It's not easy being an afterthought. There are nearly 40 different nameplates vying for the attention of the American auto buyer, who often never even thinks about the smaller brands. That's the problem facing the newly redesigned Mazda Protege. Mazda has flooded the market with new products over the last few years. Unfortunately, it hasn't had the money or marketing muscle to make its presence felt. In fact, you probably can't remember the last time you saw an ad for a Protege. It doesn't have the image or name recognition of cars such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Plymouth Neon. According to the marketing experts, car buyers tend to seriously consider only the top two or three cars on their list. that's too bad for buyers who might otherwise find a pleasant surprise in this stylish, sophisticated package. By definition, the Protege is classified as a subcompact. But slip inside and you're in for a shock: There's nearly as much room inside as in a luxury car. Chrysler has been billing this concept as cab forward engineering. Mazda prefers the term OptiSpace. You'll just call it roomy. The price tag is, unfortunately, nearly as big as the interior. Unless You're willing to live with a stripped-down package, you'll pay a premium to drive this one off the dealer's lot. Is the Protege worth the money? Here's a closer look.
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