I love my Protege5! It's just the right mix of sportiness and practicality to fit my needs and my personality. It is fun to drive and good on gas, it has tons of cargo space and sufficient passenger space for my family. It is comfortable and feels well-made. I hope she keeps running for a long time!
I wanted a 4-door hatchback (best balance between cargo space, passenger space, fuel economy, maneuverability, etc.) I also wanted a 5-speed manual transmission because it forces me to stay focused on driving (not to mention, it's more fun and better on gas!)
Just because I'm a mom doesn't mean I'm ready to drive a beige wagon yet! I like that the Protege5 has a sporty look and feel while still being super-practical. The roof rack is a handy feature for big IKEA or Home Depot runs, or for luggage on family road trips. The hatchback is awesome for cramming in lots of cargo - if I fold down both back seats, I can practically fit an entire mattress in the back!
I love the tight, sporty handling of this car. The first time I test-drove it, I knew I was in love. Everything fits just right, shifting is smooth, steering is tight. It's not always the smoothest or quietest ride in the world, but I don't really care about that - I like to feel the road a little. The Protege5 has lots of power, especially with the 5-speed transmission. It is super fun to drive.
Front seat support & comfort
I find the front seat of this car to be incredibly comfortable. Everything is easily within reach and seems to fit me perfectly. My only complaint is that there's no good place to put my purse, but that's been the case with every car I've owned.
Safety & braking
This car has very responsive brakes and the ABS works great for the occasional "panic stop." It has a driver's and passenger's front airbags and side curtain airbags as well (if I'm not mistaken.) The LATCH system in the backseat makes installation of my daughter's car safety seat a snap. I also like that the switch for the hazard lights is prominently placed in the middle of the dashboard - makes it very easy to turn them on quickly if I have to stop or pull over to the side for something.
Rear seat room & comfort
The backseat is a little tight, so it would not be comfortable for a large person or for a long drive. Thankfully, my husband and I are on the small side, and our daughter is pretty tiny too, so it doesn't really bother us at all.
The engine tends to be a bit noisy, and you hear a lot of road noise as well, but I only really notice after I ride in a newer, quieter car. After a trip in my husband's 1994 Jeep Wrangler, however, the Protege5 sounds whisper-quiet!
Reliability & durability
I bought the car from its first owner in January of 2009 and enjoyed two trouble-free years with nothing but routine maintenance and recommended repairs/replacement due to mileage. This year, however, has been a different story, with several expensive repairs happening in rapid succession. (Blown head-gasket, blown radiator, new timing belt, new motor mounts, new suspension, new cam positioning sensor, window regulator on driver's side.) We're waiting to see if these repairs do it for awhile. If so, we'll be driving this car for many more years, Lord willing.
Materials & workmanship
Overall, the quality seems pretty good for a car in this class. There are a couple of issues, however: there's a hole in the windshield washer fluid reservoir, and although a new reservoir would be inexpensive, the labor to install it is cost-prohibitive. Apparently it's located underneath the engine and behind the wheelwell, so you pretty much have to disassemble the entire vehicle to get to it. I just keep bottled water handy in case the windshield needs a rinse while I'm out and about... Also, the automatic door locks are half-broken, so they only work on the two rear doors. The two front doors have to be locked an unlocked manually. It's a hassle, but not worth the cost to fix.