This was my first personally-owned car, a 5-speed Sport model. This car has great performance for a budget car. With about 71,000 miles, there have been a lot more squeaks and rattles showing up. The interior of the car is also fairly noisy. There aren't too many aftermarket parts for this car (especially compared to the Civic). Ford made a special-edition S/R model, and parts are still available to upgrade the basic ZX2 to achieve the S/R's better performance. So far the only major things I've had to replace are the alternator and the 3rd gear synchro. The manual trannies in these cars aren't the strongest, but if you don't abuse it, it should last. I'm still on the original clutch.
The power to weight ratio is great in this car, making it quite lively in acceleration. Handling is also good, and can be made even better with stickier/wider tires and suspension mods. Good gas mileage, easy maintenance.
Dash rattles often. Stronger manual transmission. 5th gear could be geared a little taller for cruising - at 75mph the car is around 3500 rpm, making it noisy and consuming more fuel.