I got my Mazda 3 hatchback a few days ago and I absolutely love it! Crazy good mpg in town and on the highway (52.9mpg@55mph and 44.0mpg @70mph) all the power I ever wanted, fantastic handling and plenty of room for me and all my gear.
I work at another brand dealership, and am willing to deal with the ridicule of my boss and co-workers to drive my 3, it is the perfect car for me.
I drive all kinds of cars every day, and the Jetta/Civic/Corolla/Elantra just don't stack up. Only the Focus SE and Dart Ralley compare, the Dart is not offered in a hatch and I have had bad luck with Fords so it was an easy choice for me.
Suspension- No body roll, grippy as all getup. Feels like a much more expensive car.
Electronics- Easy to use tech toys, great stock sound system.
Engine-plenty of torque, and more then enough hp for that light weight car, no need for any more power unless you want to race it, fantastic mpg as well.
Breaks-feels like they were designed to stop a freight train, effortless stops from high speeds.
Layout- easily seats adults in the back seat, and cargo room for anything I need to carry.
Style- just stands out in the sea of cookie cutter compact cars.
Value-Looks and feels like a 40k car and I got mine for less then half that, what more could you ask for.
Automatic transmission feels like it is dragging a little too much while coasting.
17-18" wheels would fit the mazda 3 personality better then the stock 16s on my i touring.
A little more exhaust note on the throttle would not hurt.