Bought the car at 71,000 miles. It's been trouble free with only preventive maintenance needed. The 1.5 is underpowered, but the 5-speed makes it fun to drive. This car also gets great mileage (30 mpg city/highway mix, 37 mpg all highway). Roomy car (I am 6'5"). Very very practical car.
The car has been very reliable as others have mentioned, however this is transportation at it's most basic level. This car is a noisy tin can on wheels. Radio must be cranked in order to overcome excessive road noise. Car lacks power even with the larger 1.8L engine and is really not that great on gas. I rarely take it on highways and my wife refuses to drive it at all because of the "Tin Can" feel. With that said, it is a reliable beater for local commutes but would not take this car on long trips.
I consider my 11 year old Protege to be young by Mazda standards with only 149,000 miles on it. My family owned a '91 Protege and drove it to 277,000 miles over the course of 8 years. The engine runs great and the car always starts in all weather. Manual transmission handles great in snow and ice, car is a bit unstable driving through deep mud and water. I get 37 MPG highway. Car is so little that it's not very comfortable on the highway. You feel every bump in the road and every wind gust. The body has lots of rust on it but the car lives in Minnesota. The suspension is giving out, likely due to rust. I love my little car but wish the suspension wasn't dead.