Lovely car to drive, and excellent TDI engine giving barely believable economy, with good, useful performance. I drove both the 115 and 130PS versions and thought there was very little in it, although the 115 PS is not quite as refined under load.
Unfortunately, despite its strengths, the ownership experience has been spoiled heavily by poor build quality, so-so reliability and unsympathetic dealers. I know all engines use oil for example, but find it hard to accept that the oil needs to be topped up at every refuel to avoid it dropping below the "MIN" mark on the dipstick. The dealer isn't interested and fobs me off.
"VW Approved Used" warranty has weasled out of paying for both the glovebox catches that failed, and the glow plugs which made starting a nightmare through the winter of 2003/4. The former is particularly irritating as it is a known fault on the mk4 Golf. My father's year newer 130 and his work colleague's 1.6 petrol have both had the same problem.
Although it seems to be a quality machine when you sit in it, the mk4 Golf somehow lacks the "hewn from rock" feel of the mk1-mk3 Golfs. Although the interior is comfortable and constructed from expensive looking materials, the standard of fit and finish, not to mention durability are well below what I expect from a so-called "quality" brand. My brother has a Focus with twice this mileage which has fewer creaks and squeaks inside.
After a Mk1 Golf, a Scirocco, two mk2 Golfs, and 2 mk3's, this will be my last VW. I didn't mind paying a price premium when I was getting quality, but now I feel they have been caught and overtaken even by mainstream brands. A shame, as the car itself is lovely. I'm not prepared to risk a mk5 however.