The car is comfortable to drive, aided by its low, bucket-like seats and its soft suspension.
Inside, it is pleasant. Instrument panel lights are a cool blue colour, though this can be off-putting if driving while tired. It's roomy too, in the 5-door version I have. Boot space is impressive, and with the rear seats folded down, I've never been stuck for transporting my goods.
Appearance-wise, that's a subjective matter, but I've always liked the look of the Golf. However, the splitter which runs under the front bumper, easily tears off when driving over ramps/kerbs, as do the engine splashguards if they sag slightly. Side mirrors are of poor quality, and if the casing is cracked or damaged, it seems to progress rapidly, and within weeks, you may find yourself without a mirror!
Performance is nothing special. It takes a good while to build up speed, and first gear is a particular slog. I don't like to rev it beyond 2500rpm, but sometimes it needs to be in that 3000-4000rpm rev range to move a little more rapidly. On the motorway, it holds very well at speeds over 60mph (I've had it at 110mph, and it wasn't a bit unstable - though that could have been the speedo going a little berserk - I was going downhill). At higher speeds, there is no improvement in performance, but it is more than adequate for standard driving.
Economy is two-fold. Around town and short journeys, it truly will harm your pocket. I haven't calculated what MPG I've been getting, but for a 1400cc engine, I would have expected a little bit more from its tank. On longer, faster runs it's very good. 3500-4000rpm is the range you expect to drive in (if you abide by the speed limit) and I have covered 120 miles for €18 in the past. With recent petrol increased, it's now a little over €22.
Reliability has been OK, though I've never quite trusted the car completely. We changed the timing belt and water pump when I bought the car and put some scrubbed tyres on. It passed the NCT (equivalent of MOT) first time, but problems arose thereafter.
The backbox was corroding away (not sure how long it was on the car), so had that replaced. The airbag light came on (apparently due to low pressure in the airbag) - I had it turned off, but it came back on after a few months. Rear brake light bulb had to be replaced, and then went again soon after. We replaced the clutch disc and pressure plate at 89000 miles, and thereafter, the brake light remained on (perhaps our fault for not rewiring something correctly).
After a day of flooding in Dublin last year, the car would not start the following morning. Seemed like the distributor leads got wet and allowed water in at the spark plug and corroded it. The car eventually started, but was backfiring, running on 3 cylinders I think. We cleaned up the spark plug and the engine was running smoothly again. So far, the problem has not reoccurred, so maybe the distributor leads were not reattached correctly after some other work done on the car. I'm not sure.
A recent, odd experience was having the half-shaft (passenger side) come away from the differential flange while driving. It may have been that the bolts were incorrectly torqued back in place after the clutch job, though I find that hard to swallow, given our seriousness and attention with the job. Without the tools to remove the sheared-off bolt in the flange, we replaced five of the bolts and left the other idle. It is running fine with these five bolts, and hopefully, will continue to do so. The gear-linkage, which went missing in the process, was replaced.
But I reckon it's mostly reliable - the work I've carried out has been a lot of routine maintenance.