2005 Ford Focus ZX3 SES 2dr Hatchback (2.0L 4cyl 5M)
Obviously the Ford Focus isn't a luxury model. You get what you pay for. But I purchased a 2005 ZX2 SES om July of '05 (the day before Ford decided to do employee pricing). I also added the upgraded sound system, side impact air bags, and moonroof ... I paid $13,150. I believe that dollar for dollar you get more for your money that Toyota or Honda. Remember you are paying premium price on those two cars because of reliability. Ford has worked out the kinks and I believe it's not worth paying an extra $6,000 for a Honda just because a Ford MIGHT break down and a Honda MIGHT not.
Excellent control with steering. Excellent sound system. I get about 20 mpg with a mix of highway and city. (Chicago)
A little more head room. I am 6'3" and if I sit up straight it cuts a little close. Luckily I like to drive with the seat back a little.