We recently extolled the virtues of the new Volvo V50 wagon. But not everyone (including us) can afford a $30k (with options) sort of ride -- no matter how sweet it is.
Enter the affordable, stylish and versatile Mazda3, 5-door. The 2004 Mazda3 is reviewed by Paul & Anita Lienert in their he drove/she drove column. It's a great car that even loaded up comes in under $20k. While we're pro-$20k we're also very disappointed the Mazda3 can't come (at any price) with stability or traction control. Oddly, European buyers have the option of purchasing such safety equipment so it's some sort of weird marketing dealie (it's certainly not an engineering issue since it's an option elsewhere).
So, Mazda, here's the deal: You start offering stability and traction control on US models (at a reasonable price) and we'll start telling the world to look at the Mazda3 first rather than the Toyota Matrix.