My first car I bought on my own, and it was everything I wanted. Fast, quick, stylish, lots of cargo room. BUt the small things kept adding up, and just a few days ago it died for good.
I bought it at 80K miles, and it took its last breath at 176K, 7 years in total. Turbo was great, but there was a noticable lag between the petal and the pick-up. BUt it was quick, out accelerating my friend's V6 cars. For the most part, the engine was great, but the timing belt blew recently, so RIP little buddy.
The interior is the weakest aspect of the car. A joke of backseat legroom. Stitching on the leather seats would rip in some places. The rear sideboards were ripped from the frame because of the people squeezing in and out from the back. The plastic was brittle; glove box handle, latch on middle armrest, driver-side window controls all snapped. Age is the interior's worst enemy.
I would highy recommend this car as a teen or batchelor's first ride, but not as a long-term vehicle solution.
So, I bought myself an 02 GTI about a year ago with 73,000 miles and it was a one owner car. Interior and exterior of the car was excellent. Sadly, 1 month after buying the car...the glove box door broke. The next month, my car started to make a horrible noise. Took it to my trustworthy mechanic, and he said that the waterpump had gone bad. Along with that I had the waterpump, timing belt, etc..replaced; $1,000. Later on, my heater blower, windshield wipers, and turn signals ALL went out...in the middle of winter. Come to find out after replacing a few things it was the relay switch; $35. Still not finished, after dealing with that. The check engine light came on, needed a NEW TRANSMISSION.
The car is very sporty looking and is fun to drive when everything is fixed.
I would have suggested VW to improve the mk4 tiptronic transmissions. They're crap and expensive to replace. I went ahead and had a 5 speed swap done with mine. Overall, I spent $7,000 to buy the car, and now I've spent $5,000 in repairs.
I bought my 2002 VW GTI 1.8L turbo used with 50,000 mile on it. It is a rocket ship of a car: fast, nimble, quick as a cat. This car is a blast to drive. You can mod the car to make it even faster raising the HP from 180 to 240 with a new ECU chip. But, all this being said, this car is the best/worst car you'll ever drive for this price. It requires dedicated maintenance and $'s to keep it in top shape. You'll grown as you pay the $1500 shop bill every 6 months, but when you rocket out of the parking lot you'll say, "Yeah baby!" The best/worst girlfriend you ever will have! She'll rock your world and drain your wallet at the same time. And you'll just smile.
Even compared to modern Toyotas and Hondas they just don't compare to the driving experience of my 2002 Volkswagen Golf 1.8T. I bought it used back in 2005 with 30k miles on it 11 years later and the car still holds it own. Sure I've had to do some maintenance on it but it was the usual stuff: Timing belt/Water pump at 60k, brakes at 90k, clutch at 100k. Parts of the interior has somewhat fallen apart due to my negligence but it still very practical. Cargo space is plentiful with the folding rear seats I can haul stuff in this little hatch: groceries, trees, furniture, you name it. All in all a great fun car that still holds its own despite it's age. I will be driving this car to the ground.
Some of the build quality is questionable: for example my door handle inexplicably broke off one day, the door panel cloths came undone. Little things like this.