I bought my R32 brand new in 2004 after test driving much more expensive cars. Nothing compared. I have owned my car 8 years. I have pampered it (garaged in the winter, park it like it is a Ferrari, etc) and it looks brand new (kudos to VW for the Tornado Red paint holding up like it is showroom condition 8 years later). I have not had one problem with it -- most trouble free car I have owned (compared to more expensive cars I have owned from BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, Acura). And, more than any car (Lexus SC400 comes in a close second, and Toyota MR2 a distant third), this BY FAR is the most fun car I have owned. Hard to describe, but 8 years later, I am more elated than day bought.
I purchased the vehicle at a great price because it had a lot of miles on it, I have been driving it ever since i bought it and wouldn't trade it for the world. I work at a dealership and I've driven my share of cars, this one takes the cake as the most fun car I have ever driven. Period. Everything about it screams amazing, the look, the styling, the epic exhaust sound, the amazing handling, the peppy speed, the smooth six speed gearbox, and last but surely not the end or least, the epic brakes. All around this car is a great buy, coming with numerous interior features that barely come standard on your common exensive BMW. Like I said, wouldn't trade it for anything.
At 60+ I'm probably not the usual R32 driver but it's been my daily ride for nearly 6 years. I drive it hard and love it. Reliability has been good other than for major transmission repairs at 35,000 and 65,000 miles along with clutch replacements at the same time. I don't think I drive THAT hard, but maybe I push it harder than the average driver. I've heard that AWD vehicles a hard on their drive trains because their wheels can't slip to release strain. Other than that issue a wheel bearing at 70,000 and an instrument cluster replacement under warranty have been the only other major repairs. I've yet to replace the brakes (maybe that's why I have worn out the clutches!)
Other than a 2003 Porsche, this R32 has been my favorite of the dozen cars (mostly European) I have owned the last 30 years. It is uber-practical and has as much performance as I need. I run it stock, other than the snow tires I switch to in winter months. Really pleased at the high resale value retained by this limited production car. Only "problem" I have experienced is an ocassional false "loose fuel cap" warning when the gas tank runs low. Low maintenance costs (relative to BMW/Porsche/Audi) has been a very pleasant bonus - less than half the amount of my other cars.
When I bought the car used with 25K miles, I checked the service history with my VW dealer and found out that it already had a replaced alternator, water pump, and one other component they couldn't determine. I started having rear drive problems after I bought it. Found out the Haldex unit was toast and was replaced under warranty. Although handling was excellent, the car was overweight and the AWD didn't fully compensate. Interior had the same groans and moans as my previous '03 Anniverary Edition GTI. The Ann. Edition was a better value for the money. Overall, the R32 provides a rewarding experience, but the premium is high, and reliability is a hit and miss proposition.