Got my first one in 2002 with 120k on it, drove it for another 100k when the transmission finally crapped out. Liked it so much, I found one on eBay with 100k on it, bought it drove it cross-country (PA to CO) sight unseen and had zero mechanical issues with it. Had a timing belt fail about 6 months later, but other wise it's been great. It has a persistent oil leak (dunno where), and the A/C pooped out a while ago but that's pretty minor for a run-around/short-distance commuter car. I wish it has cup holders (tired of spilling beverages), but it still runs strong, no other mechanical issues. VERY pleased with the quality/longevity of both of these vehicles.
Cheap, small, easy to drive, plenty of power, good handling, easy to work on (routine maintenance), comfortable, sufficient cargo capacity for two (plus gear) but it would be small for three/four.
CUP HOLDERS. I doubt Mazda is going to go back and retrofit them at this point, but it would have been nice. Also, a better center armrest (taller/longer).
I've had a wonderful experience using my car. It still stands solid after 12 years of use, almost on a daily basis (bought it used). It's my only car and I'm not even thinking of buying another yet. The AC is superb, the seats are well designed, has a box and tray apart from the glove compartment that allows the additional advantage of resting my right arm while driving. The car's speed is incredible at its age. It routinely shames several other car makes on the highways. Whatever the terrain, I'm never worried in my 626. Rarely develops faults. Just routine maintenance- change of oil, filter and spark plugs + flushing of radiator and AC condenser + regular engine cleaning.
Arm rest, 5 speed, 2.2L engine capacity, fuel economy.
Better support for front bumper (easily detaches with use, Improve on Cam-shaft design (sometimes valves become stiff, causing clicking sounds when running the engine), Better suspension system
Best car ever! Runs with minor repairs: intake tube, clutch, air conditioning long gone, interior feel apart, but replaced it. Clutch problems lately, replaced radiator. Brakes several times. Leaks oil now, quart a month. Automatic seat belt and windows going. Still love it, and trying to hang on to it till it's twenty. Well worth the money!
Cup holders, but I think this has been added to the newer models.
I have just replaced my loyal Mazda 626. Bought it in 1998 and it now has 178,000 miles. Really still love it but it has NO HEAT. Tried everything. The two major problem areas I have found are, 1) rear main seal. Every Mazda I have had leaks oil from the seal. Had this one replaced and it only lasted about two years and started leaking again. 2) Radiator. For some reason Mazda radiators develop leaks at the top where the I.D. imprint is. Car went through two radiators and I gave up. Otherwise I really loved this car and it was great driving, great handling and very reliable.