My Tercel was very reliable. At 149,000 miles, it was mechanically in almost perfect shape, burned no oil, leaked nothing. It was incredibly cheap to run, too, it got about 40 miles to the gallon. This is especially amazing when you consider most of my drives were the kind of short drives around town that burn the most gas.
The shifter is kind of cool, a narrow stick with a ball. It is very easy to shift, I could do it with just two fingers easily.
The cabin is cramped, at least on the two-door (which is what I had). It's bigger than the Honda Civic hatchbacks I've seen, but it's noticeable cramped compared to a Camry, or my Mazda Protege. The seats aren't particularly comfortable, but I had seat covers in front, which makes them a lot better. The interior is all black, which turns into a furnace on hot days. I had to drive with my palms as I waited for the steering wheel to cool down.
I had the absolute basic model. Four speed, power nothing, not even a clock on the radio. It came with air bags and a tape player, which was something at least. It didn't even have power steering. On the road, that's no problem, since the car is so small and easy to maneuver, but it was hard starting up, backing out and parking, it took physical strength to steer. You usually needed both hands firmly on the wheel to turn, which can get in the way of, say, eating a cheeseburger. The cabin is noisy while you're driving.
It's easy to steer, it fits in any lane or parking space. But it's one of the slowest cars I've ever driven or been in. My Mazda Protege felt like a Camaro compared to the Tercel. I took it on an Interstate once; merging was terrifying, passing impossible. When I was going 65, I depressed the gas pedal as far as it would go and counted several seconds before the speedometer crept up to 70. When a strong gust of wind comes, it sometimes feels like the car is being pushed off the road; it takes muscle to keep it going straight on a windy day. This was especially harrowing on winding country roads in the Adirondacks. At least I had the manual; the automatic must be dangerously sluggish.
The seat belts were odd--a regular seat belt in the driver's seat, but separate lap and shoulder belts in the passenger seat. I'm told this was because there was no passenger side airbag, and the separate shoulder belt counted as a "passive restraint," like an airbag, under 1993 law.
Tercels are cheap to buy, cheap to run and absolutely dependable. I loved spending next to nothing on gas, and I'd probably still be driving mine if a half-blind old lady hadn't slammed into the car and totaled it. But they're not comfortable, fast or cool. If all you need is a car to drive around town, they're great. They'd be good for somebody in high school or college, or somebody who didn't have a lot of money and had to commute to work. But if you need anything more in a car, look elsewhere.