I have owned Mazda vehicles since 1984 and the 3 series (GLC, 323, Protege, Mazda3) have always been the best when it comes to value, performance, and style in sedans. Bought the "3" to be used by my college-age daughters while Mazda was offering the 0% APR deal (and to avoid the stupid No. VA transportation tax). As with all my Mazda vehicles, the driving position, design, and sporting nature have been retained even in the base model i Sport I purchased. I liked the fact that finding one with ABS and side curtain airbags was not impossible in the base model. My only complaint would be the colors on the instruments. There's just not enough contrast for my 50+ year old eyes.
Styling, handling, smooth engine, crisp 5-speed shifting and very smooth clutch (good for newbies). Aux input jack on base model is a nice touch.
More contrast on the instruments (OK, so I'm old). MP3 capability on the base model stereo. Tach & speedo with "0" at the bottom take some getting used to.