I bought this car because of my previous experience with the protege. I owned one 1997 DX model from 1997. It proved to be a very reliable car and fun to drive. It lacked a bit of power but the mileage was about 36 miles to the gallon on average, not just highway. The 2003 was loaded compared to the stripped 2007 model. The larger more powerfull engine would make the car even better. Turns out that going to the automatic transmission cost me some of that power. The driving on the new model was better because of the cornering. The larger low profile wheels made the drive much better. The mileage stunk. It dropped to 27 miles to the gallon. I have liked the vehicle.
Bought this loaded out ES model new in 2003 w/ nearly 4K off sticker. My wife drove the car daily but now after 4 yrs it's my car. Very fun daily driver. Always liked the sporty firm suspension. Very nice road/steering feed back. Like a 4 dr miata! :o) We took a 12 hr trip and I'm a 6 footer so it was a bit too cramped after a few hours (lots of breaks). Ideal small car for most uses. Car still looks sharp after 4 years, and still happy! Gas mileage is near the sticker claim of 30-32 hwy. The small tank means affordable $35 fill-ups @$3/gal. Great Mazda reliabilty and no maintenance issues so far. Still have orig. brake pads after 49k miles. Highly recommend this car for anyone!!
Exterior looks, the ES is a sharp looking car. Mazda quality still evident.
None, unless they can make it feel like a full size sedan for long trips!~:o)
I was interested in the Protege with the 2.0 engine because of its incredible reliability and performance, but it has a very nice complex style for a car this size. I suggest this car if you hesitate between a Honda Civic, a Protege 2.0 and a Nissan Sentra. And for young drivers, the insurance is pretty low compared to other vehicles. In the 5 spd manual, unlike other cars in that class, you still feel the torque in 3rd and 4th. The LX model is very comfy. And for the admirers of audio systems, don't underestimate the Protege's. I plan on keeping it stock because I love it so much.
The torque on the 2.0, the audio system, the interior/exterior style, the comfort.
On the 5 spd manual, move the shifter a little foreward. As it is as most people complain about the fuel economy... you can't have everything, a 2.0 engine will suck up more gas than a 1.6 but you do have more horses.
I have to say that I really enjoy owning and driving this vehicle. Mind you most of my driving miles are roughly 60-70% highway miles and I have experienced excellent mpg. I have to add that my maintenance costs have been relatively low as well, the only major repair was scheduled maintenance for the timing belt interval, two brake jobs and 2 sets of tires. I do talk highly about this car and would recommend it to someone looking for a similar type vehicle. Other notable points that maybe trivial but are annoying is the "hey your seatbelt is not buckled" alarm when you are in an idle state. It does have a stiff ride and have noticed that road noise creeps in louder as the rubber gets thinner.
I like the sportiness and mpg.
I would raise the gear ratio for the manual or add a 6th gear.