I was in search of a car to replace my trusty Volvo for the past year. Hands down, this Mazda3 S 5-speed blows away the competition. I waited for the 2006 Civic remodel (horrible dash design) until I made my purchase. I found a 2004 S model for $12,000 and plan in driving it for 5-6 years selling it for $5-6K. That's about as inexpensive cost of ownership you can find for driving such a refined car. This car is designed like a Swiss Army Knife ... it's really a great value and in most cases worth full sticker. Test drove a Corolla S, 06 Civic, used 325i, Jetta, WRX, and Accord. Go out and test drive one, and you'll buy it.
Steering wheel volume controls, dash design ... only BMW is better. 17" wheels, smoothness and firm suspension, quality of interior, 95% made in Japan, resale value, non-premium fuel.
Black gauges with simple white numbers, like the i dash. Remote trunk release instead of panic button on the keyless entry.
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