I've just made my final payment. I have had not a single problem with the car. In fact the first set of brake pads lasted 90K miles and I am on my 3rd set of tires. The combination of good fuel economy, bulletproof reliability, well appointed interior, and great handling make this car a winner. If you can find a used one that has been well maintained buy it, especially the ES model.
Interior design, handling, ABS and side airbags (option on ES model)
fuel economy, more horsepower, a 6 speed transmission
We bought a 2.0 ES GT with a 5 spd brand new back in 01. The car was the best value in its class (for Japanese makes). Engine has always sounded rattley at start up, though this hasn't caused a real problem yet. The EGR valve needed replacement at about 60,000 kms. Now at 75,000 kms the alternator failed. These two problems don't bother me as much as the corrosion problems I have had with this car. I live in Toronto, and they use road salt heavily, but it is still no excuse for the amount of rust this thing has on it for its age. Every piece of metal attached to this car is rusty , body panels or any mechanical part. Even the horn has failed due to corrosion. Mazda is still behind the rest.
After having gone 1500 miles in the last month in this car, I've come to know it fairly well. It has a lot of zip and performs great in all conditions. Awesome cornering and acceleration, great build quality and everything feels like it was made from premium materials. With that said, it has a few quirks. Clutch makes a strange noise when engaged below 1500 rpm. Also, fabric of the seats charges up your clothes and you so that the car shocks you everytime you reach for the door. Gas mileage isn't up to par with the Honda/Toyota counterparts; however those two lack the zip necessary to make a car fun. Being a previous Civic owner, I can vouch.
Suspension, stock sound, decent engine, standard spoiler, brakes, overall look, I'm one of the few people who loves the tail lights, orange-faced gauges at night, good steering response, very well thought out interior (ex. holes in sunroof plastic to let heat out when tilted open), keyless entry.
Shorter throws, clutch engaging under 1500 rpm, less static-y cloth on seats, leather wrapped steering wheel, ability to see odometer and trip meter simultaneously, cup holders too big for anything I've ever put in there, high revs on freeway. 3500 at 77 mph. Better gas mileage from a 2.0L engine.