After having this car for over 2 years and driving it quite a bit (60000km, about 32,000 miles) I have the dirt on this econo-machine: 1) I have had no mechanical problems. 2) The steering and suspension are as tight and as precise as the day I bought it. You almost take it for granted until you drive a different vehicle. Then you realize: Wow this Mazda 3 really handles! 0.87g's on the skidpad. R U kidding? At this price? 3) I have the 2.0 engine, MT, It has more power then anyone really needs. I drive 140kmh (85mph) every day on the 401 highway and no complaints. Fuel economy is average. 520km per tank. I drive it hard which doesn't help the numbers. 4) So far so good!
Handling and suspension - adequate power from base engine. QUICK STORY: I test drove a 2004 Audi S4. Awesome car! When I got back in my Mazda and took a few corners I actually felt like it handled better. Overall the S4 was better, AWD and power to burn. But the Mazda is a blast to drive!
Most people complained about: 1) The air conditioner. They are right. A little weak. It does cool the car after about 5 minutes on 30 degree C days. 2) Stiff ride. I think city driving is a lil rough. On the highway as smooth as the Civic. In its class: Good compromise between sport/commuter.