This car is an absolute blast to drive! It's responsive, comfortable, and perfect for both daily driving and weekend flogging. I got it to replace my college car (2000 Mazda Protege) and it has done nothing but exceed my expectations. The flat torque band makes it both fun and easy to drive, the interior is a wonderful man-machine interface, and the exterior is beautifully sporty without drawing undesirable attention. I have even been fortunate enough to avoid the quality issues associated with VWs. The performance is great but there are definitely faster cars out there like the '07 STI Limited and '10 Mazdaspeed3 I tested back to back with the GTI. Bottom line: test drive one! You'll see ;)
The interior is amazing, Audi-like with very intuitive controls. I suspect there's an engineer in Germany who lost weeks of sleep making it perfect. Flat torque curve (1800-5000rpm) has "only" 207lbft of go, but is at least 1500rpm broader than the competition. Snick-snick stick shift. Cargo space.
The stock engine tune is too conservative. If the GTI had the Mazdaspeed3's output but retained its massive power band it would be flawless. The clutch is light, but very long through the grip point and full engagement. EPA MPGs are elusive when having commuter fun. Live traffic nav. Better brakes.