I've had my Protege for almost three years, it's my first car and I will never buy anything but a Mazda. I have never had any problems with it except with the oxygen sensor, but I think that was a defect in the the replacement. Gas mileage is under par, especially on the highway. I did have to replace the radio because the volume would go up when I was turning it down and the CD player didn't play burned CD's and I was spending too much money on real CD's. Other than that, P cuts like a jack knife and is so fun to drive. Acceleration is excellent and the interior is perfect, not to mention that the outside is so cute :)
The front end: adorable. The bass in the sound system, speed and acceleration, the way it hugs the curves, size of the trunk, and size of the back seat.