The '03 VW Golf is a very practical, fun to drive car ideally suited for urban commuter use. It was very reliable up to about 60,000 miles, then problems started to crop up, starting with a glow plug failure. After hitting 100,000 miles, I have spent $4,000 on repairs (injector pump, timing belt, water pump, cooling fan, strut mounts, controlling arms). Where I live, diesel generally costs 10% to 15% more than gas, mileage is probably 30% to 40% better than a gas model.
The good gas mileage, practicality, and road feel.
I have two Veedubs in the family now, and both have been bulletproof. It seems the dependability of VW in general is pretty variable, but if you can score the right car, as we apparently have, they are very trustworthy. I am going to get jumped on for this, but it seems to me the vehicles that come from Germany, i.e., the Touareg, are more problematic than the ones built in Latin America. Anyway back to the TDI - the car amazes me, and most people who ride in it instantly want one. Accordingly, TDIs get snapped up real quickly around here. The power and handling, while not quite sports-car caliber, are simply much better than you'd expect from a car capable of 50 mpg. No more gas-cars for me!
The TDI engine, fit and finish, and Monsoon stereo. The roof rack system is the best I have seen.
The seats attract dirt like crazy and are difficult to keep looking nice. Leather would be nice, but most TDIs aren't that well optioned. The ground clearance is very low. A 4Motion version would be perfect.
I've read all the reviews for the 2003 VW Golf GL on this site, and I can't tell if everyone is over the age of 60 or just emotionally tired, but this car puts me to sleep at the wheel, and often! The 120 HP engine is fast enough for me, thus the GL works, but if I had test driven the car longer, I would have realized the the suspension is really, really tame. The car wallows in turns, the back end (even with the short wheelbase)trembles mid corner, and the nose dives under the most gentle of braking. If I could choose a VW again, it'd cope with the reliability problems of the turbocharger and buy the GTi. Other than the performance issues, the standard kit is surprisingly nice for the price.
Standard kit (radio features, seats, cargo space)
Stiffer suspension. Not all Americans are unable to drive at any speed. The spring ratios are way to dumbed down in this car. My 86 Nissan / Datsun sentra wagon had more feel on the road...