Available in sedan and hatchback body styles, the Mazda3 holds the distinction of being one of the better small car choices.
Introduced for 2004 to replace the Protege, it features strong and refined four-cylinder engines, along with precise, responsive handling and a firm, but comfortable ride.
Interior quality is very good, though the cabin is noisy and the rear seat somewhat tight.
If you're shopping in this model year range look for one with the available curtain airbags, as the Mazda3 received a Poor rating in the IIHS side-crash test without them.
These were added as a standard feature for the 2009 model year, along with side airbags.
Uplevel Touring and Grand Touring models have standard stability control, starting in 2007; these are the versions to get.