Well, I drove one yesterday at my local dealer.
As nice as all the reviews. If you have 20k+ and want a new car you honestly wouldn't feel short changed in any way.
Felt at home straight away. Normally takes me ages to find my ideal driving position (I gave up after 30 mins of messing in the case of a Clio 182 and in my S3 it took a great deal of messing to get a position which was just ok). A quick fiddle with the wheel adjustment and we were away.
One of the first things I noticed was the great throttle response and very impressive pick up from low revs in any gear. 4th gear, 2000 revs, plant the accelerator and away you go.
Loved the steering feel too - weighting spot on, and responsive too - as nice as my BMW 3 sport, but without the tramlining (on 17"'s at least), and light years ahead of my old S3.
Brakes very good, if a bit snathcy at first.
Traction control fully engaged allowed a nice, natural-feeling amount of slip, and even though the pair of us were really hammering it the car just did what it was told with no hesitation, supreme confidence and nothing noticeable in the way of torque or under steer. You would have to do something extremely silly to get badly out of shape in one of these, at least in the dry.
Having said that, it's really, genuinely involving and playful as you'd hope too and will twitch on demand. I read somewhere recently (and whole-heartedly agree) that one of the best driving feelings is when a car's apparent limits are close to (or maybe even slghtly below) your own as a driver. I got that feeling in the Golf yesterday. I'm sure the Golf's real limits are way above my own (thankfully), but it gave me that "driving on the edge" feeling that I don't get in a lot of cars. I currently have a fairly new BMW 330i sport and prior to that I had an S3 (chipped). I have enjoyed driving both of these a great deal, each for different reasons. IMHO one thing they have in common is that a lot of the time you just feel like a pilot in something with a great deal more ability than you as a driver. Sure you can burn most people off, but you have to push crazy speeds on the road to get the sort of buzz I hanker for. Not so in the Golf. It does make you want to drive quickly admittedly, but it rewards a lot lower down the scale than others.
What else? Well, the interior is nice - real, cold brushed metal. Stereo looks a bit Fisher Price although I believe the sound system is pretty good. Nicely positioned 6 disc changed under drivers armrest, with individual disc eject. Fantastic steering wheel, nice slick gear box (not in the slightest bit notchy like the 6 speeder out of the S3). Groovy dials (maybe a bit too cool, but at least the passenger can't read the speedo). This one had leather - very nice, but I sat in another with cloth and that was fine too (and £1700 cheaper). Loads of rear leg room. Good quality overall, no complaints.
Outside looks purposeful. Only disappointment is the HUGE expanse of rear bumper which is plactic. The plastic spoiler trim elsewhere looks fine, but I would have to get something done about the back bumper - I was thinking maybe getting the top half of the bottom section sprayed, leaving the cutout over the exhaust in bare plastic. Disappointing to think that on a car at this price you'd have to spend extra to get it looking right, but as the rest of the car is so perfectly balanced I think I can forgive VW.
So there you go, I know you've heard a lot of this before in all the reviews, but it's true.
Would I get one? I'm thinking about it, it's just the cost to change vs. what it offers over and above my current car. My BM has everything I could need on paper, and when I got back in it I didn't immediately start picking fault (I should hope not). I just drove home and remembered I already have a great drivers car - just not as special, but is that enough of a reason? Hmmmmmm.....
Anyway, great car VW