I considered a CPO Acura RSX and new Scion tC, but the 3 was the best compromise between the utility, fun factor, and value that I was looking for. The tC was nice, but the interior cannot compare in terms of space, ease of access, or aesthetics. Cargo volume with the seats down was surprisingly similar. The RSX was ultimately just too small; the rear seat is a shelf for packages, not people. I do, however, wish I had the RSX 5-speed auto and the gas mileage and performance that came with it. Be careful if you're considering the 3 largely on price, especially with the hatch model as it starts at 17k and moves past 20k with a sunroof and ABS. Good value, but hardly inexpensive.
The handling on this vehicle is really quite impressive. And make sure to check out a 3 at night; the dashboard's impressive combination of BMW like orange glow and electroluminescent gauge cluster really help set the 3's interior apart. Even the standard red/blue on black cloth seats look good.
160 hp with the auto trans give the car less than thrilling acceleration; don't mistake the sensitive throttle for lots of power, it's really only adequate for this 3,000 lb car. I'd be more content if it got better than 29 on the highway; a 5-speed auto would help or go for the manual.