I've had a 2013 Mazda 3 I bought used for about 2 years now. I have the 2.0L i touring with a Sunroof, Bose Stereo, and Keyless Start. I have to say I love driving this car, it's extremely nimble and fun to drive to it's limits. It's no 0-60 champ but it handles like a dream and it's been very trouble free, requiring only Tires and Oil changes from 44000-67000 miles. The 2014 and newer have more limited visibility although they look very sharp. I'd suggest looking at the 2013 hatchback with the 2.5L in a higher trim. You'll get a good deal on it, being the last year of the model cycle it will have most the bugs worked out of it and it should meet all your needs at a lower cost.
As much as I like the Mazda, I regularly rent cars on work trips and have rented a Golf on several occasions. The Golf is FUN. The turbo gives it a real zingy feeling and its so tidy to park, comfortable for longer legs, has a nice adjustable armrest, and carries a nice amount of people/cargo in a tidy package. Aggressively slipping through traffic is pretty satisfying in this car, especially in Sport mode. Reliability is generally more questionable so if that's important to you, look into leasing. The 2017 Wolfsburg Edition is very well equiped for the price so maybe you can find a leftover on a dealer lot somewhere with your name on it, if you like risking some extra maitenance bucks for a truly fun time. It's also a remarkably comfortable and quiet vehicle aside from being a pleasure to drive. A GTI would be even better with a lot higher cool factor.
Finally, the Focus. I've never been a Ford fan but I've rented one of these before and with the dual clutch transmission, it's also surprisingly fun to drive. Parts are generally cheaper as well as the entry price, especially given it's at the end of the model cycle. A good option if you're on a budget and want the newest car possible with good discounts.
I've heard that Subaru dealers and VW dealers make a pretty penny off their customers. I too am wary of the CVT transmissions both for longevity the overall dull rubber band like driving experience they offer. Despite recent offerings including CVTs, I still think Toyota offers the most reliable vehicles as they spearheaded the adoption of six sigma statistical process control in the automotive industry. However, I can not see driving one since they are incredibly boring.
I hope these ramblings help!