I decided to purchase the GTI because it is a great combination of performance, practicality, and value. The engine pulls strongly into triple-digit speeds, the handling on the 17 inch rims all season tires is good, though if pushed it displays typical front wheel drive understeer. The ride is firm but not punishing, and the fit and finish are difficult to fault. Fuel mileage has been quite good. Only complaint has been a gear noise while parked with the transmission in neutral, but this seems to be unusual, and has not affected operation one bit.
Overall performance, practical features, gas mileage, fit and finish.
Front seats may be a bit tight for larger folks. The greatest issue/challenge for VW is to improve its brand reliability.