Wife purchased in 1994 4-cylinder LX as a 1995 "Mazda program car" (had 18K miles, now has 107K). Transmission light came on @ 1999 (car was most likely abused prior to purchasing with 18K miles)- we couldn't feel anything different but had it replaced anyway. No transmissions problems since then. Other than regular maintenance like oil/filter changes, the only major services have been a new timing belt and replacement of front drive axle gear (tie rods, links, boot covers...). It has been very reliable in our 15 yrs of ownership. I purchased a new 2000 Protege (loved it for what it was) but traded it in for 2004 MPV (3 kids happened). Want to buy Mazdaspeed3 but 626 keeps going.
Reliable, low cost to own. Have owned Toyota, VW and Mazda vehicles - all were/have been reliable but I tend to prefer Mazda's.
Some rust (quarter-sized) beginning to appear around wheel wells - 15 years in Northeast salted winter roads will do that. Wish mpg was better in my overall driving (avg 22 in winter, 25 in summer) but I do consistently get 33 mpg in pure highway driving (as high as 35 when newer).