2003 Mazdaspeed Proteg

The Mazdaspeed Proteg introduces Mazda's new line of performance parts and rounds up some impressive aftermarket brands, including Racing Hart wheels, Sparco interior, and Tokico dampers. Most important is the Callaway turbocharger, which gets 170 horsepower from the Proteg's 2.0-liter four and gives the coarse engine some better vibes.

There's a broad range of power from 2500 rpm to 6500 rpm, much like a rally car's, but this turbo engine doesn't cut loose at peak rpm the way a Subaru Impreza WRX does. A Torsen-style limited-slip differential puts all the power on the ground, and we've heard quarter-mile times are about 15.4 seconds at 90 mph, which is impressive.

0210 Mazda Speed Protege 01

The car's development period of ten months didn't allow elaborate testing on factory tracks, so Mazda R&D did things where enthusiasts do: on the street. The chassis setup is surprisingly aggressive, with strut-tower braces front and rear, stiffer dampers, hard suspension bushings, and 215/45ZR-17 Bridgestone RE040 tires. A degree of toe-out in the suspension alignment at all four wheels makes the steering responsive at the price of a lot of liveliness from the back of the car, but when you combine this competition-style setup with the Mazdaspeed car's terrific brake balance, you can slide this Proteg into corners with left-foot braking like a pro.

It all adds up to a hard-bitten sporting proposition that's terrific to drive. Some 1750 cars will come to the States. Mazda has designated a limited number of dealers for Mazdaspeed cars (including a Mazdaspeed Miata likely for next spring) and parts.

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