I think you've only got a few viable, reliable, enjoyable options:
Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla.
Of the three, I'd probably go with the Civic. I've never had a single problem in over 8 years of driving them.
Forget old European or American cars out of warranty. They are potential liabilities through and through.
You might also look into a slightly used CSX or even an older TSX. The TSX has the secret word built into its name.