This car is hands down the best economy car you can (could) buy. Yes, it could use more power, but it's still peppy. The handling is better than cars costing a lot more, and the brakes are the best I have ever used, period. The Protege is truly a budget BMW; so much more fun than a Sentra, Civic, or Corolla. It looks good, too; after 3 years, I still find myself turning around to look at it as I walk away. It's a little loud on the highway, but the high-performance tires have a lot to do with that. I usually get 25mpg around town and a bit over 30 on the highway. My last Protege (a 1990 model) was running strong at 225,000 miles, and I don't expect this one to be any different.
The smile it puts on my face. The tight handling; the sharp styling; the good stereo. Did I mention the brakes are fantastic?
This car could easily handle another 30 horsepower. Manual shifter throws could be a tad shorter; a taller 5th gear would help quiet the car on the highway.