I bought my Mazda 626 2002 used in 2003 with 1500 miles, ran the heck out of it from state to state for three years with no problems what so ever.
It was such a great car that when my daughter needed a safe car I gave her my Mazda because it was safe, reliable and perfect for her.
She is still driving it today with no problems other than regular maint.
It has well over 100,000 and will likely last another ten years. I have looked and looked to purchase another one for myself and can not find one for sale (I suspect they have stayed in families, just like mine.) Excellent car!
FYI mine was not a manual
Purchased 2002 626 in May 2006 with 57,000 miles. Car is in good to excellent shape. Getting about 23 MPG in mixed driving. Car has been very reliable and is a good comfortable road trip car for 4 people and plenty of luggage. 4 cylinder motor isn't all that powerful (the 2002 Altima has a much more powerful motor) and road noise is sometimes very noticeable.
This car was highly recommended by a consumer publication in Canada provided it did not come with the automatic transmission. My car is a 2002 with the 4 – cylinder and manual transmission. The engine is definitely underpowered but if you don’t mind shifting down and revving a bit, you can use the ample torque at about 3000 rpm to supply a fun driving experience. The car currently has 200,000 km (120,000 mi) on it. I keep it very well maintained, even changing the shocks and springs which give it a better ride than when new. This also helped preserve the suspension components, which take a pounding on the winter-ravaged streets in Montreal.
I have had several cars from compact to midsize cars not one of them could do what the 626 4 cylinder can do; drive from Raleigh NC to Philly Pa. on one tank of gas with gas to spare. I admit the car somewhat sluggish when pulling off but accelerates great after you are moving. The interior is nice but the seats could use lumbar support for longer drives.
Nothing fancy. Comfy, quiet, mostly reliable, except for those model years with the 626 transmission. Disappointing to have had to rebuild the transmission at only 70-80K miles. Most mazdas go 200K. Feeling jipped.
Many interior plastic linings came loose. That was lousy fabrication/craftsmanship. Pity. Otherwise nice, simple car for short or long trips. Average mph.