Sorry for the three separate posts, but saying all of that in just one would've been even more rambling and hard to follow that the other one already was...
Anyway, as far as the other cars I considered, the only cars I seriously considered were the 2004 Accord V6 Coupe, the 2004 RSX, the 2004 Celica, and the 2004 Corolla. To be honest, I didn't really consider the Corolla very much because I had a '99 Corolla and didn't see the point in paying thousands and thousands of dollars to replace my car, which still worked quite well, with essentially the same thing. (As a side note, I'm currently driving an '04 Corolla with 4,000 miles on it as a loaner, and it drives EXACTLY the same as my '99 did, only it's slower. Wow.)
The RSX got thrown out pretty early on because of insurance costs. The Celica got knocked out even earlier because of that, the price, and the fact that I'm not thrilled about how it looks from the rear.
The Accord Coupe was what I was going to buy for months. I test drove one back in February or March and decided that was the car I wanted, and had my heard set on it in spite of the price, until I learned of the tC. After that, I went from being dead-set on the Accord Coupe to totally rejecting it in favor of the tC, in about a day. Why? The tC has the EXACT same performance numbers, according to various reviews I read, looks totally hot, and costs $7,000 to $8,000 less. That was a no-brainer.
I considered the TSX as well, but it was just too expensive and for no good reason. I mostly like the way it looks, but it seems too high up and too narrow for me.
looked at the Mazda 3, but I just don't see how there's any comparison to the tC. The 5-door is just plain an ugly piece of crap, and the 4-door, while it looks better than the 5-door, still doesn't compare with the tC in terms of looks. It also does NOT compare in price -- the base price of $17,515 for an auto, which is already more expensive than the base price of the tC, does not include ABS, moonroof, or mp3 player. I also like the tC's standard rims MUCH better. Also, you can only get the tire-pressure monitoring system if you also buy the HID lights for $700. Granted, that's a nice option, but it's still another feature that the tC has and the 3 doesn't.
Plus, all the money and feature issues aside, the 3 is still a Mazda/Ford. They should give a $5,000 discount just for that -- that's the only way I'd ever consider buying one. On that note, just in case I had started to doubt Mazda's reputation for being crap, my uncle told me about a week after I bought my tC that his 2002 Tribute, which was one month out of warranty, needed a new transmission ($3,000). I have known a LOT of people with Toyotas, and I have NEVER known anyone who needed a new transmission (or any serious repairs) prior to 100,000 miles. That's worth a lot to me.