2002 Ford Escape XLS Value 2WD 4dr SUV (2.0L 4cyl 5M)
I bought this vehicle about a year ago as my first car after much thought, and I must say I made the right choice. I chose it for gas mileage and looks, and was able to get a great deal off craigslist. The required maintenence was pricy ($1000 for a new timing belt), but expected. The vehicle is spacious inside, while being able to fit in almost any parking spot and turning around in places other cars can't. The standard transmission is the way to go given the 4 cyl's engine power.
Gas mileage. I calculate the mileage after every fillup, and my last two calculations were 27 and 28 mpg. It does, though, vary greatly on driving habits. Also, This vehicle is very roomy and open inside for being relatively small.
The road noise is terrible at highway speeds, and the engine runs at around 3000 rpm at 65 mph.