I was very happy with my 1995 Protege, so when it came time to upgrade, my choice was the 3i. Don't let salesmen try to supersize you into an s if fuel economy is of primary importance. You can get lots of extra features on an i, and it's not always true that it's "same price as an s" by the time you're done adding. I find 144 hp to be plenty of power for my commute, which includes pulling out onto busy roads and merging with traffic from a stop. My only real complaint is the all-black interior. Every speck of dust shows. Like a white kitchen floor, it's going to take a lot of regular attention to keep it looking clean (sigh).
I love the look of this car and that there aren't a million of them on the road. Telescoping wheel and adjustable seats mean anyone can find a good driving position. I got 400 miles out of my first tank of gas (I'm only on my second tank).
Like I said above, the black interior attracts dust (which looks like dandruff - yuck) and the plastic scuffs WAY too easily. Other dislikes: the button you have to push to take out the key; the speedometer; and the tacky CD/clock display - especially when it blasts red at night (Seinfeld episode?)
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