The GTi is a performance legend, and I was very keen to experience it for myself. Sure enough, right from the first drive, I was hooked by the car's instant throttle response, grip on the road, ability to be chucked into corners, and overall driver involvement.
The engine is torquey and a good performer. At 3,000 RPM the fun really starts. This car will turn you into a hooligan around town fairly quickly. Be aware though, that once you reach 80 MPH, the car is out of ideas.
The brakes were also something of a disappointment. They felt rather weak and spongy, and consequentially I never felt confident in pushing the car to the limits that the engine and chassis suggested it was capable of.
The cabin, trim etc. were about exactly what you would expect of a VW; in other words perfectly functional, but fairly boring.
Reliability was not a strong point for this car. I get the feeling that every component was designed to do 100,000 miles and not much more. This is the point when I bought the car, and sure enough, I ended spending a lot of time replacing and fixing things. My girlfriend's 1996 VW Passat seems to have a lot of the same problems as well. I think my overall advice is to buy Japanese if you want a minimum of mechanical hassle.
Fuel economy was not great either, probably 30-35 mpg depending on how I drove. This is roughly what you would expect of a 2.0, but I was hoping for a little more given how light the car is. Still, you get plenty of performance.
My ownership of this car ended abruptly with a spectacular accident at 110,000 miles. I was driving along country lanes at about 50 mph, and another car came around the corner about a foot over on my side of the road. I swerved to avoid it, clipped the bank, and that was enough to flip the car. It rolled two and a half times and I exited the car by crawling out upside down through the shattered windscreen. Credit where credit is due; the car took the accident very well and the cabin was not crushed at all. Well done VW.