Nicknamed the Familia in Japan, the Mazda Protege was first called the Mazda 323 in Japan from 1976 until 2003. Italy's Giugiaro was responsible for styling the first Familias. In the U.S. it was initially known as the GLC, then the 323, before finally becoming the Protege from 1990 until now. A subcompact car produced by Mazda, the 323s were constructed in Hiroshima, Japan and assembled in Taiwan, South Africa, Malaysia, New Zealand and Colombia. The 323/ Protege was called the Etude. Though Mazda added much to the project, the Ford Focus-based Mazda 3 replaced this series of platforms for 2004.
The U.S. 323/Protege was much pricier than other entry-level competitors like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. This hike in price was probably because if its manufacture in Japan. Continuously a favorite of US car magazines, the car was well liked for its spitfire personality and peppy performance. The Protege is also the first small Japanese car in 1990 to transition over to the EPA 'compact' class. In Asia, Australia and various other markets the car formed the basis of the Ford Laser and Meteor and from 1991, the Ford Escort in North America.
Known as the 'Great Little Car', or the GLC, the Mazda 323 was a rear wheel drive car that was a version of the fourth-generation Japan-market Mazda Familia. It came in several different body variations; 5-door four-seat hatch, 3-door four-seat hatch, 5-door four-seat station wagon, 3-door four-seat station wagon and 3-door two-seat van with an extended roof profile. A variety of these models were available in several trim levels.
As a replacement to the initial four-speed manual gearbox a five-speed manual gearbox was introduced. Square sealed beam units on all models except the van replaced the original 7-inch round sealed beam headlights, together with a general styling and mechanical upgrade. During the model run a three-speed automatic gearbox was also offered. The van variant was only produced after 1980, still with round headlights, since there was no front wheel drive replacement.
In 1980 the Mazda 323/Protege was front wheel drive, contained a 1.5 L engine and came as either a hatchback or sedan. Since the rare R130 was introduced, the 1980 Carol/323 was the first front-engine, front-wheel drive car from Mazda. An updated version of the previous rear-drive model, a wagon version was also available. For 1980 the 323 was Wheels Magazine's Car of the Year.
For 1985 the Mazda 323 featured a 1.5 L engine again. This year it was available as a sedan, hatchback and wagon. This generation continued until the 1989 model year in the U.S. Remaining in the lineup until 1995, the station wagon continued in numerous markets. Until 2003 the model stayed in production in South Africa as an entry-level model, also being sold as the Ford Tonic, and sold briefly in the UK as the Sao Penza. The Forth Bantam was a locally designed pick-up truck called the Hustler.
In 1989 this generation of Familia which was carried over from 1985 featured a hatchback, sedan and wagon variants. These models shared no body panels, which was a policy that may have led to Mazda's financial difficulties in the 1990s. A 5-door fastback version of this Familia, the Familia Astina was sold as the 323F elsewhere. For the 1989 model year the BG 323 was offered in either sedan or hatchback version. They featured front or all-wheel drive and engine choices of 1.3 L, 1.5 L, 1.6 L, or 1.8 L gas or 1.7 L Diesel engines. Sold only in Canada in 1990 until 1993 the GT model came with the 1.8 L BP engine also found on the 1994-1997 Mazda Miata.
Featuring all wheel drive, the JDM GTX model came with a turbocharged 1.8 L BP engine. In North America with the AWD it came with a 1.6L Turbo engine. The unique GT-R version arrived in 1992 and showcased numerous performance updates in comparison to the GTX model. The enhancements included sodium filled valve stems, a stronger gearbox, an upgraded turbo and an aggressive front bumper and hood vents.
Advertised as the Mazda Familia Astina and Eunos 100, the 5-door hatchback in Japan showcased a unique front end with pop-up headlights. In Japan the trim lines were made up of Clair, Interplay, Supreme and GT-X.
The 323/Protege contributed its Unibody/mechanicals to the '91-'96 Mercury Tracer and Ford Escort and '94-'97 Kia Sephia in the US. It was also donated for the Ford Laser in Australia. The U.S. LX Protege was well known for its roomy interior, exceptional 125-horsepower engine and energetic handling. These models also featured all-disc brakes, dual stabilizer bars and 14-inch wheels. On May 24, 1994 production ceased for the '94 model.
The '95 Protege model generation production began on August 8, 1994 and ran until June 18, 1998. The '95 BH model was offered internationally with both front wheel drive and all wheel drive. The distinct ES model was incredibly rare, and the only Protege model that featured Miata's 1.8-liter twin-cam engine, dual stabilizer bars and 4-wheel disc brakes. The 1995 models consisted of the 4-door sedan called the Protege in the US, the 2-door hatchback that was called the Familia Neo in Japan, and the 323c in Europe Laser lynx. In Japan a tall wagon called the Familia Van was available, while in South Africa it was dubbed the Mazda Etude.
Introduced in Japan as the Mazda Lantis, in Europe as the Mazda 323f, and in Australia and South Africa as the Mazda 323 Astina, was a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan that both featured pillar-less doors and unique sheetmetal from various other 323s. Constructed on platforms unique from other 323's, the body shape design was created by former Porsche designers. Dubbed BA, the European 323f was nearly identical to the CB and had very little to do with other B platforms. The Lantis was on the CB, slightly updated version of the C with underpinnings from the luxury Mazda Xedos 6 and Eunos 500. Both of these models were manufactured with either the 1.5 L and 1.8 L engine found on the rest of the 323 range, along with the 2.0 L V6 shared with the Eunos 500.
In 1994 the Familia Neo entered into production for the Japanese domestic market. A mechanically similar re-badged version was released by Ford that featured different headlights, bumper and hood. In New Zealand it was released as a new model. Equal to a 2-door version, the Familia Neo was nearly identical in appearance to a Mazda Lantis/323F.
Based on the larger Mazda 626, the 1999 BJ platform rolled onto the scene with either a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback chassis with more engine choices. All wheel drive was once again an option for the Japanese Mazda Familia. The U.S. ES's engine continued to be 1.8 liters, but was a reduced in size version of the 626 instead of the powerful Miata motor. The ES lost the option of disc brakes this year.
In 2001 the Japanese market Sport 20 received a 2.0 L gas engine. The Mazda Premacy debuted this year, a tall wagon version of the Familia. It was sold in Japan as the Ford Ixion. Ford of Japan stopped marketing Mazda-based models in 1999 and the Ford Laser, the Ixion, Festiva and Telstar were all dropped from the lineup.
In the U.S. in 2001 Mazda debuted its limited edition Protege MP3 model with a brand new sport-tuned suspension. The exclusive model also featured 17-inch wheels, a 450-watt Kenwood MP3 stereo and 10 hp extra which rounded out to a total of 140 hp. This year also brought with it an updated facelift for the Protege, the 1.8 L engine growing to 2.0 L and the ES receiving a stiffer suspension and its rear disc brakes again. The following year the Protege 5, a station wagon version was introduced. All Protege models received the 2.0 L engine in 2002.
An update to the Protege MP3, Mazdaspeed debuted the Mazdaspeed Protege in 2003. Featured a 170 hp/160 ft/lb of turbocharged engine, the Mazdaspeed version also came with 17-inch wheels, even larger four-wheel disc brakes, and a Kenwood stereo system with an amplifier and 8 inch sub. Halfway through the year Mazda introduced the '2003.5' model which featured darker painted wheels, customer interior pieces and a different aero-kit. Only 4,750 Mazdaspeed Protege models were manufactured. ES models received a manumatic transmission.
The last year for the Protege, the final model rolled off the assembly line on October 2, 2003. In Taiwan it continues in production, badged as the Ford Activa, which unlike the Ford Laser it has had no styling changes from the 323 except the badges. Madza 323 production continued in Columbia into 2003, constructed by its local subsidiary. The 323 has continued to be one of the most successful vehicles made in the country and numerous models from throughout the years can be found on the streets of most Andean and Colombian cities. The square 'boxy' look that once typified the 323 at the peak of its career has remained until the very end because of the demand of the local market for the vehicle's lines.
The Mazda3 replaced the 323 in the Mazda lineup in 2004. It shares a platform with the current generation Volvo S40 and the new generation Ford Focus not sold in the US. Available in both 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback varieties, the '3' comes with a 2.0 liter engine on the 3i sedan and a 2.3 liter engine on the 3s sedan and the hatchback.Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson