We bought our Protege brand spankin' new - she only had 7 kms on her. Today she has 278,000 kms. We have only replaced the alternator and the thermostat - that's it! This car is by far the best car we have ever owned. It took out a deer at 60km/h with a minor ripple in the hood and broken headlight. The gas mileage is incredible, we can easily go 700 kms on a tank of gas. The only recurring issue is something with the electrical. Last year we began blowing headlights every other day - the backyard mechanic we took it to rigged it so we only have headlights now, no highbeams - no biggie. When and if this one ever dies we will definitely be buying a Mazda again - more then likely a Mazda3.
Our is a barebone Protege, we only have A/C and power steering - favorite feature though would be the way it looks with only a few body mods (euro style taillights, big fat loud muffler and tint).
Paint quality is less then desired. The smallest rock will chip the hood and the slightest bump into anything will scar the bumpers horribly.
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