I already have a 2006 Corolla automatic which we bought new and me and my wife love it. I always like to drive manual and this time I had a chance to shop for a manual transmission car ( my wife does not drive manual). I drove most of the cars in this segment and finally narrow it down to Civic LX, Mazda 3 I Touring and Corolla S. When compared to other two ( Civic and Mazda 3) Corolla S is less in power, but far superior in other categories.
Corolla S has more features than the other two like Rear spoiler, fog/driving lamps and sports skirting. I like
specially the alarm buzzer if you forget to release the e- brakes. Very good gas millage.
The position of the clock at bottom near the gear shifter, (Our 2006 Corolla the clock is close to the eye level)
The Mazda 3 is more of a car than the Corolla S.
I also have a 2011 Corolla S with a manual.
While the car has the body kit, it does not perform like a sports sedan at all.
It has no power, handles poorly, has drum rear brakes and a solid axle in the rear.
I owned a '04 Mazda 3 hatchback and it was much more fun to drive.