I just bought one. It was the best investment I have ever made. I paid $400 for it on Craigslist because it needed repairs. The parts were cheap. I ended up spending just $300 to replace the rear struts and springs, all four brake pads and rotors, headlights, spark plugs, air filter and replaced all of the fluids. Now it runs like new which is surprising since the engine and transmission have never been replaced or rebuilt. Some of the reviews I have read stated that the acceleration is sluggish but that has not been the case with the 1.8 liter engine paired with a 5 speed. The best part is that I was able to get close to 350 miles on a single tank of gas and it cost about $30 to completely refill the tank. The only problem I have had other than the usual protege suspension and rust issues is that it is a little cramped when getting in and out due to the steering wheel being a little low. I would recommend this car 100% to anyone looking for a cheap reliable car.
This Protege is my fourth Mazda. I returned to the smaller body style from the 626 because it is more perky and better on gas mileage. These cars just seem to be custom-made for me-- everything's in comrfortable reach. Very dependable, low maintenance, and a great value!
I got my 1996 Protege DX with an automatic transmission in 2006 and it's been a great car. I just turned 112,000 miles on it and have only replaced the waterpump and timing belt and have had regular fluid changes. No leaks or smoke. Starts up every time. I just replaced the stock Mazda battery two years ago! The gas mileage is about 32-34 highway and it's roomy inside. The engine could use a few more horses with the automatic but I'm used to it after all this time and it doesn't really bother me too much. I do wish I could find an actual replacement molded carpet though. All that is available is padding and rolls of carpeting that I would have to cut to fit and doesn't have the driver's side floor pad. Someone changed the stock 13" rims to nice aluminum 14" and the ride is nice compared to others with stock wheels that I have driven. I also wish it had cruise control and whomever came up with the cup holder design at Mazda probably doesn't have a job there anymore. It has developed a few interior rattles and squeaks, mostly from the door panels and the glove box door, but they are to be expected for a car that is this old and has mostly plastic interior. My biggest issue with the car though is the seals. It builds up condensation inside and takes forever to clear. Sometimes it runs down the inside of the windshield and yes I have had it checked for leaks. I have read where this is a common problem with this car in damp areas. I have learned to live with it and have kept an eye out for rust but none yet.
I bought the car two years ago from friend. It goods great, but after two months, lots of problems existed. Runs poorly when I went uphill, it need more power... brake run badly, and I also need to fix the engire after one year from my purchase. If you're going to choose Mazda Protege, I would suggest you to buy other cars like Honda. More reliability.
I was regret after I bought this car. The car looks great when you bought it. But I spent $2000 on engine maintainances when I bought the car for $3500.(95k Mileage) Thus, consider any other brand of cars rather than this one... or think twice or three more time when you're going to buy this car...(from honest suggestion!!)