I was so close to buying a 19' Mazda 3 when they came out because of the AWD, I was going for the premium model, which was close to what I paid for my GTI, the NVH and interior is very nice, but the handling and more power from the GTI was much better. I came from a regular civic so both had more power. The big c pillars didnt help either. Getting in and out of the back of the Mazda wasn't hard per se, but it def took a little more effort. At 6'2 I couldn't sit behind myself in the Mazda, while in the GTI I can. Im so glad the VW dealership was next door to Mazda, because I have zero regrets and I'm so happy the deal didnt work out for the Mazda.
I don't know about the latest models but the Mazda doesn't have the cubbyhole spaces either does it?