Just bought a new Sport-VE auto a week ago. Loaded with all Value Edition features including 17" alloys. 150 miles on it so far, so just breaking in the engine. Excellent handling and throttle response - this is a driver's car on a budget. Quiet engine at idle, though growly when pressed hard. Superb 5-speed auto with manual shift gate. Cabin a little shorter than the competition, but makes up for it in width. Open greenhouse, very airy. Highly raked profile - with alloys & side sills, it makes most midsizes look boring. Overall best value in 4 door midsizes. Paid <$16K after $2K rebates, plus taxes. Much better value than Korean & US midsizes. $5K+ cheaper than equivalent Accord/Camry.
Bought my car from a private seller for $2,000. The car had 178,000 miles on it, and I had to replace the brakes, windshield, and replaced a motor mount. Granted it has 178,000 miles, it gets great gas mileage (on average 27 combo), and it had never had new parts until I got it. Everything runs great besides there is a short in the stereo somewhere.
I've owned may cars over the years ranging from a Porsche to a Focus and also spent 25 years in the car business, mostly hi-line European. We just picked up a 5 speed, Sport Value edition. The 4 cylinder performance with the manual transmission is surprising. Build quality seems very good. The thing that impresses me the most is what you get for the dollar. We had 03 Focus ZX5 with a sticker of $18k and the Mazda is $20380, four years later. For $2300 more the difference is unbelievable. I think the car is on a par with an A4, Saab 9-3,and maybe even BMW 325. If you're in the market for a fun-to-drive, affordable sedan, check this car out. IMHO it's probably the most underrated car out there.
I bought this car used with 58,000 miles and loved it right off the bat. If you own the V6, it makes the nicest sounding noise I can think of for a car in this price range. It isn't super powerful and some modern day 4cyl could probably beat it, but it is refined and I loved it. It was hooked up to a 6spd automatic that was always eager to downshift, and will go through the first 3 gears pretty quickly, The ratios are nicely laid out. It turned in crisply and handled very well also. Unfortunately all this fun to drive goodness led me into a car accident, thankfully, only involving my car. I put 30,000 miles on the car in 2 years with my led foot and nothing at all broke, even at the track.