The Mazdaspeed Protege was a next generation Protege MP3. It had 170 horsepower and a 160 turbocharged engine. The Speed Protege and the Protege MP3 had full Racing Beat suspension and a rear-deck mounted 8-inch sub and Kenwood stereo system as standard features. The wheels on the Mazdaspeed were 17 inches larger than its predecessor and had four-wheel disc brakes. Halfway through 2003, when the vehicle was released, Mazda made some additional changes, adding an amplified aero-kit but keeping the 17-inch Racing Heart wheels. Unlike the 2003.5, the original Protege didn't have Racing Hart wheels and featured a darker version of the original black and orange. Mazda released almost 2000 cars with this color. Mazda released 4500 models; the rest were yellow, titanium, blue, and silver. With all these features and power, it may surprise people that Mazda discontinued the model. So, whatever happened to the Mazdaspeed Protege?
The first Mazdaspeed hit the showroom in 1967, starting as the Mazada Sports Corner, an independent racing team. Takayoshi Ohashi was the original designer as well as Mazda's Toyko distributor. Some of their races included the 24 Hours Le Mans during the early 1980s. They had the 717s, 727s, 727s, 737s, and 787s, which won Le Mans in 1991, something never accomplished by Mazda. So, in 1993, the team relocated to Hiroshima, and the vehicle's name changed to Mazdaspeed. If you know a bit of Mazda, then you may remember the company's famous zoom-zoom campaign. Many of their older cars didn't embody the image.
They wanted to create a vehicle that was a pleasure to drive and appeal to younger buyers who wished for something sleek and cutting edge when they began manufacturing the Mazdaspeed. Thanks to Toyota Racing Development, it had the zoom-zoom image the company had been searching for, as well as the sleekness that made it an even more appealable vehicle. According to Car and Driver, the biggest standout in the class was the Mazdaspeed Protege. Not only did it have the cutting edge image Toyota wanted, but it was also an "entry level sedan" that appealed to more practical consumers. These two features, as well as countless others, garnered the award best in class in 2002.
In 2003, Forbes ran a less than favorable assessment of the Mazdaspeed Protege, noting how older drives undoubtedly would choose a different car. They stated that younger generations would absolutely purchase it, especially those who wanted a sporty vehicle at a lower price. Forbes felt that the niche market for these vehicles was the "bad boy mien to match the spicy orange mica paint scheme." Additionally, they cited the "ridiculous spoiler on the deck lid." However, they thought many features were over the top, including distracting blue animations on the car's stereo system. Moreover, despite the vehicle having a Kenwood stereo system, the sound system wasn't user-friendly, and the steering challenges. The article mentioned alternatives to the vehicle that Forbes felt would appeal to more consumers, including the Subaru Impreza, which matched the Protege's speed but wasn't uncomfortable for taller drivers. Like other reviews, the article cited the paint job suggesting the Mini Cooper S as an alternative since its interior had more pizazz. The exterior had a vintage feel that undoubtedly appealed to a larger demographic.
One of the first issues with Mazdaspeed was subpar suspension. So, they brought on Racing Beat to try to remedy this vital component. The Protege MP3 hit the showroom floor during the second half of the second year with better handling. However, it still lacked horsepower. Trying to fix this problem, Mazda enlisted the Callaway Cars to rev up the engine, adding a Garret T25 ball-bearing turbo with an integral wastegate, which created a turbine housing. Additionally, they used the air-to-air intercooler, used in a European turbo-diesel Protege. Although a new catalytic converter was integral, they didn't have to overhaul the entire car to gear it up to 6.9 PSI. Although the car did hit its target audience with impressive force, the older demographic noticed several issues
- Even though the car felt faster than the Subaru Impreza WRX, it had no additional speed.
- Many thought the orange and black paint job was over the top.
- The Mazdaspeed couldn't perfect handling.
According to Car and Driver, Steve Spence said, "For $20k, it will likely find a lot of younger buyers who like the sensation of riding a bronc. As for me, I think it's time for my nap." Larry Webster also mentioned the paint job calling it a "radioactive Popsicle." However, Mazda later added a black version eliminating the issue. He also noticed the handling was less than he'd hoped, feeling that Mazda's limited release was a well-thought-out decision. Like many others, who reviewed the car, he felt the handling was off and didn't suit people who wanted a genuine sports car.
Even though the car had many pitfalls despite its impressive features, Mazda discontinued the line in 2013. In 2020 Motor Authority ran an article addressing Mazda's decision to stop manufacturing the Protege. One of the things they cited is a shift in branding. Undoubtedly they realized that a black and orange racecar wasn't the greatest idea. Moreover, the company wanted to shift its brand to the luxury class, which the Mazda Speed Protege didn't fit.
Like many consumers noticed, Mazda also recognized that the dynamics and the powertrain weren't what they should be. One of the companies answers was the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo which featured a higher-output powertrain. With 40 more pound-feet of torque and 13 less horsepower, it fit the new brand image better than its predecessor. As more people began to seek out better cars for the environment, global emission standards became more integral. Mazda released the MX-30 crossover, never available in United States markets.
Written by Benjamin Smith
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