Mid Week Match-Up: A Daily Driver For TinyFrogs

It is Wednesday so that means another time for a Mid Week Match-Up (TM)!  DT reader TinyFrogs is looking for a commuter in the $5k-$12k range.  Find him something good.  In his words:  Anyway, later this summer I’d like to pick up an efficient, reliable,
and fun-to-drive compact wagohatch of some sort, manual transmission,
ballpark of $5k (cash) to $12k (note). I like sleepers with style.  This
would complement an old Xterra that needs more TLC, so no beaters.
 Also needs some modern safety.  I have a family.

Fit is too small, Legacy is too large.  Current car crush of the moment
is the 1st-gen Matrix XRS/Vibe GT, which have the 2ZZ, a 6-speed, a
functional body style, and well over 30 mpg if kept out of lift.  I just
saw one with only 87k on CG but it was gone almost instantly.  I’ve
given up on finding a Saab 9-2x aero that isn’t molested or
high-mileage.  Besides, it leans too heavily on the “fun” and less so on
the “reliable/efficient” parts of the formula.  Same with the hot
version of the V50, but maybe a FWD T5?  I’m in the mid-atlantic so East
Coast, rust free cars are fair game.

DT’s choice would be the Mazda 3 hatch.  The Mazdaspeed version is certainly tempting, but the basic Mazda 3 with NA 2.3 liter inline-4 and 5-speed manual is much cheaper and will be frugal in fuel and maintenance.  Here is one in the SF Bay area for $10k.

What do you recommend for TinyFrogs?  comments below.