Heaven knows we've ladled plenty of praise on the Mazda3 over the years. It's been a regular resident on our annual list of Coolest Cars Under $18,000, a value-priced standout among our Fuel Economy Stars and a perennial favorite among our editorial staff. All for good reason. With its spry handling, eager engine and lovely looks in both sedan and hatchback form, the Mazda3 sets itself apart from popular rivals such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. After spending several days with a 2014 Mazda3 i Touring sedan, three particular aspects of this car stuck out that reaffirmed why it's such a recommendable compact car.

It's a Value Star

The 2014 Mazda3 sedan is certainly tempting in base trim with its starting price just shy of $18,000. But if you can swing a few thousand more, you'll slide into an economical car that feels like it could wear a premium badge. Our as-tested model arrived with price tag of $23,435 and included a slick infotainment and navigation system with 7-inch touch-screen and rotary master control, Bose premium sound system, rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and dual-zone climate control. A few short years ago, features like these were reserved for luxury cars.

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It's Athletic

Agility isn't usually a dominant ingredient in the traditional recipe for a compact sedan. But for the Mazda3, it's baked right in. And boy does it make for a delicious driver. With its standard 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine, Mazda's compact sedan is peppy but not a barn burner. Where the Mazda3 stands out is in its cornering ability and the way it feels on the road and in your hands -- like a well-balanced knife.

It feels like a glove

Also part of the Mazda3's success is the way it feels around you. The 3 doesn't have the roomiest cabin among compact sedans, but its interior is among the best laid out. In addition to a good driving position and firm-but-not-hard seat, controls are within easy reach and become second nature to use. My only request for the cloth seat in our test model would be extra lumbar support (if that's a must on your list, know that adjustable lumbar support is available in Grand Touring trim). 

More 2014 Mazda3

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