- Finally gets more power.
- Superb handling rivals that of Subaru Impreza WRX.
- Aggressive body kit.
- Numerous value-for-money features include an MP3 player.
- Limited numbers guarantees exclusivity.
- Light steering feel.
- Other 4-cylinder cars make more power without a turbocharger.
- Extreme torque steer.
- Very harsh ride.
- Few people get to enjoy this limited edition and its tiny-buttoned stereo.
Press Coverage :
The first series of turbocharged MazdaSpeed Proteges, limited to 2,000 cars for North America, was sold during the fourth quarter of 2002. MazdaSpeed is now offering a second limited series, dubbed the 2003.5 model, with minor changes. The second series gets new wheels, a new front bumper - the foglights replaced by air intakes - and a slightly restyled rear bumper with a larger exhaust tip and a different rear wing. Performance equipment remains the same. The $20,500 first series was available in only two colors - orange and black. The new $21,000 second series ones are available in yellow, gray, blue and silver.
The MazdaSpeed Protegé boasts an aggressive appearance and enhanced performance package, including an inter-cooled turbocharger, limited-slip differential, ultra low-profile tires, larger wheels, more powerful European-specification four-wheel disc brakes, and a 450-watt MP3 audio system by Kenwood.
Mazda selected Callaway Cars, Inc. to assist its engineers in taking the Mazda 2.0-liter DOHC I-4 engine to a much higher performance level. Pumping up the MazdaSpeed Protegé's heart rate is a Garrett T25 turbocharger system. The turbocharger incorporates the latest in aerodynamic and ball-bearing technology. With Garrett technology on board, the vehicle gains increased acceleration without sacrificing overall efficiency. Delivering an estimated 170 horsepower solidly to the ground is a Tochigi Fuji Sangyo KK Super Limited-Slip Differential, assisted by larger 24mm driveshafts (versus 22mm for the standard Protegé). Mazda also added a heavy-duty clutch disc and pressure plate to handle the increased horsepower from the turbocharging system.
Racing Beat, a well-known tuner of Mazda vehicles for more than 30 years that has most recently created exciting performance and aftermarket products for the Protegé, MP3 and Miata, was asked by Mazda North American Operations' Research and Development team to lend its expertise in the creation of the new MazdaSpeed Protegé. As they did with the MP3, Mazda and Racing Beat focused their efforts on chassis refinement, suspension upgrades and a high-performance rear muffler. The result is a sport compact sedan with even better handling and overall performance than its predecessor.
The MazdaSpeed Protegé comes complete with Mazda- and Racing Beat-engineered front MacPherson struts, a strut tower brace, higher rate coil springs, re-valved Tokico dampers, and larger diameter stabilizer bar bracket and bushings. The rear suspension boasts Racing Beat-tuned independent struts with Twin Trapezoidal Links (TTL), coil springs and larger stabilizer bar. The special Tokico dampers on the 2003 MazdaSpeed Protegé have been designed to improve steering feedback and response, control excess chassis motion and keep the tires planted firmly on the road surface. The twin-tube low-pressure design uses a multistage variable-aperture sandwich-valve system consisting of precision spring plates and angle-drilled piston ports. This sophisticated oil-flow-management system provides just the right amount of resistance at a wide variety of suspension motions and velocities.
Japan's premier performance wheel manufacturer, Racing Hart, developed its first set of Mazda-exclusive alloy wheels for the Mazda MP3 in 2001. For the MazdaSpeed Protegé, Racing Hart has developed an entirely new wheel, another exclusive 17x7-inch five-spoke design in alloy with Aluminum Super Silver finish. The Racing Harts roll on Bridgestone Potenza RE040 215/45ZR17 uni-directional high-performance tires.
The svelte, three-spoke wheel feels honed enough to splice a lane into millimeter-sized cutlets. The steering is light—no sneezing in a sweeper or you may dart for the weeds—but “tugs itself to the center with a good sense of the straight-ahead,” wrote one driver. The seedling-tall Sparco shifter has overly heavy detents but never gets hung up or lost.
Once the suspension sets in a turn, the pilot can park the car at its handling limit with the throttle. No bobbing or wandering, plenty of grip, no surprises. The only real cheap-car DNA is in the tire thrum, the thunks from suspension impacts, and some wind noise.
The Mazdaspeed carries on the MP3’s role of being an elaborate stereo-delivery device. The Kenwood Excelon receiver and its various accessories will put up a 450-watt wall of sound. So don’t even try to ignore the radio. It craves attention. The motorized folding faceplate performs a little ballet every time the car is switched on. Its digital display ceaselessly winks with pixilated TV commercials for the car, for itself, and, apparently, for interstellar travel.
Titanium-hued, Lycra-looking inserts make the seats resemble jerseys for a pro-football team. Fancy pseudo-suede inserts on the doors, delicate ribbons of orange stitching, and painted trim plastic prove that someone—perhaps with a peculiar taste for colors—was sweating details. The back seat is spacious.
That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that boosting the engine's output produces an undesirable side effect: steering-wheel-yanking torque steer. It's significant in the lower gears and makes full-throttle launches an activity to be approached cautiously: Do not try this in congested traffic.
It's a similar story in the ride-and-handling department. Racing Beat firmed up the suspension tuning to match the power increase - higher spring rates, heavier front and rear anti-roll bars, and firmer valving in the Tokico shock absorbers. The idea, obviously, was to keep cornering attitudes level, enhance transient responses, and boost cornering speeds. Mission accomplished. The car changes directions as suddenly as Marshall Faulk in an enemy secondary and generates a little more stick on the skidpad than the MP3.
2001-2002 Mazda Protege MP3
1,991 cc / 140 hp / 142 lb-ft / 2740 lbs / 0-60 mph 8.3 sec.