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Fun on a Budget
2001 Mazda MP3 and Protegé5

by BJ Killeen

With fuel prices going up and the stock market going down, people are getting frugal. This means cutting back on dining out, big vacations and lavish parties. But downscaling doesn't necessarily mean taking all the fun out of living. For example, Mazda has just introduced the Protegé MP3 sedan and Protegé5 wagon, both of which will leave you some cash in your bank account while putting a big smile on your face.

2001 Mazda ProtegéMazda MP3
If you think a great sound system option will put a pinch on your budget, look no further than the new Mazda MP3. Working from the Protegé platform, the MP3's focus is on the center console, with this being the first time a manufacturer has installed an MP3 player into the sound system as a standard feature.

Hello, 21st century! While the car is fun to drive and offers distinctive touches, it's the Kenwood audio system that steals the show. It's a state-of-the-art 280-watt four-channel system that features two 6x9 three way speakers on the rear parcel shelf and 5x7 two-way speakers for each of the front doors. In addition, there's a 10-inch 100-watt subwoofer in the trunk.  The Kenwood Excelon Z919 system allows you to listen to standard AM/FM radio, conventional CDs or the MP3-encoded CD-Rs. 

For those of you not up to date yet with the new audio trends, MP3 allows you to download the tunes of your choice from your computer on to a writeable CD disc. The benefit is that, while a standard CD can hold about one hour of 16-bit audio, a CD-R with encoded MP3 files can hold 10-plus hours of music on the same size disc. Think about it; wouldn't it be better to take one or two discs with you on a trip than 20 or 30? And you can burn just the songs you like, mix them up, and listen for hours.

While some noted that the control buttons on the unit were small and hard to manipulate, Kenwood pointed out that the unit comes with a remote control, which is better because you're not taking your eyes off the road to mess with the radio anyway. Learn it and you'll wonder how you ever did without it.

As far as the actual vehicle, the MP3 is visually different from the regular Protegé, with a rear spoiler, side skirts, front fog lamps, side turn markers, a front chin spoiler and 17-inch Racing Hart alloy wheels with silver paint. The wheels are mated to Dunlop SP9000 205/45ZR17 tires. Inside is also unique to the MP3, with special seat fabrics, aluminum foot pedals, carbon-fiber-look instrument panel and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

But the MP3 isn't all show and no go. It actually goes pretty well, thanks to a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder powerplant. Tokico shocks are tuned especially for the chassis, and Racing Beat front and rear stabilizer bars have been added for more control. In addition, the suspension and steering are set up for those who prefer a sportier ride. We had a chance to drive the MP3 around the big island of Hawaii, and though we didn't get to really toss it around on mega twisty roads, we were impressed with the steering's linear feel and good feedback.

I know you¹re already adding up the cost in your head, and have probably come up with a figure in the high $20,000 range.  Well, put about 10 grand back in your pocket. The good news is the MP3 sells for $18,020, and even fully optioned out, with a $220 alarm system, a $35 cargo net, and $30 wheel locks, with destination, you're still under $19,000. The bad news is Mazda's only producing about 1,500 units the first year, and most are already taken.  But it says the MP3 is so popular, it will continue to build more for 2003. By that time you should have figured out how to download the MP3 files you want!
[Mazda MP3 Details]

Mazda Protegé5 - Sport WagonMazda Protegé5
As evidenced on the auto show circuit this year, wagons are making a comeback, and sporty, entry-level wagons are leading the pack. First out of the box is the Mazda Protegé5, or P5 as we call it. Sporty looks are what will make the P5 popular with the Gen Xers, and even some older buyers as well. The exterior is dressed in a body kit that looks as good as the expensive aftermarket add-ons. Front and rear airdams, side skirts, large fog lamps and a rear roof spoiler dress up the wagon nicely. And the Vivid Yellow paint lets everyone know you¹re not the subtle type.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque. It won't be winning the stoplight drags with supercharged Civics, but because the vehicle is so well balanced and lightweight, the power actually is more than adequate for its size.

Mazda knows this vehicle won't be just doing kid-schlepping errands, so it beefed up the suspension and added 16-inch tires with V-rated rubber, along with front and rear stabilizer bars and four-wheel disc brakes. The engine has a brace bar for added strength and stability, and extra structural reinforcements under the skin mean there won't be a whole lotta' shakin' going on. We proved that out on the highway. 

We found some of the harshest roads in the middle of the big island of Hawaii, and put this wagon to the test. Some 200 miles later, we were still grinning and singing its praises. We were impressed with the great ride and excellent handling of this little wagon, even over the worst lava bumps and dips.

Sometimes a vehicle that's fun to drive isn't so much fun when it comes to being practical. But the P5 can handle it. For day-to-day living, the P5 features five-passenger seating, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, 60/40 split rear seats with double folding function and lock, great cargo capacity with a standard cover, and even rear seat heater ducts. Price on this one? At $16,815 including destination, you'll be zoom zooming down to the showroom to check it out.

For more information on Mazda Vehicles, visit them on the web at

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