First car I bought (back in '96) was a Geo Prizm with 120,000 miles on it. I loved that car. It was great, sun, rain, or snow. Then I rear-ended some van and that was the end of that car. :(
Then I bought a used Mazda 626 from a rental car company (in '98). It was OK. Got the job done, but I never loved it. Transmission went out in '04 and got flaky again in '05. "Screw that crap," I said, and traded it in while I still could. I drive rental cars a lot now, and I would never buy one, because I know how people treat them.
Bought a new Prius at that point, and I've still got it. Love it even more than I loved my Prizm. Gas mileage is swell, but that's just one thing I like. It holds a crapton of stuff, it has a smart key that means getting in is easy even when my hands are full and that I can never lock the keys in the car, it works well in all road conditions, it's got a nice amount of passenger space, etc.
(On the gas mileage: I average 50 MPG normally, 40 if I'm doing 80 on the freeway on a roadtrip. Yes, I am aware that some people get this mileage from their non-hybrid cars. No, I do not care, because that's not the one singular thing about my car that I like. And I made back the extra that I spent on it over the other car I was considering years ago.)
My mechanic brother-in-law swears by Toyotas and Hondas. His personal favorite, I believe, is the Accord. Dependable, low-maintenance, good gas mileage, etc. It's not the flashiest car around, but you never have to worry that it won't get you where you're going. He and my father-in-law, who is also a mechanic, both agree that the least-dependable brand generally purchased in the US is Jeep (because of how often they see them in the shop).