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.
I love my Mazda. I bought it used in 2004 with 25,000 miles on it. It now has 88,000 miles. I have only replaced brake pads, tires and one hose in addition to oil changes. My engine runs flawlessly. I get better than rated mileage. She handles great for a sub-compact. Has road feel instead of the numb feedback of a Toyota. The stick is smooth with shifts. Seats are comfortable. I will keep it until it dies since it has no resell value. I hope to get at least another two years.
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.
I have to say that I really enjoy owning and driving this vehicle. Mind you most of my driving miles are roughly 60-70% highway miles and I have experienced excellent mpg. I have to add that my maintenance costs have been relatively low as well, the only major repair was scheduled maintenance for the timing belt interval, two brake jobs and 2 sets of tires. I do talk highly about this car and would recommend it to someone looking for a similar type vehicle. Other notable points that maybe trivial but are annoying is the "hey your seatbelt is not buckled" alarm when you are in an idle state. It does have a stiff ride and have noticed that road noise creeps in louder as the rubber gets thinner.
I bought this car with 15 miles on it. I've put alot of miles on it. currently i have just under 141, 000. I've had to have the front bearing replaced 4 times! on each side. i've had the alternator replaced twice. i've changes the oil tank because it actually rusted through, as well as the front exhaust at the intake manifold. i've changed both the oxygen sensor and the speed sensor. I've also changed the radiator twice. this is a car i've changed the oil and other scheduled maintained every 3-4k miles on it! I can;t believe it got this good of a reliability rating on Edmunds because mine has been a nightmare. plus mine is currently rusting to crap.....what happened?