Having had VW Golf's in my family since growing up, I have always wanted one. Going from a 250hp+ MR2 Turbo to a Mk3 GTI, 8v I was expecting it to be extremely lethargic, but was pleasantly surprised by the performance! By no means a 'ballistic missile', but bags of torque for a quick drive with little effort.
As many people say it does feel like a grown up GTI, meaning it feels a little 'softer' than previous incarnations. The softer suspension and heavier weight mean it is designed for those covering a variety of roads and motorways rather than a back-road blaster. It does, however, still retain the old GTI's fine neutral balance when pushed to the limit; good to know with the dangers of modern roads.
A lot of these cars are available as people go for newer models, I believe I got myself a bargain, £500 got me a 95 GTI 8v, MOT'd, with FSH and the important belt changes. Take your time when buying as there are a lot about so you can be choosy. Look for a good history on the car with evidence of timing belt changes on cars over 80k. A well serviced VW engine can easily top 200k. Check panel gaps, front panels and boot (trunk) for signs of previous crash damage. Also check for oil leakages from the head gasket or leaks from parts such as the radiator hoses.
A common problem on older VW's is the Idle Stabilisation Valve. This part is an easy fix, but is over £200 for a new one. There are some around on auction houses and owners clubs from as little as £15 if you want to take a gamble.
Electrics seem to be a problem on some cars, so it may be wiser to budget a couple of hundred pound's for new plugs, leads, dizzy if you are unsure of the age of them on your purchase.
Another problem, as on my car, is the fading of paint on area's such as the front wing and boot lid. This is a common problem on older paint's so always view in good light. Rust can be a problem too although the body protection is a lot better than the older mk1/2 cars, check around sill's, arches and rear boot for sign's.
All in all this is a lovely little runabout that can handle long distances as well as the shopping run with little effort. It has good build quality and dash that still looks fairly modern by today's standards. It can hold it's own with a lot of modern machinery, but is not quite a GTI; for that you want the VR6.