With all the modern improvements to newer cars (suspension, braking, steering, noise, etc) it's getting hard to remember what a driving a car really feels like. Most new cars are taking away the responsibility of driving and putting it in hands of computers and technology. Although my Mazda 3 has all of these technological advancements, they have combine to provide a driving experience like few others. You will feel the road, have confidence while steering, hear the engine, and feel the grip under braking. Thus, it is not a car for the passive driver. But, if you are looking for a car that you will actively drive and get feedback during the experience - the Mazda 3 is a great choice.
The interior is a joy to experience - from the lighting to the seats to the simple controls layout. The interior materials and build quality far out- class the experience you will have with comparable models from Ford, Chevy, Honda, or Toyota.
The engineers obviously sacrificed fuel economy for performance with this car. I average about 29-30mpg around the Minnesota suburbs, which is acceptable but not great for a compact.