I've owned this camera since new, starting around spring 2003, so I've had it for btwn 6 and 12 mos.
Aesthetically, this camera is lacking, due to its plastic exterior which doesn't compare well with the plastic (polycarbonate) bodies used on high end SLRs.
My biggest complaint with the Bessa R is the fact that its strap lugs are positioned such that the camera doesn't hang straight up and down unless you're using a heavy lens. So, with most 35 or 50 lenses, the camera body hangs at an angle, with its bottom protruding further forward than its top. This makes it somewhat uncomfortable to hang around your neck or shoulder.
The LED meter display is very easy to see (and probably more robust than a mechanical needle). It can display 1/2 stop under- or over-exposure. The meter has proven to be accurate once you know the pattern (centre-weighted, with an unusual pattern that is quite tall).
Shutter release is very precise. Press half-way down activates the meter and finding the half-way point is very easy. You'd have to be quite ham-fisted to accidentally go too far and release the shutter. Shutter noise is quiet (maybe not Leica-quiet but certainly not loud) and is quieter than any SLR I've used. At speeds below 1/60 or so, the noise is a bit louder because you can now distinctly hear TWO shutters in action, the inner and the outer. At these speeds, the loudness is more on par with the Olympus OM series of SLRs (known for being a quiet SLR). One other thing: the shutter release is threaded for a cable release. This is a great thing to have and it's a pity that so many modern cameras do not support these simple, inexpensive, but very useful devices.
The film advance feels ok. The only niggle is that you can't use multiple strokes to wind the film. It's single-stroke only. And if you reach the end of your roll mid-stroke, the advance lever stays where it is until you rewind the film. Only then can you finish the stroke.
The self-timer is, like everything else on the camera except for the meter, purely mechanical. It feels cheap but it works just fine.
Focussing is very easy, thanks to the bright viewfinder. Eye placement is important or else you could loose sight of the focusing patch. The base length of the rangefinder is, in my opinion, a bit too short. Close focusing, even with a modest telephoto length such as the 75/2.5 lens, is a hit and miss affair that requires great care and bright light. I assume that Cosina went with this short base length due to limitations imposed by the SLR chassis on which this camera is built.
The camera weighs less than the metal SLRs of yesteryear, and it heavier than the low-end plastic SLRs of today.
It's a mechanical camera (except for the meter) so there isn't much to talk about with respect to performance. The camera works just fine. The meter is accurate, as is the focussing and shutter speeds.
Although some Bessa R's were reported to have vertical misalignment problems with the rangefinder, mine was perfect. Although I've had mine for only less than a year, I have carried it almost every day and it has performed without a hitch.
The only thing that really, really stands out on the Bessa R is its price/performance ratio. Although it has some annoyances, none of them impact the functionality of the camera. For under USD$300, you can buy a NEW rangefinder with a built-in light meter. The fact that the camera has a very bright viewfinder is merely the icing on the cake. It's a simple camera that fulfills the very neglected niche of providing a NEW "user" rangefinder and a very affordable price, that makes available to the photographer the wide variety of quality Leica screwmount style lenses, while at the same time providing a reasonable level of reliability and the convenience of a built-in meter. Its small size and light weight (a benefit of its "cheap" plastic exterior) makes it a very comfortable camera to carry on a daily basis.