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.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.