If you're looking for a driver's car, boy howdy, you found it.

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With excellent on-road poise, bang-on aesthetics and an attractive price, the Mazda3 stands as a solid alternative to the segment's stalwarts.

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In a stomping ground long owned by two major players, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, other small sedans seem like they're just playing second fiddle. But the Mazda3 carves its own path.

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It would be tough to out-class the stalwarts in other ways.

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But when it comes to making a car that's fun to drive without being a complete (and literal) pain in the tuchus for your average owner, that's where the Mazda3 shines.

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The Mazda3 keeps to some pretty classic proportions.

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Although prominent, the character lines on the side refrain from giving the car a boy-racer aesthetic.

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It's a pretty car that's a little less futuristic than the new Civic, and it's likely to age better as a result.

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Mazda offers two different four-cylinder engines in the 3. Our tester came with the lesser engine, a 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower four-banger, mated to a six-speed manual.

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The stick isn't as notchy and precise as Honda's (arguably one of the best in the industry, nevertheless its segment), but it doesn't quite fall into the categories of rubbery or vague.

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