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2003 Mazda Protege Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: 2003 Mazda Protege5 by mkaresh

Ten-Year Veteran


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Reviewed: 2003 Mazda Protege5

4dr Wagon 130-horsepower 2.0L I4 5-speed manual FWD

Compared: 2003 Ford Focus

4dr Hatch 170-horsepower 2.0L I4 6-speed manual FWD

Why the 2003 Mazda Protege5?

  Compared to the Focus
Discounts & incentives
Discounts & incentives: Much better Better Worse

I bought the Protege5 about a month before the Mazda3 arrived to replace it. There was a $2,500 rebate, $1,000 in dealer incentives, a $250 Mazda Credit rebate, and a $500 college grad rebate. Plus I got S-Plan pricing.

Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

I paid $13,400 for a car that listed for $18,995. Used Protege5s were selling for more at the time. No other car with leather, sunroof, ABS, and such could be bought for a similar price.

Handling: Worse Better Worse

The Protege5 feels light and agile, with excellent feedback through the steering wheel and seat.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

A classic, non-trendy design. The short rear overhang compromises cargo capacity but makes for sporty proportions. The tasteful body kit also helps make this small wagon stylish without making it look inappopriate for a 35+ driver.

Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Better Better Worse

With a high-mounted seat, thin pillars, and large windows, visibility in all directions is excellent. Current (2012) compact cars tend to have taller, deeper instrument panels and thicker roof pillars. In them, you don't feel nearly as connected to the car and the road.

Why Not the 2003 Mazda Protege5?

  Compared to the Focus
Quietness: Worse Better Worse

Wind, road, and engine noise are all high. Current (2012) compact cars tend to be much quieter inside. The Protege5 grows tiresome if driven for more than a few miles at highway speeds.

Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: About the same Better Worse

The Protege5's ride also lacks polish.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

Suburban fuel economy is acceptable, at nearly 30 mpg. But on the highway, with the engine spinning well over 3,000 rpm, fuel economy also struggles to crack 30. Many much larger, much more powerful cars achieve better highway fuel economy. Some owners have fitted the fifth gear from the related transmission in the Mazda6 to get more of an overdrive.

Insurance cost
Insurance cost: About the same Better Worse

Because many Proteges were driven by young drivers, insurance rates are a little high.

Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Better Better Worse

Most of the car holds up very well. But where the roads are salted the rear wheel openings start to rust after about five years.


The Mazda Protege5 isn't nearly as refined as current (2012) compact cars, but partly for this reason it feels more agile and is much more engaging. Today's market offers no direct replacement.

This review was originally a two-car comparison review. Read the other half here.

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