This car is plain awesome. I bought it at 264.000 miles with a 150.000 miles replacement engine in it. (After 250.000 miles the head gasket leaked and the previous owner popped in a 1.8 engine from a wrecked Miata.)
Mechanically and safety wise, the car needed little so far. Nonetheless, I went to a few scrap yards and replaced & upgraded quite a few things.
Peppy engine, decent miles per gallon. Ford uses the same chassis for the Escort, so no wonder that the interior is spacier than you may expect considering the size of the car!
If someone complains about costs for this car, it is because they cannot do it themselves. A good 80% are old beaters by now, and many things that fail are because of a lack in maintenance from the previous owner!
In addition: After ~60k miles, certain parts are more likely to fail on all cars. Hey, my rear strut mounts lasted for 270k miles! The car has no rust, but the mounts were rusted out.
Numerous Mazda and Ford and some Kia models share allot of mechanical and electrical parts so Ebay, junkyards, etc. are your friends.
If your dealer charges more than $600 for a brake job, no wonder the Protege you bought for $1200 seems expensive all of a sudden!