Mazda knows this, and has redone its Mazda3 to keep it fresh. It's an evolution of the previous car, even though it is all new, which is probably OK with Mazda loyalists.
Efficiency is the name of the game these days, and Mazda spread its SkyActiv system to the whole car, from engine management to lighter weight construction.
As always, the Mazda3 has a sporty edge, and is often the choice of car enthusiasts who need an economical commuter vehicle.
The Mazda3 is a very good small car. Ten years ago, that would have put it right up at the top of the heap. But these days, there are lots of compacts that could be considered very good.
Honda keeps evolving its Civic, which got a total redesign a couple of years ago. It's been a favorite with many for years and years. And Toyota updated its Corolla this year, another long-time favorite. The previous Corolla was sometimes called bland, but the 2014 car wears a bold new suit of clothes.
Also in the running for small car shoppers is the Focus, which has been a big hit for Ford. Euro-styling has played well, and between that and high levels of fit and finish, it's attracted buyers who might not have considered a domestic brand in the past.
One thing you can get in most small cars these days is upscale options, things compacts never used to offer. Dual zone climate control, navigation and leather seats are part of the Focus Titanium. Same goes for the Civic EXL. Luxury features abound in the top-of-the-line Civic.
Mazda is including a head-up display in the upper trim levels of the Mazda3. That's something that only high-end luxury cars had in the past.
Competition is a good thing. The Mazda3 had to get better to keep up with other small cars on the market. They're all fighting it out with new features to go along with their usual focus on low-cost driving.