It's amazingly good, period
When I purchased the car, it already had bad:
Tie rod ends.
Several burnt out lights.
Hence, I paid nearly nothing for it. Double digits.
After I have replaced most of those parts (I left the CV axle to itself and it still works), it's been a fantastic car. Only left me stranded once, because I hit a pothole at 70 mph and ripped a radiator hose clean off. I filled it up with water and drove home. No calamities since.
This is such a good car, I cannot even begin to praise it enough. I keep up on regular maintenance (I order German parts exclusively) and use only premium fluids (Pentosin transmission oils, Pentofrost coolant, etc etc) and the car runs perfectly, never failing to start or even miss a beat.
There isn't really a whole lot of power though, although it would fool you otherwise because of how fun the power gets transferred to the wheels. 115 hp doesn't seem like a lot, however most of the torque is down low, so it's a perfect city car. I used to drive a 120 hp Civic, and it was nowhere near as pleasant and beefy to drive in the city. It was all revs before the Honda moved. This car I can realistically never exceed 2100 rpms whenever I shift gears. No lugging, it just pulls right along. Also, driving this way has netted me 31 mpg city. However, freeway mileage is pretty disappointing, considering it is sitting roughly at 32.5 mpg. Not bad of course, but a taller 5th gear is definitely in order, considering it has the torque to deal with it.
Handling is 10 leagues better than your average compact car. With 15" wheels, lower profile tires, and a somewhat stiff suspension, gives this car a "big go kart" feel. There's an on ramp near my house that says "35 mph max" on the sign. In my Ford, I take it going 40, in the VW, I turn in going 70, and it is less dramatic in terms of body roll than the Taurus. It handles with such precision that it makes driving such a fun experience.
I could go on for ages about why I love this car, but there are things I hate as well. It has a lot of annoying problems, such as the sunroof constantly needing attention and the heater never quite working right. The power windows in these cars are horrid, so I replaced my doors with manual windows. The reverse is completely shot in this car, and annoyingly works in all 5 forward speeds. There are constant check engine light issues, with various sensors all taking dumps. Replacing them ALL in advance has kept the engine light off for quite some time.
I have spent around 15 hours reworking everything in this car, and it really needed it. VW uses a lot of cool ideas and technology in their cars that make them great for the first few years. Variable length intake manifold, central vacuum actuated door locks, alarm systems and immobilizers, etc. However, when these cars get old, it's really easier just to disable all those stupid little systems and move on. My car has no alarm now, no power locks, no remote hatch release, no ignition immobilizer, no vacuum intake valve, no EGR valve, and VW stereo anymore. Since I've removed every annoying electrical feature, the car has been a thousand times better to use as a car. No more electrical problems.
In all, this car is fundamentally very reliable and excellent as a commuter car. It has all of the fun of a sporty car with none of the drawbacks, and has all of the practicality of a family car, with none of the boringness. I love the VW to death, and I think it is one of the best little cars money can buy, hands down.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 3rd May, 2011