2006 Mazda 3 s Touring 4dr Hatchback (2.3L 4cyl 5M)
I've been driving Alfa Romeo sedans for 30 years, so I know what kind of small high-performance sedans I like. I dreaded giving up my last Alfa, but when I drove the 3s hatchback, I realized that I had found a worthy successor. This car tracks like an Alfa, but I found the engine far smoother, torquier, and more powerful than a comparable 2L Alfa I4. After spending February in Turin, Italy and seeing the latest offerings from Alfa, then coming home and buying a 3s Touring, I realized I had found superior bargain. If Alfa ever comes back to the US, they'll never be able to match this Mazda in build or performance for under $20K. I love this car! (This is my first Japanese automobile).
Superior handling, incredibly smooth, robust motor, surprising interior space, stout brakes. Remarkably tasteful design. Outstanding six-CD sound system. Flat floor and straight sides in cargo area. Sport AT can be fun if wife is not in the car.
Rear seats don't fold flat, transmits road noise to cabin over rough pavement - probably combination of low-profile 17in tire-wheel and firm suspension, carpet quality could be improved. Sequential shifter makes sense if you are a motorcyclist.