My wife and I bought our 1997 Mazda LX Protege 5 speed manual back in 1997 brand new and still own it today. Other than small maintenence issues such as replacing batteries and giving it a tune up every couple of years, we have not had one single problem with it. The car still drives smooth (it is slow with the 1.5) but it's roomy and somewhat comfortable, just don't try to pass quickly on a freeway, or climb steep inclines, because you will creep up the mountain etc. The vehicle doesn't burn or drip oil and the paint job still looks very sharp for such an old car, and the interior (cloth) still looks nice and tight. We really love this car!
Easy to get in and out, lots of visibility all around and comfortable to ride in for a "small" car.
The 1.5 gets really great gas mileage, about 35 to 38 on the highway and with gas prices the way they are today in 2008, this car is a dream!