2004 Mazda Mazda6 s 4dr Sport Wagon (3.0L 6cyl 5M)
A really great option to the garden variety commuter cars despite gas mileage is in the low 20s (partially due to my shift points ;-). It has a very eager, smooth running motor & handles very well on the stock 17" rubber. In wagon format, it really occupies a niche of one (220hp V6, handling biased, manual transmission wagon under $25k). If you don't demand 30mph from a daily driver, the Mazda6 is worth taking a close look.
Super smooth motor; great brakes; Bose stereo package.
6th gear, please; dealer installed roof rack option; increase standard feature list to include trip computer & dash blackout.