Originally Posted by lbj
My first car was a Honda (a 96 Civic). Drove that for 6 years until I bought the WRX in 2002. Both were/are reliable cars, though I had to replace the clutch once in the Civic. The Civic aged less gracefully than the Subaru - I experienced more creaks and rattles in that car, and the trim and plastic pieces wore out faster. Aside from a couple of minor recalls, WRX has been bullet-proof.
To offer a different perspective, we have owned a '96, '97, and currently have a '98 Civic, all of which are the same model. All three were great to us (the first two were totaled by idiots, hence why we only have one), and the clutches will easily last 150k or beyond, that is, if you can put up with it slipping a little bit. A replacement clutch and flywheel only cost us $250 on the '97 when we did that, and like $200 in labor. Compared to other cars, that's very cheap. The current '98, we've put 70k miles on it, it's at 200k right now and still drives like it's brand new, and none of the plastic paneling has worn out, nothing rattles to this day and it drives much more quietly than other compact cars of that era. The only thing is that right around the 10-11 year mark both the '97 and the '98 had their original mufflers rust out, other than that the only thing we've done is change the oil and replace a slowly leaking radiator on the '98 a couple years ago.
The newer Hondas don't have very impressive gas mileage from what I hear, but mine will get upwards of 40 MPG if I'm taking a road trip on the highway, and it's never below 35 around town, even under the worst stop-and-go traffic conditions with the air conditioning blasting. Considering you could buy a slightly newer Honda than mine and still spend less than $5k, it's an excellent value in terms of the money you'll spend on it.
I think between Honda, Toyota, and Subaru, you really can't go wrong...those three brands have proven reliability for decades now. You'll probably want to avoid most of the European cars. BMW's and Mercedes are expensive and have rear wheel drive, and VW has a bad track record with electronic components in their cars (I am echoing VW owners' opinions on this, not generating my own opinion).
Edited by MD1032 - 6/23/11 at 5:41pm