I'm sure you've seen Mazda's new commercial attempting to persuade us that their new SUV handles like a Miata. A stretch at best. Well, at least its new Protegé, which has been redesigned for the 2001 model year, may actually warrant the use of the word "zoom." The car that has previously been shunned by the enthusiast market and therefore the aftermarket has just stood up to be counted. Will it get your vote?
The new '01 Mazda Protegé offers improvements in styling, power, and handling. The front sheetmetal is now more sculpted and provides a mature upmarket feel while still appearing sporty. The engine is taken directly from the much heavier 626 and is of a larger 2.0L DOHC 16-valve variety. However, while the engine allows for much better feel throughout the RPM range, any bump in horsepower is negated by the weight increase.
The handling of the Protegé was improved thanks to 16-inch wheels, a speed-sensitive steering system, and revised suspension pickup points and stiffer subframing, which results in crisp turn-in and stable road holding. The improvements have taken the Protegé up a notch to better compete with others in its class like the new Mitsubishi Lancer.
Mazda will also be shipping the new U.S. Protegé 5 hatchback. The designers worked overtime on this model to make a sharp looking wagon. This sporty wagon is a favorite among tuners in Japan and will possibly show our own aftermarket the light.
For a major increase in zoom, look to companies like Corksport.com, which imports J-spec and Mazdaspeed parts directly from Japan. There are plenty of aftermarket products available in Japan, where Mazda is viewed as a performance-oriented manufacturer in its home market. Corksport.com's online catalog reads like a Protegé owner's wish list.
Derrick from Corksport tells us that the best way to achieve flight is through a FSZE high-compression, non-turbo engine swap. This is the engine found in the Japan-only Sport 20, the factory hot rod version of the Protegé (called Familia in Japan). The turbo engine would certainly be intense but requires a transmission swap and numerous other changes. However, the FSZE engine will slip nicely into the Mazda engine bay with minimal technical difficulties and still achieve 170hp. The addition of headers, exhaust, intake, and computer mapping would raise the bar even more. From here, just look on the Corksport site for a detailed list of offerings to help complete the transformation of your 01 Protegé into something remarkably similar to the Sport 20 sedan or Familia S wagon.
This may sound simple, but we all know the amount of work involved in a project like this. For the less extreme enthusiast, Mazda has been working on adding a little extra zoom to your day. Sadly, we don't get the all-wheel drive or other performance iterations that the Japanese home market have to enjoy (really, we should be used to this by now). But, Mazda knows that we too have speed needs that must be met and is looking to bring a more performance-focused version of the Protegé to the West.
Mazda will also offer the Protegé MP3, which besides having an industry-first built-in MP3 player, is set to include a recalibrated ECU, K&N air filter system, revised intake manifold, Racing Beat after-cat exhaust, front and rear sway bars, sport suspension, strut bar, 17-inch Racing Hart wheels, and the front fascia and rocker panels from the Protegé 5. With these well chosen modifications the MP3 provides a nice warranty-covered performance boost.
Mazda is certainly attempting to better orient itself in the U.S. market. The redesigned Protegé is the first step to becoming worthy of the word zoom. The only negative: The Protegés low-speed crash worthiness has been compromised in the new version. An insurance watchdog claims that the average repair cost rose 139 percent. What does this mean for those looking to purchase a new Protegé because of its improved performance and newfound modification abilities? It means dont back into a pole at five mph, and continue to enjoy the zoom.