Bought my 2004 in 2006 while still under warranty, and 9 years and 138000 miles later am only now thinking of upgrading. Longest I've ever driven one particular vehicle. The most cost comes with replacing the low profile tires so frequently but otherwise has been essentially maintenance free with giving it regular oil changes and routine checkups. I absolutely love this solid little car. I even discovered I could camp in it. As I age I need slightly better front seats for comfort and therefore am also looking to upgrade to maybe a Mazda CX-5. I love hatchbacks, I don't like SUVs, vans and sedans and this car is perfect.
Bought this car new in 2004 and approaching 90k miles. Every mile has been enjoyable. Thought about getting a newer car with better performance and luxury, but decided that this car so perfectly meets my needs, I'm going to drive it into the ground. No major problems (aside from nasty pothole related suspension stuff) and has maintained high 20's combined mileage while remaining fun to drive. Won't win a drag race, but can slalom with many "performance" cars. Definitely recommend upgrading stock rubber to slightly wider, stickier set. On my third set of BFG's 215/45R17 rubber. Great tires for this car.
I purchased my Mazda in 2014 with 110k miles. She was a one owner car before me and they took very good care of her. I'm sad to say I totaled her at 140k miles. She never broke down on me. I did treat her well and got routine maintenance done. The worst thing about her was the road noise and she was a little bit of a bumpy ride. When the air bag went off it exploded and filled my car with smoke. I hit a car in front of me on highway 405 going about 35 miles per hour. If i had the choice having her back I would.
I was suspect not having owned such a small car, as a daily driver, for over twenty years. I was also suspect about the Ford connection with Mazda. So far, I haven't had any concerns and I can be pretty picky. The car delivers 23MPG with mixed driving and about 27-28 MPG strictly highway. The automatic tranny is fine and I have the slapstick manual option which is nice. I am wondering how it will handle New England winters, especially with 17" speed-rated tires. The vehicle does have one quirk; in idle, the heat vents blow cold air, even with a warm engine. When moving, the heat is strong. Makes it difficult to warm up the car in the morning since it only will blow cold until driving.
I didn't actually buy this car yet, but have been looking at it for several days and like what I see so far. Debating between this or a 2003 Protege5. The 3 has huge power increase over the Pro5, but overall does not handle as tightly. Very nice acceleration in 1st gear, but 2nd seems sluggish. Still a nice car, with great styling for entry level economy car.