I bought my Protege in preparation for going back to college for $3,500 with 117k on it. It's a 5 speed with a 1.5 liter. I use it for everything short of what I would need a truck for. It has plenty of room for 4-5 people and great trunk space. More than two years later, it has 156k and still going strong. Aside from basic maintenance, it has only needed a new timing belt (water pump done at same time to save $$), thermostat and tires, all wear and tear items. Although not absolutely necessary, I also replaced the struts (another wear and tear item) since I plan to drive this one until it dies, which will probably be a long time.
Fuel economy and a superb freeway cruiser! I consistently get 35-36 overall mpg, although winter takes off about 2mpg. At a steady 65-70 mph, this car WILL get 40+mpg. I highly recommend this car to anybody looking for a true value car, but do opt for the 1.5 liter with the 5 speed.
Wish it had a little more zip and better fuel economy for in-town driving, but the car runs so well this is mostly a non-issue. Car also detonates on 87 octane during warmer months (heard this is an ECU issue).