If a loved one is contemplating the purchase of a car with a name that rhymes with Schmivic or Borolla, do them a favor and insist they head to a Mazda dealership and test drive a 2014 Mazda3. Sure, they might not dig its unapologetically firm handling. Sure, that swoopy, swollen nose (Mazda calls that the "Kodo design language") might resemble a doberman chasing a scent. Still, they'll thank you for pointing them towards a car that stimulates rather than sedates.
A ground-up redesign gives the 3 an even more direct driving dynamic than its predecessor: Its chassis is stiffer by a third; its tight power steering is reportedly patterned after Porsche; the four-cylinder, 155-horsepower 2-liter provides more torque than than previous models. Your loved one won't need to know all that, but they'll feel it. They'll also notice a cabin that's been hushed with siren-defying soundproofing, stocked with comfortable, heated leatherette seats, and augmented with a logical control panel.
Depending on which options were checked, they'll encounter an array of tech one wouldn't expect from a compact sedan: a lane-departure warning system, radar cruise control, automatic adaptive braking, and a heads-up display. If they drive long enough, they'll notice a miles-per-gallon-figure that hovers in the mid-30s. More importantly, it's not a snore-inducer. Want proof? We drove the six-speed manual on America's most stultifying stretch of highway, I-95 from New York to Boston and back without stopping at a single Starbucks. [From $16,945; mazdausa.com]