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Mazda Protege History

1992 Mazda 323 hatchback

Mazda Protege

2000 Mazda Protege LX

Mazda 323F

Mazda Familia Neo

Mazda Familia Neo

BJ 323 wagon

Mazda 323 (Protege)

The Mazda 323 (called the Familia in Japan) was a subcompact car produced by Mazda in Japan between 1976 and 2003. In the United States it was originally known as the GLC, then the 323, then finally from 1990 on as the Protege. In South Africa it was known as the Etude. The Ford Focus-based Mazda 3 replaced this series of platforms for 2004, though Mazda still contributed much to the project.

323s were built in Hiroshima, Japan, although they were also assembled in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa, Colombia and New Zealand.

In North America the 323/Protege was always more expensive than its entry-level competitors such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, partly due to its manufacture in Japan, and therefore is not as ubiquitous. A perennial favorite of US car magazines, the model is well regarded for its spirited handling. It was also the first small Japanese car to cross over to the EPA "compact" class in 1990 when the 4-door started going by the name Protege.

It formed the basis of the Ford Laser and Meteor in Asia, Australia and other markets, (known as the Mercury Tracer in the United States) and from 1991, the Ford Escort in North America.


  • 1 1976
  • 2 1980
  • 3 1985
  • 4 1990
  • 5 1995
    • 5.1 323F/Astina
    • 5.2 Familia Neo/323c/Laser Lynx
  • 6 1999
  • 7 2004-


The first Mazda 323 was a rear wheel drive model. It was known in the United States as the Mazda GLC (which stood for 'Great Little Car') and was a version of the fourth-generation Japan-market Mazda Familia.

It was available in several body variants:

  • Five-door four-seat hatch.
  • Three-door four-seat hatch.
  • Five-door four-seat station wagon.
  • Three-door four-seat station wagon.
  • Three-door two-seat van with an extended roof profile.

Several of these were available in several trim levels.


  • 1.0 L PC, 45 hp (33.6 kW)/51 ft·lbf (69 N·m)
  • 1.3 L TC
  • 1.4 L UC

Still later, a five-speed manual gearbox was introduced as an alternative to the original four-speed manual gearbox, and at the same time the original 7 in (17.8 cm) round sealed beam headlights were replaced with square sealed beam units on all models except the van, together with a general styling and mechanical upgrade. A three-speed automatic gearbox was also available throughout the model run.

Production of the van variant only continued after 1980 (still with round headlights), as there was no front wheel drive replacement.

  • Wheelbase: 2311 mm (91 in)
  • Front Track: 1295 mm (51 in)
  • Rear Track: 1311 mm (51.6 in)
  • Length: 3820 mm (150.4 in)
  • Width: 1595 mm (62.8 in)
  • Weight: 812 kg (1790 lb)


The 1980 323 featured a 1.5 L engine, and was front wheel drive. It was available as a hatchback and sedan. The 1980 Carol/323 was the first front-engine, front-wheel drive vehicle from Mazda since the rare R130. A wagon version, which was simply a facelifted version of the previous rear-drive model, was also sold. The 323 was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1980.

Engine options:

  • 1980-1987 - 1.1 L E1 I4, 55 hp (41 kW) and 79 N·m (58 ft·lbf)
  • 1980-1987 - 1.3 L E3 I4, 60 hp (44 kW) and 95 N·m (70 ft·lbf)
  • 1980-1987 - 1.5 L E5 I4, 75 hp (56 kW) and 116 N·m (86 ft·lbf)


The 1985 323 again featured a 1.5 L engine. It was available as a hatchback, sedan and wagon (this time also front wheel drive). The Ford Laser version of this model also formed the basis of the Mercury Tracer.

The model remained in production in South Africa until 2003, as an entry level model, also being sold as the Ford Tonic, and was briefly sold in the UK as the Sao Penza. A locally designed pick-up called the Hustler was also produced, and sold as the Ford Bantam.

This generation was sold through the 1989 model year in the United States. The station wagon continued in many markets and was not cancelled until 1995.

Engine options:

  • 1980-1987 - 1.1 L E1 I4, 55 hp (40 kW) and 55 ft·lbf (75 N·m)
  • 1980-1987 - 1.3 L E3 I4, 60 hp (44 kW) and 70 ft·lbf (95 N·m)
  • 1980-1987 - 1.5 L E5 I4, 75 hp (56 kW) and 86 ft·lbf (122 N·m)
  • 1987-1989 - 1.5 L E5c I4 catalyst, 73 hp (54 kW) and 83 ft·lbf (113 N·m)
  • 1.5 L B5 I4, 75 hp (56 kW) and 86 ft·lbf (117 N·m)
  • 1988-1989 - 1.6 L B6 I4, 82 hp (61 kW)
  • 1988-1989 - 1.6 L B6T I4 turbo, 148 hp (110 kW) and 144 ft·lbf (195 N·m) GTX


  • Wheelbase: 2400 mm (94.5 in)
  • Length: 4194 mm (165.1 in)
  • Width: 1643 mm (64.7 in)
  • Weight: 936 kg (2060 lb)


The 1989/1990 BG 323 was available in hatchback or sedan formats, with front- or all-wheel drive and a 1.3 L, 1.5 L, 1.6 L, or 1.8 L gas or 1.7 L Diesel engine.

The GT model, only sold in Canada in 1990, 1991 and 1993, came with the 1.8 L BP engine also found on the 1994-97 Mazda Miata.

The JDM GTX model featured all wheel drive and a turbocharged 1.8 L BP engine. In the U.S. it came with a 1.6L turbo, with the AWD. In 1992, the rare GT-R version was added (ALSO JDM), featuring a number of performance enhancements over the GTX model. These included a stronger gearbox, sodium filled valve stems, an agressive front bumper and bonnet vents, an up-graded turbo.

In Japan, the 5-door hatchback, featuring a distinct front end with pop-up headlights, was sold as the Mazda Familia Astina and Eunos 100. Trim lines in Japan included Clair, Interplay, Supreme, and GT-X.

The car donated its mechanicals/Unibody to the 1991-1996 Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer and 1994-1997 Kia Sephia in North America, as well as the Ford Laser in Australia.

In America, the LX version of the Protege became known for its vast interior room (for its class), sporty handling, and revvy 125-horsepower engine. LX models also had 14-inch wheels, all-disc brakes, and dual stabilizer bars.

Production of the 1994 model ended on May 24, 1994.

engine options:

  • 1.3 L B3 I4, 75 hp (56 kW) and 76 ft·lbf (103 N·m)
  • 1.5 L B5 I4 DOHC, 110 hp (82 kW) and 93 ft·lbf (125 N·m)
  • 1.6 L B6 I4 DOHC, 82 hp (61 kW) USA
  • 1.8 L BP I4
  • 1.8 L BPT I4 DOHC, 165HP in GTX, 185HP in Euro-spec GT-R, 210HP (unconfirmed) in JDM GT-R
  • 1.7 L PN I4 Diesel


  • Wheelbase: 2450 mm (96.5 in)
  • Front Track: 1430 mm (56.3 in)
  • Rear Track: 1435 mm (56.5 in)
  • Length: 3995 mm (157.3 in)
  • Width: 1675 mm (65.9 in)
  • Weight: 955 kg (2105 lb)


The 1995 BH model was available internationally (The BH model was released for the Japanese domestic market the previous year, in 1994) with both front wheel drive and all wheel drive. Production of this generation started on August 8, 1994, and ceased on June 18, 1998.

Americans will want to stick to the rare ES model, the only Protege that came with the Miata's 1.8-liter twin-cam engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, and dual stabilizer bars.


  • 4-door sedan (called the Protege in the US)
  • 2-door hatchback (Familia Neo in Japan, 323c in Europe Laser lynx)
  • A tall wagon, called the Familia Van, was also available in Japan. In South Africa, this model was known as the Mazda Etude.


  • 1.3 L B3
  • 1.5 L Z5
  • 1.5 L B5
  • 1.8 L BP
  • 1.7 L 4EE1 Diesel (Japan)


A five door hatchback and four door sedan, both featuring pillarless doors and distinct sheetmetal from other 323s was sold in Japan as the Mazda Lantis, in Australia and South Africa as the Mazda 323 Astina, and in Europe as the Mazda 323f. They were built on platforms distinct from the other 323s. The bodyshape was designed by former Porsche designers. The Lantis was on the CB, a minor update of the CA that underpinned the luxury Mazda Xedos 6 and Eunos 500. The European 323f was designated BA, but was actually almost identical to the CB, and had little to do with other B platforms. These models were sold with the 1.5 L and 1.8 L engines seen in the rest of the 323 range, as well as a 2.0 L V6 shared with the Eunos 500.

Familia Neo/323c/Laser Lynx

The Familia neo started production for the Japanese domestic market in 1994. Ford released a re-badged version which was mechanicly the same although different bumpers, headlights and bonnet were fitted. This was released new in New Zealand. Astheticly the Familia Neo was very close in looks to a mazda Lantis/323F and equated to a 2 door version.



The 1999 BJ platform was updated with a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback chassis based on the larger Mazda 626 and more engine choices. The Japanese Mazda Familia again got all wheel drive as an option. In America, the ES's engine was still 1.8 liters large but was a shrunken version of the 626's engine rather than the Miata's more exciting motor. Disc brakes on the ES were also lost.


  • 1.3 L B3
  • 1.5 L ZL
  • 2.0 L FS, 130 hp (97 kW) and 135 ft·lbf (183 N·m)
  • 2.0 L FS-ZE (2001 Sport 20)
  • 2.0 L RF Diesel

A 2.0 L gas engine appeared in 2001 on the Japanese market Sport 20. An tall wagon version of the Familia called the Mazda Premacy was also available, and which was sold in Japan as the Ford Ixion. In 1999, Ford of Japan ceased to market Mazda-based models, and the Ford Laser, along with the Ixion, Telstar and Festiva, was dropped.

For the 2001 model year in North America, Mazda introduced the limited-edition Protege MP3 featuring a new sport-tuned suspension, 17 in wheels, 10 hp (7.5 kW) extra for a total of 140 hp (104 kW), and a 450-watt Kenwood MP3 stereo. 2001 also saw Proteges getting a sharper face lift, the ES getting its rear disc brakes back and a stiffer suspension, and the 1.8 L engine growing to 2.0 L.

2002 saw the introduction of a station wagon version called Protege 5. All Proteges got the 2.0 L engine this year.

In 2003, Mazdaspeed introduced the Mazdaspeed Protege, an update to the Protege MP3 that had a 170 hp (127 kW)/160 ft·lbf (217 N·m) turbocharged engine, 17 in wheels, larger four-wheel disc brakes, and a Kenwood stereo system that included an amplifier, and 8inch sub. Mazda then followed with a mid year change dubbed the "2003.5." This model included a different aero-kit, darker painted wheels, and custom interior pieces. In total, there were only 4,750 Mazdaspeed Protege models produced. This was the last year for the production of the Protege. ES models got a manumatic transmission.

This generation went into production on September 29, 1998, and the very last model rolled off the assembly line on October 2, 2003. It remains in production in Taiwan, where it is also badged as the Ford Activa, which, unlike the Ford Laser, has no styling changes from the 323, except for the badges. (In Southeast Asia, a version of the last Laser is still assembled in Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and the Philippines as the Ford Lynx.)

In Colombia, production of the Mazda 323 continued well until 2003, built by its local subsidiary, the Compañ­a Colombiana Automotriz. The 323 remains to this day one of the most successful cars made in the country and many models made across the years can still be seen in the streets of most Colombian and Andean cities. Oddly enough, the "boxy" look that characterized the vehicle during the early 1990s and the 1980s remained until production's end due to the demand of the local market for the car's lines.


The 323 has been replaced in Mazda's lineup by the Mazda3, which shares a platform with the current generation Volvo S40 and the new generation Ford Focus not sold in North America. The "3" comes in both 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback varieties, with a 2.0 litre engine on the 3i sedan and a 2.3 litre engine on the 3s sedan and the hatchback.

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