5 Speed manual. Recommended - if you find a good one. In my top 30 list out of about 300 vehicles I've driven (owned over 100 of them). Getting 26 mpg highway (60-65 mph), after switching to Amsoil synthetics in engine, tranny, and rear end. Recommend this for long life as well. Very safe - handles well (2 door not so much), ride is surprisingly plush and comfy, great visibility, likes to rev, will run all day 75. My wife and daughter really like it. Mine has 130,000 miles on it now and i think it'll make 250,000 if looked after. Manual tranny is weak link - watch out for grinding gears and 5th slipping out. Expensive repairs unless you're real handy.
Ride, handling, comfy seats, good to high quality materials & workmanship, great engine. Fun to drive - good power in lower gears, likes to rev. Excellent fuel economy - probably 20-30% better than a 4x4 minivan. Uses regular gas. Locking diff nice. ABS desirable option.
Can be small and uncomfortable inside for big people. More power would be good for highway passing - which the later models did have more. Not sure how good the ones after 2005 are - but next generation 2001-04 supposed to be good. 1997 ones have less power (120 hp compared to 127 for 98-2000 models