This is my wife's car, but I do all the work on it myself. We had considered getting some cheap econo car like a Scion or Chevy Aveo, but we saw this Honda on a used car lot for $2,500, which was a lot cheaper than the $9,000 for the Aveo. The thoughts at the time were that we'd keep this for a few years until it became a problem. Almost 5 years later, it still runs great.
My general opinion about the car is that the build quality is absolutely amazing. Despite being almost 17 years old, the car still looks and drives like a new car. I'm a weekend mechanic and enjoy looking at how things are constructed. The hardware, parts, and general machining quality of the parts for the car are really well engineered, and especially for a model that resides in " economy car" status. The car is easy to work on. All common maintenance access points are laid out in a way that makes working on it a pleasure. For example, the brake pads are removed simply by removing a single bolt. The caliper then swings out and away from the rotor. The pads can be removed and replaced in 5 minutes each wheel. The engine, transmission, and radiator hold small quantities of fluid (since the car is so small) and is easy to change. The transmission holds only 2.5 quarts of transmission fluid, which is crazy given the fact that my Tacoma holds 5.The biggest gripe I have from a mechanic's perspective is that the engine is really crammed in there. Getting to some of the non-maintenance parts can be a problem. About the only problems the car has had are electrical. Some are from having a previous owner that must have jerry-rigged the wiring because it didn't have a stereo when we bought it. Just a hole where one had been with lots of wires hanging out. About a year ago the car wouldn't start. I found the problem looking through a forum. The main starter relay was shorting out. Amazingly, all I had to do was re-solder some of the joints and it worked fine. Apparently this is a common problem for this generation of Civic.
From a driving perspective, This is one of the last generations of small, underpowered, slower Japanese cars. Think about the small Hondas and Toyotas from the 80's. This car resides in that same vein. Around town it's fine. The low speed acceleration seems sufficient around town, but taking it out on the freeway is sometimes a little dicey. I have to floor it as soon as I enter the highway or be clobbered by other cars. If you're into performance... this wouldn't be your kind of car. Since it is small and close to the ground, you feel somewhat vulnerable. Just like older cars from the 80's, turning on the AC is a bad idea... especially on hills. The engine reacts immediately as soon as the AC is flipped on and you lose a lot of power. For that reason I tend to drive with the windows down. Despite the somewhat abysmal power, it offers a surprising amount of room for a small 2 door hatchback car. I had my parents over last year and me, my wife, and parents took a trip in it. We were all fairly comfortable.
It seems like I still see a lot of these older Hondas going down the freeway which must testify to their build quality. Despite being considerably older, the styling still looks less dated and tasteful than some of the "newer" hondas from the late 90's. We're pretty happy with the car, but I'm kind of yearning for something a tad bigger and comfortable. If you're on a budget or simply want something that's a no-nonsense, get you there day in, day out kind of car, this is an excellent choice.