The Scion iM is actually a good idea, at least worth mentioning to him. Even though the iA (known as the Mazda2 in the rest of the world) is a better car, but it's not a hatch/wagon.
He is open to the idea of a Mazda3 's' instead of the 'i'. Along with a 2012 CX-9 GT and 2015 Volvo V6 T6 R-Design, I also have a 2006 Mazda3 s 5-door that will be 11 years old in December. The main reason I wanted the 's' was the engine and larger wheels/tires (17" std. on the 5-door).
I think the 16" wheels on the new Mazda3 are undersized for the wheel wells. They don't look quite right. The 18" on the 's' fit the car perfectly. I wish they'd offer 17" on the 'i' but they haven't.
The only problem with getting the 's' is that his only choice would be the Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door, which gets a little pricey. The 's' Touring isn't available with the 6-speed manual, only the Grand Touring. The other problem is availability. There are only 8 Mazda3 i Touring 5-doors (with the Preferred Equipment Pkg that adds the Bose audio) within 250 miles of Atlanta. There is just one Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door with 6-speed manual in that same area. Those manual s GT models tend to sell very quickly.
I was hoping that the Forte5 SX had some sort of audio upgrade because I actually like the car. Every review I've read has been positive. Just looking at the specs, the SX has the same 6-speaker (4-speakers + 2-tweeters) used in the cheaper EX model. That's odd considering that the optional 'Premium Package' includes HID headlights, Ventilated (cooled) seats, Blind Spot Monitor and Navigation.....but no audio upgrade??? They offer a 10-speaker Harman Kardon upgrade on the Optima EX/SX/SXL and an 8-speaker Infinity with subwoofer and external amp on the Soul, so it's strange that they don't on the Forte5....
He actually test drove the Civic before he even started considering the Mazda3 or Focus. He drove the Civic LX Coupe with 6-speed manual and liked it. But he was very disappointed when he learned that no higher trim levels were available with the manual transmission. The LX has a 4-speaker 160-watt audio system that could never satisfy an audiophile. He was willing to give up the hatchback for the coupe and the manual height-adjustment and tilt/telescope steering wheel helped him find a comfortable position without the power seat.
I thought the Accord Sport might be a viable alternative, especially since they look so sharp and the slickest 6-speed manual I've ever used. The Accord (or Civic) would be ideal because their high resale value translates into low lease payments. But the Accord Sport uses the same weak 4-speaker 160-watt setup as the Civic.
I find it a bit sad that Honda, the company that once made manual transmissions available in virtually every trim level of every model, is now regulating the MT to base models. In the past, I've had a '94 Acura Legend (5-speed manual), 1997 Accord EX 4-door 5-speed manual and several other top-end Honda/Acuras, all with manuals. I was 38 before I bought my first automatic, my CX-9.
Thanks for your input! I really do appreciate it!