The 2003 ES is my second Protege - I previously owned a 1999 LX. This car is very reliable & an excellent buy. The fuel efficiency is great, although slightly lower than the 1999 model - I average about 27 mpg with a combo of city & highway drivng. My only criticism is that, with only 130 hp, the Protege lacks some acceleration & power. However, what it lacks in those areas it more than compensates for in handling & braking The Protege is amazing for a car in this class - it handles & stops like a much more expensive car, making it extremely fun to drive. If Mazda continues to build fun, reliable cars like this, I'll be a Mazda owner for life.
My favorite feature is the car's handling prowess - not bad for an economy sport compact under 20 G's. I also love all of the Protege's many embellishments: the 16" alloy wheels, the in-dash 6-disc CD changer, the power moonroof, and the stylish interior and exterior design.
Clearly, Mazda has already addressed the only thing needed to improve this car - more power. I wish I would have been able to afford the 2003.5 Mazdaspeed version of the Protege, but I still love my ES.