Pros: Great gas mileage, absolutely NO repairs done in 60,000 miles
Cons: gutless to the extreme
I never bought the '99 Protege. I sort of came into it through my girlfriend/now wife, who purchased it used in the winter of 2000. It had relatively low miles, and was in good condition. My wife drives it to work, and I drive my Schwinn Moab. We have also taken it on a many trips, the longest being a 12-hour (one way) to Phoenix, AZ.
I'll describe the car going from its best to worst qualities.
This car has been virtually maintenance free for the 2 1/2 years we have had it. We change the oil and have changed the tires and brakes, but nothing has ever gone wrong mechanically. I drive it a little harder than my wife does, and it still holds up.
The stock stereo in the Protege is excellent, considering it is an economy car. The bass is full, the highs are crisp, and it is as loud as I have ever wanted it. I realize this may not be important to many, but it really stood out to me.
The gas mileage is nice, as it averages 30 MPG with a city/highway mix of driving. We experienced a lot of pinging a few months back, but this was solved by using premium gas for a month or so. Now we fill every other tank with premium, rather than strictly mid-grade.
The ride is decent. You don't feel everything, but you DO feel a lot. It doesn't corner well, can't hold its own on a fast turn, and it isn't supposed to. It was meant to be cheap, and cheap it is.
The car is extremely loud. It is so loud on the highway, you almost have to shout to be heard. This is one of the biggest detractors of the car. I hate driving on the freeway, mainly because the car is SO NOISY. I don't know how this could be remedied, but it should be.
The car is gutless. It can's accelerate, but that doesn't matter much. What really kills it is its performance on hills. We live on the eastern fringe of the rockies, and it's a nightmare any time we want to take it into the mountains. I can be topping 85mph at the start of a climb, and a half mile later be under 60 in 4th gear. It is infuriating when semi trucks are passing you honking their horns. This is its main fault. You would think it would have decent pull, but it doesn't.
Overall, it is a good city car, super-reliable and not altogether a nightmare to drive. If you want something that won't break down, it will serve you well. If you want something that can drive uphill, stay away.