I comparison shopped this with the Honda 2005 Civic EX SE (hmmmmm...1.7L or 2.3L?), and found this to be the better buy hands down. It is also worth noting the Mazda3 is less expensive to insure than a Honda, due to national crime statsistics. My only gripes so far is that the vehicle was sold to me way out of alignment, and the passenger side airbag seems to be disabled. They offered to fix everything without question of course, but it makes me wonder about Mazda's quality assurance (though it's possible this happened during a demo). Otherwise, it's a beautifully designed Japanese vehicle, that will have many of your friends feeling envious.
Nice sporty looks, good engineering, almost 100% Japanese, econimcal, under $20K.