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2002 Mazda Protege Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: Owner Pros and Cons by dms129

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Reviewed: 2002 Mazda Protege5

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

Why the 2002 Mazda Protege5?

Handling

This is the best-handling FWD car in daily driving I've ever used. It's too front-heavy for really hard driving, but the steering is perfect, it's small, light, and quick, and the ride is firm-yet-compliant enough that my SO (who gets motion sick very easily) can close her eyes and fall asleep on the highway, which she has never experienced before.

Reliability & durability

The car has never stranded me, and seems very well put together. Engine, manual transmission, clutch, and other major components are still working well. Front struts have been replaced, and the radiator (the car does not get driven every day and this is not surprising for an older car that sits for a week or two at a time). I hear complaints about rust from other Protege owners, but after 12 years in Philadelphia, I have just recently seen a little at the bottom of the front doors and one rear wheel well.

Controls and instruments

The dash on this car is simple and perfect. Most new car instrument panels are horrifying by comparison. The climate control and other controls are easy to find, have large enough buttons to use easily, and the orange/red lighting is good at maintaining night vision.

Price or payments

The Protege5 was cheaper than the Civic and much cheaper than the Impreza, and Mazda gave me a 0% interest loan. It was paid off long ago and has proven to be a great value. Parts and maintenance are much cheaper than for some other brands.

Materials & workmanship

The car was built in Japan and it shows. No sloppiness, everything done right. The cheap plastics inside are still fit together well and there aren't rattles and squeaks after all these years.

Why Not the 2002 Mazda Protege5?

Quietness

This car is much louder than it should be on the highway. Coming from a Civic, this has been a long-term disappointment. The lack of sound insulation is exacerbated by a too-low fifth gear, which has the engine revving higher than necessary at 65-70 mph.

Front seat support & comfort

Despite good manual adjustability, support is average and lumbar support is nonexistent.

Dealer practices

I don't have a garage, so I'm unable to do much work on the car myself. Two different dealers in my area both seem to have trouble diagnosing problems and solving them quickly.

Warranty, maintenance cost

Brakes are an issue. It goes through pads quickly, and the rotors, calipers, e-brake cables, all have been replaced far sooner that I expected. The front struts don't seem to be up to the job. Even when new, cold weather causes them to make a sickening crunch over sharp bumps, and both had to be replaced after less than 60,000 miles, despite a surprising lack of potholes in the city (until this last winter, that is).

Conclusion

I have recently seen more of these around, which is surprising for a model made only in 2002-2003. My guess is that there are inexpensive used ones around and they are a good fit for city drivers: small, cheap, fun, good mileage, practical, and reliable. I haven't regretted buying mine for a minute, though if Honda had offered the four-door hatch version of the Civic here, I would have gone that way.

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