I am parting ways with my first car after a great year and a half of ownership. The car will be missed, and this will be my tribute to it. I love this car so there will mostly likely be some bias, and if you disagree with anything I said feel free to let me know in the comments so I can explain why you are wrong.
(Full disclosure: Mazda wanted me to drive this car so bad they sold it 10 years before I bought it. They made sure it would have enough mileage (and rust) so I would be able to afford it in high school and they even made sure it came in spicy orange.)
Exterior (8/10) I think the spicy orange this car came in is fantastic, and that it was the best color option available. Mazda struck a great balance between making the car look more exciting and not taking it too far. The spoiler and the body kit really transform the car from a boring econobox to a sporty econobox. It isn't the best looking car ever made, but I think it looks very good especially for the segment it is in.
(Most of these pictures will be bad, there wasn't a nice day between knowing I was going to trade it in and trading it in, so I apologize.)
Interior (7/10) The car still has a lot of the regular protege parts so hard plastics are everywhere. I personally don't think this is a problem especially because the touch points are solid. The steering wheel feels great in my hands, and the shift knob feels solid although the metal is not ideal when it is really hot or cold. Sparco pedals came from the factory, and the seat is pretty comfortable although it lacks the bolstering needed for high speed cornering. The gauges are black on white with the Mazdaspeed logo because race car.
I am not a fan of the very busy modern interiors and this is very spartan compared to most modern cars which I liked quite a bit. There is nothing you don't need and everything is laid out logically. Visibility is fantastic, which is my favorite part of the interior. The lack of visibility in modern cars is incredibly annoying to me, but that is for another day.
Acceleration (7/10) The standard protege makes about 130 HP, and Mazda teamed up with Callaway to design the turbo set up to increase the power to 170 HP for the Mazdaspeed variant. It can hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds which is plenty quick if you ask me. It isn't very fast compared to some of the cars it competed with when new, SRT-4 *cough cough*, but it will leave your corolla far behind. Turbo lag is a bit of a problem, but it is always fun once the turbo spools up. There is also some torque steer if you get on the throttle in 1st, but it is manageable. Bottom line, it isn't that fast compared to some of the competition, but I rarely found myself asking for more.
Braking (6/10) There isn't a whole lot to say about the brakes. The pedal feel was pretty good and the brakes felt pretty progressive. It stops about as well as you'd expect, but nothing really impressed me.
Ride (5/10) This car was lower from the factory, and the previous owner lowered it some more along with making it more aggressive. Naturally, neither of these things helped out the ride quality. It crashes over potholes and you feel when the road is rough, but it isn't too uncomfortable for daily driving. All of this is forgiven when we get to the next part. The handling.
Handling (7/10) Yes, I am aware this car is front wheel drive but that doesn't mean the car can't handle well. I have to disclose that the suspension isn't factory (just upgraded shocks and springs, sway bars are racing beat from the factory), but this is the only one I have driven so that's what I have to base it off of. The turn in is excellent which makes it feel very tossable. There isn't much body roll and it inspired confidence in me every time I drove it. I haven't actually driven a car that handles better, but I haven't driven many other comparable cars so I will give it a 7.
Gearbox (7/10) Mazda is known for making good gearboxes, and this is no exception. Throws are relatively short and it is easy to find all the gates. After 170,000 miles, the gearbox in my car is on it's way out, so this score is based on what it feels like on a good day.
Audio (7/10) The sound system in this car was exceptionally good from the factory. The whole system was Kenwood, including a rear deck mounted subwoofer. The sub setup gives you much better lows that the speakers can't handle and it is mounted to not hurt trunk space as much. During my stint as a seasonal employee in the car audio department at Best Buy, I upgraded the speakers to some nice Polks, and I put a Pioneer stereo in, which made it sound great. How could I not use my discount while I had it? The exhaust has a decent tone, and it is definitely not obnoxious. Road noise is pretty bad, but it could be worse.
Toys (5/10) As far as toys go, it pretty much starts and ends with the stereo. I like this because it lets you just focus on driving and the car itself is like a toy. Toys are fun to play with, and the car is fun to play with so that's close enough. It gets a 5.
Value (9/10) When new, the sticker price was about $20k. I bought the car for $4500 and barely put any money into it for a year and a half and 20k miles of driving it like I stole it. Either way you look at it, it's hard to beat the value.
Total (70/100) Maybe the total is a little high, but I don't care I love my car.
As some of you may already know, I traded it in and picked up my Mazda 2 last weekend. Expect a review of that coming soon!