The car is simply fantastic. And for me, it comes from two aspects. First of all, the engine and transmission definitely deserve credit. After 100k both parts are still running great, though the transmission slips out of 3rd once in a while, especially when just finishing a hill. Couldn't ask for more from the engine. It's loud, but provides more than enough power for a rapid acceleration.
The other thing I like about this car is how it trusts the driver with everything. No power steering, no pw brakes, no nothing. The suspension barely does anything anymore (though it never really did). Well, I say this makes the ride far more fun. Anyway, standard steering is nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. I think its just more sensitive to fine details (compared to the Power Steering cars I've driven) in your handling.
The body is very durable, unlike stuff from today. A friend's '04 Corolla got hit by a shopping cart (we think), and it sustained 250$ in paint damage (dealer est.) Shopping carts just bounce off the Cavalier(I know, I take advantage of that all the time). I scraped the car against a cement lighting post one day when I was tired, and despite the loud noises barely any damage was visible (a lot of light yellow streaks, but not visible at all from a distance).
Well if you maintain it well, it'll treat you well.