A Mazda 3 might be an option; especially since you're in CA where their propensity to rust isn't as big an issue.
I'm with you on the VW/Focus concerns.
If you're serious about the safety issue, your previous rear ending notwithstanding, you really want electronic stability control; which I believe is standard on '13 and newer cars.
The Civic Si could be nice, but I've always found their short gearing annoying (buzzy on the highway); not sure what the gear ratios on the new models are like. I think you'll like a Fit, though - it's a way better handling car than a '90's civic with great interior space.