I bought this car brand new, and have owned it for almost eight years. It's been a blast to drive and way, way more reliable than my previous car (Toyota Corolla). Only major complaint was an ignition lock problem in year seven, which by then was out of warranty and cost $250 to replace. Being a 1st year model it had a few recalls but they were fixed quick, free, and easy. Fuel economy (23 city, 33 highway) was a little lower than expected. Handling was a MAJOR positive surprise. Braking fine, replaced once at 51K. Front and Rear headroom impressive - a friend who is 6'3" fits in the back seat with no complaints... and he even works for GM. 5-speed manual shifts fine, clutch is a breeze.
Handling! Very short turn radius, good stereo, hatchback functionality, interior room, not a Corolla, simple and clean dash, comfortable seats, headroom excellent. This thing is Ole Reliable.
Horsepower increase or better gas mileage for the horsepower. Wait for 2nd year of any new car/truck (any make or model). Ford should have issued recall on ignition switch problem.