Big news for economy-car buyers: The Mazda Protege has been totally redesigned for 1999. If you liked the previous incarnation of the Protege--which was last overhauled in '95--you'll love the new version. For 1999, Mazda's engineers have not only given the Protege a spiffy new suit of clothes--the new body design has a distinctly European look--they've also given it a new frame, two new engines to choose from and a re-designed transmission. That ground-up rebuild is even more admirable in light of the fact that the previous Protege was so fundamentally sound and aesthetically pleasing that Mazda could have gone a few more years without a redesign--and the Protege would still have been one of the leaders in its class. Every time a world-class carmaker--and Mazda certainly qualifies--re-designs a stellar performer, they face a new challenge: How do you improve on a sure-fire winner? In the case of the Protege, Mazda has risen to the challenge by raising the bar--they've built luxury-car styling, comfort, and roominess into an economy car. The result is a compact car that's so far improved over the spartan econo-boxes of the 1980s and early-1990s that it seems like a different species.