Very quick car with immense amount of mid-range grunt. Very long gearing, but then it has the torque to cope with it, doesn't ever really feel like it is going to stop accelerating, even in 6th gear. Also sounds amazingly good for a diesel, especially under heavy throttle, with a real growl from the exhaust.
Nice slick 6-speed transmission with a good, positive, gear change.
Firm, well weighted steering with good feedback, although the variable rate nature of the power assistance can make it feel a little weird to begin with, but does make parking easier whilst still giving a sporty feel at speed.
Subjectively I would say the car does feel very heavy. Not in the way that it handles, but I find it can be reluctant to cruise along on the motorway at say 80mph without a definite pressure on the throttle, and this reflects in the fuel economy. If drive extremely sedately, on a motorway, at say, 60mph, it is fantastic. I can achieve 58mpg (measured when refilling tank, not based on trip computer), making 700 miles to a tank a possibility. However, driving even slightly more enthusiastically and the MPG really suffers, on a typical motorway trip I can barely make 40 to 42 mpg.
The ride is typical VW, excellent at speed but hard at slower speeds. My car, being the GT and a diesel, has much firmer springs, so imperfections in the road, potholes, and speed bumps really make themselves felt throughout the cabin.
General fit and feel of the cabin is really good... I drove one of the first Golf 5 models when released and was disappointed in the general quality, but my car seems much better. I especially like the way the center grab handles feel like they are made from girders, the whole car has a very solid feeling to it.
Equipment isn't really that generous for a £20K car... manual air-con, trip computer, single-slot CD, no leather apart from the steering wheel and gear lever gaiter. On the other hand, the seats are very comfortable and supportive, and the extra tweaks made to the GT Sport model make it look very mean, especially in black.
The car has an impressive amount of space, rear seats are very usable for adults even when I have the drivers seat set back. Nice large boot, and excellent headroom all round. With rear seats dropped, it has a cavernous loading area and I have been truly amazed how much I can fit in, compared to other hatchbacks I have owned.
Have some concerns about dealer service. Previous VW I owned about five years ago spent so much time with the dealer that I got rid of it after 9 months. The Golf seems much, much better though, and I use a local specialist to carry out servicing at a fraction of the VW network price.
I would definitely buy another of these cars, although you do need to be aware of the issues with the diesel particulate filter. Whilst this means you get no black smoke (really, I get absolutely none at all), if the car is only used for short journeys around town and in traffic, the DPF filter will not get hot enough to clean itself, and this can lead to the engine management system putting the car into limp home mode with hardly any power until you take it to a VW dealer.