bit of interior width due to increased side impact protection, but this remains among the roomiest of vehicles in this class.
Engines are more powerful, now with a choice of a 105-horsepower 1.6-liter or 122-horsepower 1.8-1iter four cylinder. Although neither reigns as the most powerful in the segment, both are reasonably peppy and quite frugal. Where the Protege is at its best, however, is the quality of the vehicle itself. This compact sedan has an elegant, European-like style to the outside. Inside, the materials are what you might expect from a more expensive car. Ergonomics are as good or better than any vehicle in this area. All five passengers get three-point seat belts, still unusual at this price range. The trunk is large and deep. The seat backs fold down for extra cargo capacity, although they cannot be locked, compromising security.
The car has a sporty feel, yet retains high levels of ride comfort and a quiet interior. The three-year/50,000 mile warranty remains the longest in this class.
The biggest news at Mercury is not about its vehicles, but about its corporate headquarters. Lincoln Mercury (no longer calling itself the Lincoln-Mercury Division) has moved away from its Ford parent in Michigan and relocated to Irvine, California. There, it’s hoped, the company can fight the imports–Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Nissan–on their home turf.
Meanwhile, the Tracer carries on as a joint effort designed in Michigan but based on Mazda mechanicals (which a new Protege no longer shares). The $12,000$16,000 small sedan and wagon are firmly at the simple and basic end of the realm. The 110-horsepower 2.0-liter engine performs its duties perfunctorily. The car is almost never unpleasant, featuring ample room and a relatively quiet ride. It’s becoming rare in this category to see a station wagon, a pleasant way to add carrying ability. Since the folding seat backs cannot be locked, the station wagon gives you virtually the same level of security for cargo. Handling even leans toward the sporty, a consequence of its Mazda lineage.
For decades the Corolla has reigned as one of the most trusted nameplates among small cars. The only negative consequence is that a basic $12,218 VE doesn’t have many features and even the nearly $16,000 LE can end up thousands higher when fully loaded.
Despite the fact that a Corolla is often the slightly more expensive choice, it’s just as often the wise one. The 120-horsepower 1.8-liter engine is peppy enough and works well with either the manual or automatic transmission. There is enough room inside to squeeze five adults. Toyota could have made it roomier, but then there would be less reason to move up to a Camry. And while few buy a Corolla for its sporting pretensions, this remains a nimble car that can be fun to drive. There are no cars in this segment that are more quiet and comfortable.
Alone in this class are such options as side impact airbags and an outside temperature gauge, which comes standard on the LE. A large glove