The entire shell of the machine is composed of good quality brushed steel. I think it makes the machine look great and there's no chance of rust anywhere. The machine's controls are nice and sturdy rocker switches and the solenoid valve is commercial style. The aluminium boiler will of course wear out a bit inside, but it's so thick that I probably won't have to change it in my lifetime (I know people that have had a Gaggia Coffee for over 25 years, and it wasn't the boiler that forced them to buy a new one). The plastic drip tray is pretty deep and seems solid enough, but I still would have preferred a fully metal one. The steam tap can last a few years, but it starts dripping after only a few months. This is because it's a metal axis in a metal body, so the friction wears it out. Just don't tighten it too much to increase its durability. I like the fact that you see the water reservoir to know the water level and 2 liters is plenty for my needs. The handle of the portafilter is sturdier and much more ergonomic than the older Gaggia series. The Classic also has a commercial 8.5 mm portafilter gasket, which is good. The pump is a 15 bar Ulka, wich is also good (you find it in 9 out of 10 home machines today anyway).
The brewing head itself weighs almost five pounds, but it has the temperature stability of some heavier heads because it's a single machined brass part (better conduction). The 58 mm filter holder matches those of quite a few commercial machines any day. Like almost all single-boiler machines, the fact that the boiler is fitted directly on the brewing head will cause the temperature to overshoot if the machine is left in standby for too long. An interesting thing about the Gaggia, though, resides in the fact that the heating element is molded on the exterior of the machine prevents short-term spikes in water temperature caused by inertial heat from the element itself (less temperature surfing necessary). It also takes less time to heat the head properly (about 10 minutes: less than brass boiler machines with similar heads) because of the aluminium boiler's conductivity. I won't talk about the shots' flavour, such a subjective comparison is futile in a public review, but I will say that the temperature stability of this model (which is basically the same for the Gaggia Baby, Espresso, Evolution and Coffee models) is outstanding for a machine this price.
For beginners, the Gaggia froth-aid delivers pretty good and constant froth (I suggest a pear-shaped steaming pitcher for best results). Once you have the right technique though, I recommend removing it and frothing manually. It only takes about 45 seconds for the machine to build up the steam and then it gives you more than decent pressure for at least 120 seconds. I would choose it over any thermoblock on the market. When you're done frothing, purging takes only a few seconds. If ever you forget to purge (re-prime) and the boiler dries out, the next time you start the machine can be disastrous with some oher brands. Lets say a beginner forgets to purge the machine after his last froth and doesn't pull water when he switches it back on, the boiler will heat heat dry and the element can burn. Not with the Gaggia: a thermofuse placed on the boiler will burn first to protect the boiler. Hence, you only have to replace the fuse instead of replacing the heating element.
I think the thermofuse and the good froth-aid make the Classic more user-friendly (forgiving) for beginners, but it still has enough performance to satisfy professionnals. It's not a perfect machine, but I would recommend it over anything else for people with a budget below $700.00 US (yes, even before the Rancilio Sylvia. I'll post a review on the Sylvia to explain why ...)
Like any espresso machine designed for performance, the Gaggia machines require a commercial-style grind in order to be exploited to their full potential. I don't want this to scare off some hesitant shoppers who are buying their first machine. Getting a good grinder with the machine is preferable, but not a necessity. Plus, even if you do make mistakes at first, using this machine at 40% of its potential gives you an equivalent (in terms of flavour) of any pressurized filter-holder machine at 100% of its potential.
If you would like to optimize stability in your shots without cutting down on your machine's potential to exploit the coffee, a cheaper Gaggia will have the same basic components, but you save on the casing. Therefore, you will be able to afford a good automatic grinder (ex: Grinta by Nuova Simonelli). The grinder will assure freshness, precision of grind and dosing while the Gaggia Coffee or Evolution will exploit the grinds almost as well as the Classic.