1991 Mazda Protegé LX Is a Screaming Deal

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From the February 1991 concern of Automobile and Driver.

Mazda launched the Protegé late in the summertime of 1989, the identical time the idea of “kansei engineering” and the tag line “It Simply Feels Proper” appeared within the firm’s promoting. Moderately than basking in its Miata and MPV successes, Mazda was shifting and shaking, restructuring itself for extra environment friendly decision-making. The purpose was to recast its public picture, from a maker of low-priced automobiles to a premium-quality specialty producer. All of which has helped make the Protegé what it’s: a slick and tidy four-door sedan that runs virtually like loopy, welcomes 4 grown folks, and appears shamelessly like a Mercedes 190. All for just some {dollars} per 30 days greater than fundamental transportation.

We beforehand drove this engine-chassis mixture after we examined the brand new Escort GT (C/D, August 1990). Ford and Mazda collectively developed the Escort/323 platform, and Mazda provides the sixteen-valve 1.8 utilized in each the Escort GT and the LX model of the Protegé. We appreciated the Escort GT, discovering it fast, vigorous, responsive, and fashionable. However we did query its styling, questioning in that case completely improved a automotive ought to look a lot like its predecessor and whether or not patrons on this class nonetheless admire the boy-racer look of aero tack-ons.

No such misgivings apply to the Protegé. Its strains are clearly extra elegant than the earlier 323 sedan’s, and the end is of a better high quality. A four-inch wheelbase extension (to 98.4) makes it markedly roomier than earlier than and locations it within the higher reaches of the category for sheer spaciousness. Clearly, Mazda is on the lookout for an expensive-car really feel to assist distinguish its small sedan from the hordes of positive opponents crowding this market section—a tactic that offers substance to Mazda’s acknowledged intent to maneuver its entire picture a bit upmarket, thus staying in contact with the inhabitants’s baby-boom bubble because it strikes into its peak-earning years. Considered that manner, the truth that the Protegé suggests a compact Mercedes (notice the C-pillar space, together with the again door, aspect glass, roofline, and fender contour) makes excellent sense. So does Mazda’s plea that the “323” designation—and its econohatch connotations—not be utilized in reference to the sedan.

Climb into the Protegé and the im­pression of richness persists: aside from an absence of polished-wood highlights (and, as soon as beneath manner, the lightness of the con­trols), you possibly can virtually be sitting in some scaled-down Stuttgarter. The molded plastic is all superb molded plastic, and the instrument panel’s strains and shapes, once more, recall a 190- or 300-series Mercedes, within the angular hood over spherical dials and the horizontal band stuffed with rectangular vent retailers.

Seeing the physique contours from the motive force’s seat additionally emphasizes an opportu­nity that the Ford guys apparently missed with the Escort: the Protegé’s decrease cowl and beltline give it a a lot lighter, extra modern really feel. The Escort’s excessive windowsills appear unduly constrictive by comparability.

As a result of we’re speaking a few fashionable Japanese automotive from a significant producer, it virtually goes with out saying that the controls and switches are correctly positioned and satisfying to function. Mazda has additionally completed the suitable factor with steer­ing-wheel spokes and management stalks, al­lowing the previous to cover the latter. What number of wheels have we gripped whose spokes have been hopelessly mislocated, simply so we may see switches whose oper­ation we’ll study by really feel virtually instantly anyway?

We want we may learn the digital­-clock and radio-frequency readouts by really feel, nevertheless, as a result of broad daylight makes all of them however invisible (the only fail­ures of legibility within the Protegé’s different­clever glorious instrument structure). And we should additionally notice that the seats, al­although usually properly formed and cor­rectly padded, have higher bolsters that create strain factors in opposition to some tor­sos. They’re additionally coated with a fabric materials that feels slightly light-duty.

“Gentle-duty” is certainly not a time period to explain Mazda’s zesty 125-hp twin-cam engine. Although a bit clattery on begin up, the 1840-cc 4 pulls the Protegé into movement with clean, seamless urge. From a standing begin, the sunshine clutch en­gages positively and the tach needle then winds proper round to the massive numeral “7” with no apparent peaks or valleys within the torque hint. Snap the low-effort gear lever by means of redline upshifts and 60 mph comes and goes in 8.8 seconds. Af­ter 16.5 seconds, the automotive is a quarter-mile down the highway, touring 85 mph. Even­tually, it’s going to settle right into a 120-mph high velocity. Even when these numbers do not ex­actly signify stop-press headlines, they’re at the very least the equal of one of the best Civ­ic’s and clearly superior to any Corolla’s.

The engine’s flexibility stems largely from its two-path consumption tract, known as “VISC,” for “Variable Inertia Charging System.” Consumption air follows an extended, curving route from the throttle to the valves, the size tuned for environment friendly cylinder fill­ing at average engine speeds. At 5500 rpm, a butterfly opens to provide a “shortcut” within the manifold, yielding the form of high-volume, short-distance circulate path that works successfully at greater rpm. And you might be inspired to utilize the complete working vary. The en­gine runs with that inviting, whip-me­-and-I am going to-rev-forever high quality that makes engines of any energy output pleasant to work with. It offers out a pleasant, snarly ex­haust notice when the revs are up and the pedal’s down, but it surely spins fairly unobtru­sively the remainder of the time.

Our sole criticism concerning the powertrain considerations cradle rock: mushy mounting bushings could get credit score for the shortage of engine harshness, however additionally they al­low a lot wrap-up that on-off throttle motion within the decrease gears creates annoy­ing lurching.

When it comes time to close down the proceedings and get stopped, the Prote­gé’s brakes are as much as the duty. Vented discs, 10.1 inches in diameter, are fitted up entrance on all Protegés, and the LX (just like the 4WD model) has 9.9-inch strong discs in again. (The SE makes use of 7.9-inch rear drums.) These brakes pull the 2550-pound automotive down from 70 mph in an extended­ish 192 ft, however with exemplary really feel and controllability. Even-shorter stopping distances could have been doable had our check automotive’s rear brakes not insisted on locking so readily.

Variable-assist energy rack-and-pinion steering helps the Protegé really feel excep­tionally gentle and fast on its ft. However absolutely the principal contributor to that sensation is the suspension. Conference­al struts handle front-wheel motion, however in again is Mazda’s Twin-Trapezoidal Hyperlink design: one trailing and two lateral hyperlinks management the geometry of every strut, with the assistance of bushings that flex in fastidiously deliberate vogue. Among the classes discovered from the second-genera­tion RX-7 suspension, which widespread­ized the time period “elastokinematics,” have now been integrated to create a small diploma of passive rear-wheel steering.

Formally, the association varies toe-in on the rear wheels in proportion to cor­nering hundreds. Close to-zero toe-in at low lat­eral loadings is meant to enliven turn-­in response, and growing toe-in as cornering pressure builds is meant to help stability by “steering” the closely loaded outdoors rear wheel within the course of the flip, protecting the automotive’s tail in line. Sounds smart.

In observe, the system has a noticeable impact, however its dynamics are a great bit extra delicate and sophisticated than the speculation implies. Though the Protegé beneath­steers safely when cornering hundreds construct up gently, very excessive speeds or sudden nook entry creates a liveliness within the tail that will or could not strike you as exactly what you need. Flick the steering wheel shortly and the surface rear wheel feels prefer it’s toeing out, as within the countersteer section of lively four-wheel steering. The again finish leans round (although with out precisely breaking free) to right away rotate the automotive onto its new heading.

On playful mountain roads, we discovered this ersatz rear-steering high quality helpful. It neutralized loads of understeer, and gave even this nose-heavy, front-drive automotive a surprisingly fast, vigorous, and impartial really feel when tossed into bends with enthusiasm.

And but a number of staffers had moments when the little tail-wag caught them without warning. On lengthy freeway ramps with growth strips or different sudden bumps, we regularly felt the rear of the automotive feint to the surface after we weren’t anticipating it. Conceivably, an emergency evasive ma­neuver may give a driver just a bit extra to deal with than they need to have to fret about at such a time.

The world right this moment is awash in glorious little sedans, all of which provide—in fluctuate­ing levels and mixtures—perfor­mance, high quality, refinement, type, and worth. However Mazda hopes patrons will consider the Protegé as an particularly accommo­relationship automotive that provides an unusually re­warding driving expertise for $12,817.

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Specs

Specs

1991 Mazda Protegé LX
Automobile Kind: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE

Base/As Examined: $11,598/$12,817
Choices: LX Worth Package deal (consists of air-con, energy sunroof, and alloy wheels), $1160; ground mats, $59

ENGINE
DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port gasoline injection

Displacement: 112 in3, 1840 cm3

Energy: 125 hp @ 6500 rpm

Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm 

TRANSMISSION
5-speed guide

CHASSIS

Suspension, F/R: management arm/strut

Brakes, F/R: 10.1-in vented disc/9.9-in disc

Tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE92
P185/60HR-14

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 98.4 in

Size: 171.5 in

Width: 65.9 in
Top: 54.1 in

Passenger Quantity, F/R: 48/39 ft3
Trunk Quantity: 13 ft3
Curb Weight: 2550 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS

60 mph: 8.8 sec

1/4-Mile: 16.5 sec @ 85 mph
100 mph: 27.8 sec

High Gear, 30–50 mph: 12.1 sec

High Gear, 50–70 mph: 13.2 sec

High Velocity: 120 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 192 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.80 g 

C/D FUEL ECONOMY

Noticed: 25 mpg

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Metropolis/Freeway: 25/30 mpg 

C/D TESTING EXPLAINED

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