I bought an '09 Mazda3 hatchback about 2 weeks ago, and am really liking it. Up until 7 years ago, I owned a '97 Miata for 7 years, and I bought my daughter an '03 Protege5 about 10 years ago, which she still has (it got her through 8 years of college, and then some). So, I am quite familiar with Mazdas. Sure, they are kinda cheap-made, but they are designed relatively well, and are pretty reliable. My Miata was the most reliable car I have ever owned in my 37 years of owning vehicles. Yes - far, far more reliable than my '99 Toyota 4Runner has been (but it has almost 200k).
This Mazda3 is a hoot to drive. Fairly quick (2.3L), and the handling could give even a true sports car a run for its money. I will have to restrain myself to keep out of trouble driving this car.
I'm fixing a few little things that are bugging me, have already replaced the spark plugs (as a benchmark, and the previous plugs most definitely needed replacing). Next will be a transmission fluid flush. It has 111k on the clock, and is in really good shape overall, having had only one very minor accident in its history, which wasn't even a fender bender.
Having been looking for one for a few months, with no luck, I couldn't be too choosy, so I had to make a sacrifice on the color. Black. Worse than red, for keeping looking clean. I had a certain budget (paid cash for it), and a fairly small geographical search radius, so I jumped on this when I found it, and I don't regret it.
I do 100% of maintenance and repairs myself. No mechanic ever touches any of my immediate family's vehicles, except me (but I am not a professional mechanic). I would have preferred a manual transmission, but I shudder at the thought of pulling both the engine and transmission for a clutch replacement. Plus, when I find work again (I am semi-retired), a manual sucks in stop & go traffic. However, if it were a rear wheel drive Miata, I definitely would have gotten a manual.
One of the biggest bonuses is that I can even throw my mountain bike in the back (after removing its front wheel), if my 4Runner happens to be temporarily down. I can even take it camping, or haul one of my German Shepherds in it. If I get some spending money, I may put a receiver hitch on it so that I can use my bike rack.
I semi-retired my old 4Runner to just utility usage, and this Mazda3 has become my daily driver. Sometimes I name my cars if they have a personality, so I named this one Black Betty. Some of you old farts probably know that song.