I love my 1997 Honda Civic! It has needed only routine maintenance, no problem with anything. There was a recall on some belts early on, Honda repaired everything at no cost to me. I have a five speed, manual transmission with 207,000 miles on it now and it runs great! I'm still using the original clutch and getting 41-43 mpg hwy, 36-38 mpg routine driving. Going to get a Civic EX sedan again!
This was my first car. I bought it when I was 16 and kept for 9 years and simply needed a change. This is a car for anyone, be it your first car, a project car, or a commuter car. By no means was the car fast, but it took corners like it was on rails and it was very lively; especially compared to V6/V8 Toyota/Lexus that my parents own. My only grip was the placement of the cup holders. To access them, you would have to open a flap which in turn covered the slot to the CD/tape player. Great car to blast around a track and the best part was I still got solid gas mileage regardless of how aggressively I drove. Very easy/cheap to repair, own, and soup up. Very sad that Honda doesn't make their cars like this anymore.
I bought this car almost 20 years ago and I can honestly say it was one of the best purchases I made. It has more than 150,000 miles on it and I changed the tires, battery, brakes, timing belt and front CV joints, but other than that had no major issues. Now my son, who learned to drive with this car, drives this car to and from college over an hours drive away, but so far it is still holding up well.
Update Sept 2017: The outside is looking pretty worn but this car is still running good. Just took this car in for a smog test and and with almost 190,000 miles on it this car easily passed. In fact, it passed way below the minimum requirements needed to pass.
I bought this car as my first car from a private seller for $1400 with 146K on it only 3 months ago. When I first bought it, it needed a new oil distributor and radiator. I replaced them both thinking I had gotten away with an awesome deal. Then one of my tires went flat, spent a pretty penny on that too. Shortly after, on a long trip to my favorite state park, the transmission gives out in the middle of the road when I was almost at my destination. I had invested too much money on repairing this car for it not to last and I would never buy it used again. For the short while it lasted though, gas mileage was AMAZING.
Loved the great gas mileage, and it handled pretty well. I could whip around in this car and stop on a dime easily.