In our survey the reliability of the 2008-2011 Focus has been pretty good. The older ones are less reliable, as is the Fiesta (especially with the dual-clutch automatic). I consider the 2008-2011 Focus a good value for people who want an inexpensive, reliable car that is somewhat fun to drive. For the best handling, look for one with the sport suspension (SES trim, I think). Fuel economy will be at best what you're requesting, though.
I wonder if it's possible to find a 2012-2013 Mazda3 with the latest SKYACTIV engine + six-speed transmission (manual or auto) within your budget. Fun-to-drive, efficient, and reliable--I'm just not sure about the price. Noise levels might be somewhat high. The older engine is much less efficient.
The Suzuki Kizashi might be within your budget because Suzuki no longer sells cars in North America. Fuel efficiency might be a little lower than 27/35, but they are very solid, good-handling cars that would be good for travel. Reliability seems pretty good based on limited data--I'd feel most confident about a 2011-2012 with a manual transmission.