Kailua-Kona, Hawaii-- Of course, people stared when we drove by. Our Mazda Proteg5 was bright, screaming, roaring, flaming yellow. But this killer little wagon is likely to grab looks in any of its six colors, because it's simply the sharpest suit in the closet. Crisply pressed in all the right places, with broad fender flares and sills, deep-set foglamps, and big, alien taillight lenses, the Proteg5 is an eye-catching addition to the short list of entry-level cars that are cool enough for school.
It's textbook terrific on the inside as well, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, amber-lit gauges with a creamy background, and dash trim that looks like carbon fiber (but isn't). The Proteg5 also sports the sort of features everyone likes but usually has to pay extra for, including a CD player, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. ABS, however, is an option, paired with side air bags.
Backing the Proteg5's snappy threads are pieces from Mazda's performance bin, including disc brakes at all four corners, four-wheel independent suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, and bad-looking V-rated rubber on strong, five-spoke, sixteen-inch wheels. All this, and it's a wagon--a wagon with a liftback that opens conveniently (when unlocked) with the push of a button. No fumbling for the key.
There is but one engine, a twin-cam 2.0-liter four with sixteen valves, producing 130 horsepower. The Proteg5's standard transmission is a five-speed manual, so you can make the most of the engine's modest power output, one gear at a time. EPA estimated fuel economy of the ULEV engine is 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
In use, the Proteg5 feels more Ford Focus than Subaru Impreza WRX: solid and sporting but no screamer. Of course, the little Mazda happens to be a ton cheaper than Subaru's stormer. Can you imagine what you'd have if you married the two?
Zoom zoom va-voom.