In comparison with other cars in it's price range, there is no competition with the Protege. Bigger engine, more power, better quality, all that you would expect to find in a $20k+ vehicle you get in the Protege!
This car has great handling which has to be experienced to understand. Minimal body roll, responsive, controlable, and predictable. You will have more fun finding the limits of this car than any of it's competators.
The only thing this car needs is more power. However, even without the power, the car is fun because of it's handling ability. If you want fun and power, buy a mustang. If you want fun and afordable, buy a Protege.