Have you looked at Mazda 3's? The 5 door hatchback is not only a good reliable gas sipping car, it's also fun to drive, which most small cars aren't.
Look at some reviews and they all say the same thing.
A one or two year old low mileage car would be in your price range.
I have an '04 and liked it enough to buy another one new in '10. So far zero problems with either excluding wear items (tires, brakes).
Oh I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused-E.Costello
'01 Kawasaki W650, '05 Yamaha XT225