Though the 1.6 litre engine is not as good as the newer 35 m.p.g. civics it still delivers a good 25-30 m.p.g. While maintaning enough power to deliver high altitude performance at even 15000 feet above sea level. That said however stay away from cheaper low grade corn based alchohol fuels they can cut fuel efficiency by one-third so you refuel more often and you will spend more hard earned $ in the long run.
The handling as well as the power response is excellent and for long drives of two hours plus I find the seat comfort superior. No back aches even for 8 hour drives.
The improvements are minor like higher grade metals for the body.paint longevity also but these have all been improved in the newer higher quality 2006 models with much better interior sealing all air leaks from window and door seals but alas that is also reflected in the 30 percent cost increase.