I picked this car up for $2500 from a local transmission place (I should have bargained a little more, but I didn't get totally screwed). It's the ES model with a sunroof, 6 CD changer, decent interior layout, and the nice aluminium wheels.
My impression of having the car for a total of about 10,000 miles... Not a bad used car for the money.
The car handles well to have that many miles on it, it gets great gas mileage when running correctly (Summer: 27 MPG city / 41 MPG highway @ 62 MPH / Winter: 25 MPG city / 39 MPG highway @ 62MPH).
The car does have rust issues in the rear trunk (tighten up the brake light nuts), some things in the engine compartment, and the doors.
I actually think the handling in the corners rivals the Crossfire's handling, with the exception of having roughly 75HP less than the Crossfire. Low body roll, low to no tire slip @ about 45MPH on a 25 MPH posted off ramp, and an abundance of feedback to the driver. The steering is nice and tight, small, and provides a comfortable grip when cornering.
Highway cruising is OK, but can be a bit noisy, since there is little sound deadening or insulating material throughout the car, but it's an economy car, not a S Class. Setting the cruise will yield great results at about 62-65mph.
Trouble spots as seen so far...
- Cracked intake tube will cause idle issues.
- Bad coil(s) (#2 cylinder in my case) will cause the engine to shake violently at idle or stopped.
- Clogged or partially clogged (stuck open or closed) EGR valve will cause idle issues.
- Tires are expensive for an economy car.
- Water leaks from loose tail light bolts in the rear trunk will happen once they loosen up.
- Catalytic converter threshold code usually is not the converter itself, but something surrounding the converter.
The car is a great economic car for gas mileage purposes, and doesn't look bad either... Most cars will go 200K plus without even trying, and I don't see anything that would stop this little gem from getting 400K with a little proper maintenance. It will probably rust out before that, but who knows...
The most trouble one may have with this car is the idle issue, that usually arrives from one or several of the points I've listed above... Other than that, the Protege is a solid little beater that will keep on ticking if you let it... It's cheaper to keeper!
The parts are not priced extremely high compared to the Chrysler Crossfire I was downgrading from... but my local Mazda dealer loves to over price for their parts, then they give you a "deal" when they knock off $30 or so... just charge me the correct price and I won't complain!