I bought my 2003 Protege ES new based on handling and ride - and looks. It's been a great car, extremely reliable and is still fun to drive.
The sway bar bushings wore out at 85,000 miles and the tubing to the mass air flow sensor cracked, but a redneck duct tape fix still works.
The passenger side electric door lock stopped working at about 50,000 miles. The worst thing on it by far is the rust in the rear fender wells.
After 105,000 miles, everything else still works great.
Still looks great in Laser Blue Mica with 16" wheels. The stereo in the ES level is quite good. Factory brakes were excellent. Cheap replacements - not so excellent. Gonna remedy that soon. The best quality is still the handling though. Very fun car to drive.
Mazda seems to have rust control down now, but the car's biggest flaw is that rear fender rust. This car also doesn't have much power - something else that's not an issue in 2015. Strangest thing is the air intake on the Protege. Air comes in through the crack between the front moulding and the hood. I did another redneck revision and broke away some of the plastic behind the front grill to let in more air. I actually notice a boost in acceleration, and mpg's have gone up 1-2 mpg.
I bought this car with 53000Miles on this car in 2008 and ever since it's had all four brakes(Everything) replaced,4 stabilizer bars,5 struts,belts twice,timing belt,Sparkplugs and wires,4 tires at $280 each and I rust proof and do oil changes with synthetic every 3000 Miles and am getting 14MPG and the A/C barely works and the fan makes loud noises and have gone way over what I thought was a reliable car that should at least get 20 MPG. I forgot the car is bad too because if you drive alot you will be very tired od hitting potholes and trying to merge onto highways with the automatic.
I have owned a 1989 Mazda 323 hatchback and a 1994 Protege sedan. Most recently I was driving a 2006 Subaru Forester. I sold it and bought this Mazda Protege ES sedan with only 64,000 miles on it, same as my Subaru. I missed having a 5 speed and I did not like antilock brakes when they were put to the test on ice. I love my "new" car. It is fun to drive and it is very nimble compared to the Forester. Of course I gave up some cargo space but not much else. I get better gas mileage. I am averaging 29+ mpg with mixed driving. I am curious to see what I will get n pure highway driving when I go on a road trip.
I really do smile sometimes driving it. I never felt that way about a car before! I feel safer in this car than my Subaru because I know how it will react and drive. I can shift better than any automatic and I know when and how to pump my brakes. I don't want a car that second-guesses me.
Wish it had better gas mileage but I did a comparison with paying more to purchase a Corolla or Civic and projecting different gas prices and it's basically a wash. It's hard to find these models with 5-speed anymore so I'll just keep this one. I'm sure I'm losing mpg because of the better power.
My brother passed this car on to me in 2005 after my car was totaled in an accident & he wanted to get a new BMW. He has regretted that decision ever since. I still have it today in 2010 & he has gone through about 3-4 cars still trying to find the right one. This car is reliable, does really well with gas, has good power acceleration to it, is comfortable and besides normal wear & tear with tires, the only thing that happened was a leak with the radiator & in the air intake hose there was a hole. I replaced both parts & runs like brand freaking new. Unfortunately, I have a small daughter so this car can feel tight sometimes but this is a car you will not regret getting. She's a beaut.
Reliable, barely any mechanical issues, inexpensive parts, great gas mileage, decent trunk space.
More roof space would be great if you have kids, child lock on the doors needed, sunroof would be pretty cool, tinting is mandatory-car can get pretty hot.
My fourth consecutive Mazda. Still very reliable at 112k miles, only routine maintenance performed thus far. ES model's 2.0 motor is peppy even with the 4-speed automatic. A major negative is road noise. DX & LX Proteges were already noisy and the ES model's low profile tires take it up a notch. That's why I only rated the car a "5" for comfort.
Reliability, reliability, reliability!
ES model eats low profile tires. Always wearing unevenly, I've had four sets of rubber in 100k miles. Road noise is so bad its hard to have a conversation, even on a cell phone. Gas mileage is abysmal for a car this size, I'm averaging about 25mpg with 20/80 city/hwy driving.