The car is a quick nice handling stylish and fast mid range sedan. The reliability is great and at 86,000 miles the timing belt was changed. It has a great interior and a sunroof with a sport mode. One of the best first cars to buy
I bought my 2003 Protege ES new based on handling and ride - and looks. It's been a great car, extremely reliable and is still fun to drive.
The sway bar bushings wore out at 85,000 miles and the tubing to the mass air flow sensor cracked, but a redneck duct tape fix still works.
The passenger side electric door lock stopped working at about 50,000 miles. The worst thing on it by far is the rust in the rear fender wells.
After 105,000 miles, everything else still works great.
At 150,000, I've replaced the right rear strut because it rusted apart. The timing belt et al has been changed and the car continues to run great. Rust wreaks havoc on these cars, though not as bad as some other cars. Still no mechanical problems or break-downs. Both passenger side electric locks no longer work. The main frustration is the rust. It runs perfectly - if it wasn't for rust, it would look and work very much like new.
Shortly after 150,000, my son rear-ended another car. I have not had an estimate for repairs yet, but the hood is crumpled, the grille is gone and headlights smashed, but the fenders seem OK. Hopefully it doesn't cost too much because this car still has LOTS of useful life in it. The engine still runs like new. Really a great car.
This car is a lot of fun to drive. The handling, steering, and road feel are top notch for this car, especially for this class. It puts some newer and more expensive cars to shame. With that said, the car wasn't perfect. The best gas mileage I could get was 28MPG. Despite regular detailing, the car had a decent amount of rust. I went through front wheel bearings like crazy and I had to replace my front struts twice within the 130,000 miles of ownership. Interior is rather nice for the year but the radio is quite weak. A fun car to drive with minor flaws.
Handling, steering, and road feel.
Auto transmission is smooth.
Nice interior for the class.
Excessive rust for the age.
Buzzy and loud engine.
Highway mileage suffers due to high rpms at interstate speeds.
Radio sound quality is poor.
Tight and responsive suspension creates harsh ride and requires excessive repair.
The transmission went out early on, which started a chain reaction of other problems months to follow. This car was nothing more than a money pit and certainly not one worth investing in. I've replaced just about everything in the car besides the engine, which I hear is something Mazda actually does fairly well. I ended up finally trading the car in at around 153k miles. It seems like a lot, but not considering maintenance costs.
In addition to the reliability issues, the interior was cheap and started to literally fall apart. Poor mpg as well. The only positive thing I can say about the car is that it was kind of fun to drive and had nice acceleration. It felt like a go-kart.
Acceleration and responsive handling