I'm moving to the San Francisco bay area and wanted to pick up a smaller car once there. I looked in Craigslist and there's plenty Civics, Metros, and CRX's to choose from. I'm familiar with the Civic since I had a 1991 Civic Hatch back in Japan (1992 in the states). The prices range considerably all the way up to $4,000 for a CRX. I was planning on spending about $3,000. Opinions please.
I bought a 1990 CRX HF for $2K and it is a good car, but if I had to do it all over again and wanted to spend $3K, I'd look for a 96+ metro, 3cl, 5spd with AC. There seem to be enough of these that they shouldn't be too hard to find. I've seen very clean versions of these in CA with less then 100K miles and have AC.
While a Metro may have a back seat, I would still consider them to be a 2 seater, the back seat is tiny and considering the seat back is practically at the rear hatch, I wouldn't want my daughter to be in the back if it ever got rear ended by an SUV.
I wouldn't go for a mazda 626, maybe a 3 series, but really I wouldn't want a mazda unless it was older. I think you could get a vx that would be very similar to your old civic for a decent price. I think the metros are better little cars then I had ever considered them to be before finding this site. I'd have one, esp. because you can get one newer than a crx hf and it'd be cheaper, and about the same FE as a vx. I've never driven in the 92-95 civic hatches, but I loved my 89 maybe more than my crxs, and I really like my dad's 02 si. If you could get an 88-91 civic hatch and put an hf tranny or just buy a 92-95 vx or newer hx. I'm not sure how your civic's backseat was, but the 89 hatch I had there was plenty of room, felt less cramped than my dad's 02 si hatch. I don't know if you have to have a CA emissions car in CA or if you can bring in a 49 states version, but I'd avoid the CA models because they get lower mileage. Its probably a wash to say there is lower emissions on the CA model, esp if its a 49 standard tranny and you hypermile it. DEFINITELY get a standard.