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.
This little gem was a trade-in when my son worked at a Toyota dealership 13 years ago. I paid $1750 for it, and it has been a great car, particularly when it comes to economy and reliability. A few sets of tires, batteries, mufflers . . . one change of the timing belt . . . but what a great transportation machine! I wish I could find another one like this one, because it's nothing fancy, but it fills the bill when it comes to going from Point A to Point B
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.
I bought my Protege (automatic, not manual) new in 1996, and although one of the buttons on the factory stereo stopped working within one year, I haven't had any major trouble out of this car for most of its life (first actual breakdown occurred in 2010, and wasn't a major system). I am only just now looking to replace it! The ride is responsive and the suspension is nice and firm, and though the 80hp engine is pretty sluggish, that never really bothered me. A simple, practical, reliable vehicle! The one caution I would have is that it has burned through several "lifetime" mufflers, always in the same spot--probably a design flaw. Otherwise, can't complain!
Front seat has lots of space for its size/class. The trunk is huge! It handles nicely on turns, not a lot of lean/sway. Good steering/handling if I have to make a fast dodge.
The seatbelts lock up way too easily and tend to go "boa constrictor" on larger people. The back-seat belts are also hard for my kids to latch because the receptor ends tend to slip under their booster seats. Hopefully the seat belts improved in later models! The problems I have had to fix have been muffler replacement (every 4-5 years, even on "lifetime" mufflers); mysteriously fouled spark plug wires (1x); and the a/c compressor (which is belted with the drivetrain so the car won't run if it's not fixed).
First I would like to say, this is just my experience with this car. Most of the comments hear are pretty good and I think I just got "the bad one". My mother purchased this car for me as a graduation present in 2004. We bought it @ an auction and paid about $2000 with a little over 100k miles. The engine was replace in 2006 and it seemed to be fine. But as time went on I start experiencing unresolved electrical problems, computer problems, and altenator problems. I later found out that the "new engine" was damaged and the odometer was set back. Current its @ 160k (really about 190k), stills runs but on its last leg. We've spent thousands of $$ in repairs. Good car, just do research b4 u buy
Has excellent gas milage, roomy back seats for a compact car, A/C works great.