Maybe this post is dead but for anyone interested in this topic....
The big differences between the 98-01 (5th gen) and the 02-present (6th gen)
The 5th Generation vfr has gear driven cams and no V-tec. There are other things but not real big deciding factors. Of course there was also body work differences too.
The 6th gen. chain driven cams and v-tec motor. While there have been some minor changes where the vtec kicks in it hasn't changed all that much by a couple hundred rpm here and a couple more there, ya know.
Although I'm a bit bias I wouldn't buy the 6th gen as I don't like the vtec. I do however like the body work a bit better on the 6th gen. but the 5th grows on you well. The gear cams whine a little bit but it's a sound of passion once you get used to it. The 5th gen maintence is also a bit less expensive than the newer models too. The overall gearing hasn't changed all that much really for many people to really notice. The 5th gen makes a little more power and the 98-99 has a cat-less exhaust. Mileage on these machines can get up there a pretty fair amount, well into the 100,000 mile range if properly cared for. I've heard of 200,000 miles without anything real major in regards to that much mileage.
If it's your first bike I'ld honestly suggest something else, a little bit less motor and a little less weight. That said before flaming begins the VFR isn't a power house but is a little higher than what a first time rider needs, generally speaking. It's also a rather heavy bike as it's a ST machine, well into the 500+ area wet. It is a great handling machine too though. I'ld personally suggest the f4i as a good starter bike as it's pretty fair for comfort, power, weight, and handling. This would allow a person to also figure out what it really is that he/she wants in/from a bike. Meaning, more comfort, power, or handling or a good balance of all three but in a little more machine.... This is my OPINION but take it for whatever you want.
BTW: there isn't a bike on the market that I'ld trade my 98 VFR for although I'ld love to put a couple of bikes next to it!!!! (MMMM, Duc sport classic 1000 among others)