The GTI is easily the best combination of refinement, speed, value, and driving pleasure on the market. I cross-shopped the car with various others and the GTI was the winner with the closest runner-ups being the BMW 328i and the Mini Cooper.
I honestly don't think the GTI competes against the various Japanese cars (i.e. Civic Si, WRX, Evo) because of its level of refinement. No, it's not as fast as the WRX or the Evo, but it provides a level of refinement and all-around usability that both of those toys can't match. It's less isolated than the luxury cars but is still blessed with a remarkably high-class interior that should be the envy of most entry-luxury drivers.
The torquey 2.0T coupled with the DSG. Even my manual-loving buddy couldn't help but admit that the DSG is the closest he's ever driven to a real manual. The exhaust/intake noise is great and really gives the car a special feel. Handling is outstanding and well-rounded.
The interior styling and quality is superlative. The plaid (interlagos) seats are unique and very european and the build-quality rivals the Audi/BMW and easily bests the C-Class Mercedes and every one of the Japanese entry-luxury competitors. It's quite an accomplishment for VW.
The versatility of the hatch is also great. I can
throw my road bike in the back and still blast along some back roads!
The base stereo is adequate, but really needs improvement. The Dynaudio package was a must on my shopping list, but I couldn't find a base GTI with just that option and I didn't want the 18-inch wheels or the sunroof that usually accompanied this package.
I would also include better floormats. I know this sounds picky (I have the upgraded winter mats already), but the GTI really should have branded mats with the embroidered logo. Everything else in the car feels unique with the red stitching and the cheap mats are a letdown.
I know that sounds picky, but I'm thrilled that that's the only thing I can complain about!