I prefer a standard shift, and so I really enjoy this car. It is the best car I have ever owned, considering it cost me $17k as an "economy car." Great value. Cargo capacity is impressive, comfort is very reasonable, although over time, chintzy interior materials and high maintenance bills disappoint. She eats tires and her tires are expensive; third set within 100k miles at $750 a set. Expensive also was the turn-signal switch replacement with "stealership" labor pricing, as well as a broken motor mount, and failed fuel injector. Downside is, maintenance adds up pretty substantially, IMO. You do pay for the sporty performance eventually. Great fun, versatile and reasonably practical.
Responsiveness and handling, acceleration on straightaways; really good performance with 5speed manual shift; and you really can haul an impressive amount of cargo in this vehicle. Great lines and generous in design and standard features, though I think that now, 5 years later Mazda is getting a little outlandish with their styling for the Mazda3.
I wish that tMazda would lighten up with their labor charges. It felt like robbery to pay $420 for a fuel injector replacement, or $250 for a broken (nylon) motor mount, or $150 for a turnsignal switch. Also, it is sheer opportunism to charge $100 to clear the computer code, when an auto parts store can do it for free. Caveat emptor; economy pricing up-front will vanish with scheduled maintenance. However, with all that said, I do like this car very much and would own a Mazda6 maybe someday ;o)