I've owned an '89 Toyota Tercel, an '02 Chevy Prism and now the Mazda. Love. It. It's got a lot longer gear ratio than most 4-cylinder cars and at highway speeds can very capably accelerate past everyone else who's not having as much fun in their car. The interior has an excellent design, the exterior looks fluid and lean and all of the mechanics seem above average on dependability and ergonomics. I might never buy a different car.
Good balance of engine power and mpg. Manual tranny is forgiving and smooth. Stock speakers won't blow you away but definitely better than most. Can't say enough about the looks, either. This car would have been on prom court.
Find some alternative to the gigantic plastic shield under the engine bay. I don't think I've ever seen a more blatant attempt to force people to get their routine maintenance done at the dealership. It does keep the engine clean, though, so my problem is with the delivery, not the idea.