of the Protegé was the obvious care that had been taken in the construction process; gaps were smooth and even.

My personal favourite is the Protegé5 (P5). It arrived in 2002 and set my heart afire. Having always been a fan of station wagons, here was a compact sporty-looking car with all the right physical attributes: big round fog lights, a skirt kit, 16" wheels and a hatch. It certainly seems as though I was not the only person smitten with the small wagon and it turned out to be every bit as popular as the sedan.

The cabin of the Protegé is particularly well assembled and the choice of plastics, also impressive. The seats provide a fair amount of both lateral and lumbar support. Instrumentation and controls are simple to operate and get used to. The radio commands are large and straightforward. The boot of the P5 is not exactly large although it has an easier time accommodating tall objects whereas the sedan's trunk is deep enough to swallow a good amount of luggage.


In 1999, the Protegé was offered with two 4-cylinder engines. The first, which was available throughout the generation, was a 1.6L that put out 105 hp. The other, delivered only in LX trim, was a 1.8L rated at 122 hp.
As of 2001, the LX, ES, ES-GT and Protegé5s were obtainable with a 130 hp 2.0L. Transmission selection was between a 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed manual. All Protegés, except for the GTs and P5, utilised a front disc, rear drum braking system setup. The other two stopped via 4-wheel disc brakes.

On the road

The tested P5 is zippy. The 2.0L is not an Autobahn stormer however it still provides plenty of "get up and go" for the small car. The weakest point is the lack of low-end torque. Another annoyance is that when the car is pushed, the engine quickly becomes raspy and loud. Fuel consumption of the models that I have tested over the years has been consistently higher than the average compact car.

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