My 2000 ES has recently crossed 31,000 miles at barely 19 months old; that's 1,631 miles per month. (I have a 19-mile commute to work.) The car is still as fun to drive as it was the day I drove it off the lot. No mechanical problems; I did have a stuck CD and a broken plastic clip in the trunk -- I caused both problems.
Reliability is one reason we're about to buy a Protege5 for my wife this weekend. I can also speak to the crashworthiness of Mazdas; I totaled a 1992 Protege LX (top of the line back then) when it was only 10 months old. (Hydroplaned and hit the back of a stopped Volvo 245DL station wagon going 45 mph.) The Volvo's rear bumper was higher than my front bumper, so the Protege took the whole collision through the grille, radiator and engine supports. The engine took most of the hit and dived under the car; the hood did a textbook crumple. There was no damage to the passenger cage; all doors worked fine. (BTW, the '92s didn't have air bags -- they only had those damned motorized "passive restraint" belts -- yet they stopped my 250 pounds and enabled me to walk out of the accident.)
I can only imagine how well the new Proteges will take such a hit. So safety is another reason -- from first-hand experience -- that I bought another '92 Protege to replace the totalled one. That car went 83,000 miles without one problem. Now I have a 2000 ES with 31,000 trouble-free miles. I look forward to similar performance with the 2002 Protege5 we'll be picking up Saturday.
For grins & giggles, here's a link to a page that shows my cars (including the totalled '92 LX) and describes my history with Proteges. Enjoy!