My GTI has been with me for two years and 17K miles, and the experience has been positive. This is the original "hot hatch", the benchmark for this class. If you're looking for outright performance, go for a Mazdaspeed 3. But if you're seeking European character and sophistication, the choice is clear. The GTI goes about its business in a most German way. Feels solid as a bank vault when you get in and shut the door. On the interstate, it's unflappable and deceptively fast, so invest in a good radar detector. This model has ceased production, as the sixth-generation is already out and headed to the US in the fall of 2010. There should be many pre-owned examples to choose from.
Engine sounds great under full throttle. GTI built in Germany, not Mexico as previous model. Xenon headlamps standard. High quality exterior paint finish. Beefy steering wheel you want to caress. Full-size spare tire. Elegant enough for the country club valet, if the occasion were to arise.
Some interior rattles audible on bumpy roads. My previous Hyundai Elantra had a superior stereo. 200hp is adequate, but the competition has surpassed that figure. Sirius available only in package with moonroof. Options could bloat the price to nearly $30K. Curb weight of 3200lb sometimes felt.