Pros: Power, handling, brakes, ride, smooth transmission, confidence inspiring
Cons: Confidence inspiring, not as modern looking as the brand-new bikes
This was my first street bike after riding dirt for quite some time. I was intimidated, knowing that mistakes in this venue, generally, could result in more dreadful consequences than in off-road.
The F4i alleviated this intimidation quickly, and I believe that to be the bike's only flaw; I felt ready for the Gran Prix track after about 500 miles, although I knew in actuality that although I had picked up a few skills, I had no talent. Actually, flaw is a misnomer here, as a bike shouldn't be degraded due to awesome engineering. The problem is the bike makes you feel much more talented than you are, and if the rider is not fully conscious of this, limits could easily be over-pushed.
That being said, of all the bikes I've ridden (the list isn't very extensive, mind you, and consists only of an older CBR600F3, a CBR600RR, and a R6), this was the most comfortable ride. The seat is very firm, yes, but the peg position, bar height, and overall ergonomics make this a comfortable ride for a wide range of heights. The real magic is in the operation, however.
Despite the bar position higher than the 600RR, for instance, the bike felt as precise in the turns, and arm fatigue is reduced. The ride is firm yet smooth, and the suspension is very forgiving. There were few instances in which I really deserved a tank-slapper, yet one was not given. The brakes are powerful, and I would venture to say that a set of steel-braided lines is the only thing between a stock bike and some crazy stoppies. While we're on the topic of stunting (a stunter, I am not), wheelies are very easy and attainable on an F4i, be they clutched wheelies, or cheater-compression wheels. Once it's up, it's fairly easy to ride it a bit. I've heard multiple reports that wheelies are tougher on RR's since the power comes so much later in the RPMs, and a wheelies kinda scary at 75 mph in first gear. The transmission is also smooth. No gearbox is perfect, but missed gears and grinding were not frequent.
The bike really is a rocket; I know it's accepted as the more civil of the two Honda 600's (which it is), but this bike will not lose to a 600RR on normal roads (open freeway excluded) without an expert operator on the RR. The RR's beauty comes out late, like a party girl, at stratospheric RPMs. Shame of the matter is that on normal roads with normal operators, the party girl finds that once that RPM is attained, the party's over. I would say that unless you're looking for a 600 to take to the track, the F4i is your best bet. Be honest with yourself here, if it's your first bike, you will not enjoy the RR more than the F4i, probably less. If it's not your second bike, go look at your current bike's back tire. If you've got more then a quarter inch per side of unused tire, there's no need for an RR for you. (I am not saying to go try to use that whole tire, remember that it's a very wide tire, only the best or craziest riders will come even close to using it all off a track, and it is of utmost importance to your livelihood that you know your limits) Master that clutch, and most RR riders won't touch you off the line (er, light) either.
The 2002 F4i I had was starting to look kind of dated compared to the newer bikes today...who cares? It still looks very sporty and gets a lot of looks all the same. Remember that most of the looks you'll get on a bike are going to be from non-riders, most of whom won't notice a difference instantly between your '02 F4i, an '03 RR or R6, and a '94 Ninja Zx-6. Also, The newer F series CBR's will likely be getting face lifts and tummy tucks too.
All in all, this is the ideal first bike. Just remember that when you get you're next bike after it, you're not as good as you think you are...I'm going for an R1; I've got some learning to do.