Re: Looking for a New Car. Drummers' Advice Wanted
I will chime in for a bit. I worked in the car industry for several years before returning to grad school. Disclaimer: I worked for both Toyota (sales) and Mazda (marketing and racing). I have a bit of a Japanese bias, but then again, most people do these days.
Hatchbacks are the way to go for a drummer. You can fit a lot in there. My drum teacher drives a Scion tC, a small 2 door lift-back, and can fit his full drum kit in there with hardware. You should be able to fit your drum kit in every car you mentioned (assuming you dont have 10 toms or something).
Since you are in FL, I can assume you dont have to deal with snow. That is a big plus, as any drivetrain is acceptable.
Now, whenever a friend asks, I recommend the Mazda3. When I was working for Mazda, I had 6 friends buy a Mazda3 using my Ford family discount in less than 2 years. It's a great car, and I think it's the best hatch on the market. It is reliable by modern standards, but not the very best. It has little issues from time to time, common to most cars, such as thermostats, A/C, etc. Nothing game changing. But I mention it because nowadays people think even small issues with their cars are catastrophic failures. The only things to look out for with Used Mazda3s (and really any car), are making sure people regularly changed transmission fluids (60k cycles max, 30k cycles preferred) and regular oil changes. If the used car has really really spotty maintenance records, or looks shady, stay away. But that applies to most cars.
The Matrix, Rav 4, and CR-V options are also strong. They are all very reliable cars. They are more boring than the Mazda (vague steering, sloppy power and trans, pedestrian styling, etc.). But, if you dont care about having a sporty ride or look, then who cares. They should be a little bit more reliable than the Mazda 3. The Scions are also reliable, but very bland cars (tC and FR-S excluded).
Kia is doing well now, but they had reliability issues in the past, so stay away from models more than a few years old.
Skip the Mitsubishi.
I would also stay away from anything by VW. They are more expensive to begin with, have mediocre reliability, and are much more expensive to maintain. I would especially be weary of this option if you are buying used. VW usually has higher fit and finish initially, and the Golf is a sporty car, but it will cost the most to upkeep of those options. It is also the smallest. I am sure some VW fan will chime in about how they are the best cars ever, but I personally think many German cars are overrated, and people just find ways to justify them after the fact because they paid a premium for them.
All in all, you are on the right track. A reliable Japanese hatchback will do you well. I would buy the Mazda3, but I love sporty cars above all else. Personally, I drive a Mazda MX-5 (I used to race them) for my daily ride and use an old Toyota Highlander when I need to transport drums.