I work valet, so I've driven pretty much anything out there. For my money, the WRX TR was still a good deal at $23k. While the interior is pretty bare (the TR model is lacking since they figure you're going to modify), you've got 230 horses pushing symmetrical AWD, with a low turbo point of just under 3000 rpm. This car sticks to the road like no other, and fast turns are almost a must. If you've got the cash, the STI has a lot of great upgrades, but if you're on a budget the TR model is a great place to start, with the potential for you to have your way with it. This car will turn heads, and leave plenty of others in the dust.
The symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive coupled with tight steering wheel creates awesome handling at any speed, and you'll want it with 230 horsepower (222 under the new rules). The short-throw shifter is also a must on the 5spd manual.
It would be nice if the TR model came with the turbo gauge and intercooler spray switch. Again, this particular model is made for tweaking, so the stock stereo is crap, but you're probably buying it for the drive, not the creature comforts. Add those after if you need them.