Dismissed the Corolla outright because of its appliance-like nature. Civic seemed too unrefined in comparison, and was turned off by so-so reviews of the Cobalt. At this price range, there's nothing that even comes close to the 3. This car is simply superb! The exterior (especially of the hatchback), is distinctive; the interior is comfortable, attractive, and refined. Performance from the smooth 2.3L engine is more than adequate, and it's a joy to row through the gears. Too early to report on fuel economy, but this car begs to be driven hard, so I'm not expecting stellar mileage. Don't take my word for how great this car is - read the reviews by the professionals and test drive it!
Comfort, design, 5-spd and 2.3L powertrain combo, steering wheel mounted controls, practicality of hatchback design, handling, peace of mind from ABS/SAB package
In bright sunlight, info display is impossible to read with sunglasses on (had the same problem with 2000 Altima)