Looking for an older and affordable a small sedan, a second car, maybe a
runabout for the teenage kids? Something not too powerful, but pretty
reliable and roomy, perhaps?
Put the Mazda Protégé of 1990-94 on your shopping list. This model was
introduced in 1990 as the four-door sedan version of Mazda’s 323 hatchback.
Both were redesigned for 1990, with the Protégé getting remakes again in
1995 and 1999.
Now there is no shortage of older small sedans out there – from 1990-94
this ultra-competitive little corner of the market was filled with at least
a dozen contenders — but the Protégé is among the better entries.
Interestingly, the Protégé of that era and the Ford Escort share many of
their under-skin mechanical components. Indeed, at that time Ford had farmed
out its small-car development to Mazda. And the product of that arrangement
was the 1990 323/Protégé and the then-new Ford Escort. So underneath the
skin of every 10-year-old Escort lurks the heart of a 323/Protégé.
For the buyer this arrangement and its attendant responsibility for a
“global” car meant that Mazda’s people burned a few lightbulbs creating a
refined, fun-to-drive compact sedan. They created a nice looking car that
is bigger than, for example, such competitors as the Honda Civic, Toyota
Corolla and Eagle Summit of that era.
In these older sedans you’ll find that front leg room is particularly good
for the driver; note the relatively long seat slide that allows the front
buckets to be pushed back to accommodate taller drivers. Headroom is
adequate, although taller drivers might muss their hair in sunroof-equipped
On the practical side, the rear bench seats on most models split and fold
down 60/40 to allow easy access to a very roomy trunk (12.8 cu. ft. or 368
litres). On all models the trunk lid is large and opens to the bumper,
making loading of such things as groceries a snap.
Instrumentation is clean and functional, with dials plainly readable
between the thick, three-spoke steering wheel. The instrument cluster on the
base model included speedometer and fuel and temperature gauges. A
tachometer was standard on all more expensive models. All the instruments
were designed to fit in a nicely-sculpted dash which is slightly higher than
that of, say, the Honda Civic of the day.
Mazda offered two engine choices, both 1.8-litre of displacement but with
different power ratings – 103 horsepower (single overhead cam) and 125 hp.
(double overhead cam). The more powerful four-banger should take you from
0-100 km in about 10-plus seconds in an older car.
Other versions introduced in 1990: the LX and DX 4WD (four-wheel drive)
models. Both came equipped with the 103-hp. engine. Transmission choices
included the standard five-speed manual and an electronically-controlled
four-speed automatic with overdrive.
A note about the short-lived DX 4WD discontinued in 1991. It came equipped
with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that included an electronic central
differential lock activated by a switch on the instrument panel. The lock
aids traction on extremely slippery surfaces when one wheel is losing grip.
As for handling, the fully-independent suspension even in older Protégés
should deliver reasonably tight and predictable responses. Steering on all
models of that era was the power-assisted rack-and-pinion type. The braking
which keeps it all under control included four-wheel discs for the GT, while
on Base and LX models discs were up front with drums in the rear. Anti-lock
braking was not available, nor were air bags.
Better-equipped GT models came equipped with a host of power options, from
electric windows, mirrors and central locking to cruise control and alloy
wheels. Various levels of goodies were available for lesser models.
Some say the Protégé of 1990-94 looks a bit like the smaller Mercedes-Benz
sedans, the 300 and 190 series of that time. Such comparisons fit with
Mazda’s stated styling theme in 1990: tradition and quiet dignity blended
with aerodynamic sportiness.
Prices? They’ve held up pretty well, but the Protégé wasn’t expensive to
start with. So you should be able to find an older model at a price that
won’t break the bank.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.