1. The Cylons actually had a motivation. They weren't just some Star-Wars-Stormtrooper knockoffs who were battling us simply because they were evil. You learn not only why they wanna wipe out humanity, but how.
2. The Cylons were actually scary. Back when I was the prime age for this stuff (around 1979) we had discussions as to which characters were more incapable of actually shooting a person, the Cylons or the Imperial Stormtroopers.
3. The new Commander Adama. Lorne Greene had a pedigree and all, but he never did much but stand on the bridge and give orders. Edward James Olmos, on the other hand, beat a Cylon to death WITH A FLASHLIGHT! He definitely lends some Kirk-like badassitude to the role.
4. It appears to contain actual science regarding how a spacecraft would move. Somebody actually figured out that there's no air in space.
5. People actually die.
6. No chimpanzee in a robot dog costume.
It's not perfect. The "guy who constantly sees visions of the Cylon chick who tricked him" bit got old really fast, but it was definitely a cut above the old series. With the old Battlestar Galactica, you always had the sense that you were watching the boring middle part of a bigger story. Why the ships were trying to find Earth was never explained, and you were never sure if they'd ever actually complete their mission (ala Star Trek's "five year mission"). That "Galactica 1980" where they suddenly found Earth definitely smelled of a last-gasp effort to revive the series after it was cancelled.
I just wonder if they're gonna add any more of the "Journey of the Mormons" mythos to the story like in the original. The original Battlestar Galactica admittedly took most of its story from the Journey of the original Mormons to the Promised Land of Utah. I didn't see as much in the new one, except for the occasional exclamation of "Praise Kobol". I could be wrong, but "Kobol" sounded a lot like "Kolob", which is where God lives according to LDS folks.
I guess we'll see. I always rather liked the Mormon parallels in the old Galactica story. It added something interesting to a dull series that desperately needed something interesting to happen.