May 112012
 

Hmm. It would seem I missed this segment last week. My apologies for that, but sometimes life just gets in the way. In any case, Car of the Week is back. I spent a considerable amount of time going to college graduations this past week, so I decided that this edition should feature a car that I was a fan of during my own college days. One of my favorites from those early days of the new millennium was…

2002 Mazda Protege ES

Why?

As I said in my review of the Mazda2, I drove the ES model Protege in 2002 in order to find out if Mazda was really serious about their “Zoom-zoom” marketing strategy. The answer, I found, was a resounding yes. It handled great, had decent pep, and gave you all sorts of stuff standard that the Civic only offered as options — alloy wheels, fog lamps, trunk spoiler, etc. It was a lot of car for the money and, fair or not, it became the benchmark by which I continue to judge every Mazda I drive.

The ES of this model year featured a 2.0-liter inline-4 that produced 130 horsepower. It could be had in auto or stick, but the one I drove was equipped with a 5-speed manual, naturally. The ES also got bigger wheels, stickier tire, stiffer suspension and a plethora of audio goodies.

With a decade between now and then I still look back fondly on that test drive. By today’s standards the Protege is a little under powered for a vehicle at the top of its model range, but by any other yardstick it is still a competent car — economy, handling, cost, etc. Though not quite as legendary as the Civic or Corolla, the Protege has exhibited decent longevity as well and high-mileage examples can still be found running strong.

Over the course of that decade, Mazda has built upon the standard it set with cars like this, giving us a number of offspring like the 3, 6 and aforementioned 2, all of which represent great value to go with the high level of entertainment. I don’t know that this Protege was the actual starting point, but for me at least, it represents the point where Mazda started to perfect the balance between value and fun.

About the Car

Mazda’s 323 was a mainstay of the ’80s and its evolutionary sibling, the Protege, became a similar force in the ’90s. The first car to wear the Protege badge hit U.S. shores for the 1990 model year and the name ran until 2003, when it was replaced by the 3. In that time it went through three body styles (1990-1993, 1994-1998 and 1999-2003).

As I said above, the Protege was always known for providing an excellent balance of fun, value and economy. By the end of its life, though, Mazda had imbued some seriously sporting aspirations, culminating in the turbocharged Mazdaspeed edition. The addition of a turbo bumped the power to 170 and the suspension was further tweaked to match. Though it was short-lived (just a year), it was a remarkable indicator of just how far the Protege had come since its inception.

Other Resources

Club Protege (enthusiast community for the Protege)
Mazda3Club.com (enthusiast community for the Mazda3 and Protege lines)
Wikipedia: The Mazda Familia line (including the Protege) (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Road & Track review of the ’01 Protege ES

Some photos in this article were freely sourced from Google. If you take issue with usage of any image, please contact me and I will remove it.

Mar 052012
 

I have been pondering this piece for quite a while now. As the cost of travel — well, the cost of everything, really — has gone up, more and more people I know have turned to the road trip for their journeys. This got me to thinking. Harry Truman believed his 1953 Chrysler New Yorker to be an ideal car for his post-presidential road trip. Thelma and Louise favored a ’66 T-Bird. Ferris Bueller jacked the Ferrari 250 belonging to his best friend’s father.

But what do normal, modern people take on road trips? When I asked on Facebook, I got a variety of answers from my friends. Some suggested sporty cars, while others seemed more interested in utility. What follows is a list of cars that includes many of their suggestions, along with my own carefully considered choices. I have decided to divide it up by category. Enjoy. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note, the following review was originally written May 5, 2011.

I didn’t actually set out to drive a Subaru today.

No, I started out with the intention of driving the new Buick Regal Turbo with the 6-speed manual transmission. Since I am one who likes fast sedans, I wanted to see if the Regal is as slick and sporty as they claim. Moreover, I wanted to see if the shifter is as bad as Car & Driver made it out to be. Since GM is a huge waste of time, though, it became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I won’t get in to that story here, though, since you clicked to read about another car entirely.

After leaving the third Buick dealer of the morning, I was at a loss. My plan was ruined, but I still wanted to drive something. So I meandered up the highway to see what other dealerships I could stumble across.  A small Subaru dealer was the first one that piqued my interest. I chatted up the sales lady for a few moments and told her of my interest in a quick sedan with a manual transmission. We walked around the lot for a while, looking for a Legacy, but as fate would have it none were to be found.

What we did find was an Impreza 2.5i Premium equipped with a 5-speed manual. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but as I read the equipment list, I realized that this was quite a bit of car for the money. I said as much to the sales lady and, having heard those magic words, it didn’t take her long to toss me the keys. Continue reading »