No car this small has the right to be this quiet and feel so much larger acoustically than the Golf. I totally mean this as a compliment. Coarse road surfaces bring out expected tire roar, but it does the same in cars known to be quiet performers too.
The Audio system is very good considering the overall price. Base and midrange is clear at speeds around 80 mph (as far as I have done so far)
(My cell on speakerphone volume level #3 /10 sounded clear from the cupholder while cruising at 65 mph. To put it into perspective, the same phone at #10 max volume speaker phone was all but undecipherable over the same stretch of the freeway due to road noise).
The car handles minor and major road defects with aplomb lacking in cars almost twice its price. Its not a track day car by far, but its definitely an amateurs canyon carver. It inspires confidence in corners and the limits are quite high. The suspension is extremely forgiving and body roll is very subdued. The suspension is very forgiving over large pot-holes and substantial expansion joints.
Automotive experts are rather harsh with the 5 cylinder 2.5L engine sound. Sure, after testing cars that cost 3 to 10 times as much as the golf does, almost all lesser cars are at a disadvantage. But considering all sub $20K car engines, this one is a jewel. Its gruffness and low end grunt suits the character of the car. Its a strong engine over its entire power-band and in the daily cut and thrust, its got ample power and can accelerate on on-ramps with a huge safety margin to spare. It can live within its normal envelop of daily duties without feeling strained.(the engine sounds better in the Golf than in the Jetta). A $650 AWE-tuning muffler would make this engine sound almost exotic.
Materials & workmanship
Here is the true selling point for the Golf for those who value substance and quality vs Style and quantity of accouterments. Almost every surface in the front and rear has heft and depth in quality to it. If the VW logo on the steering were replaced with an Audi's one would be ok with it. But its phenomenal that it can be had for just above $17K. No other economy car comes even close.
Paint quality is exceptional and "orange peel" effect is minimal and hard to identify. Under body and under hood plastics feel and look of good quality and well designed. No flashy designs here. Guaranteed, 10 years from now - it will still look fresh.
Driving position & visibility
The driving stance is near perfect for me (5'10". The front seats bottoms are long enough to support your thighs. The accelerator pedal hinges from the floor so its very easy to modulate correct throttle adjustments. The automatic shift lever is straight forward and none of that gated nonsense which should apply to sport manual equipped cars. The seating position manages to be upright and low-slung sporty at the same time. Lumbar support is available and the seats are deeply bolstered. Sight-lines all around are very good and if the mirrors are adjusted correctly, the blind spots all but disappear. Rear seats are firm but comfortable with good support.
In this day and age, this particular engine should have been able to have an overall fuel consumption figure of 28 to 30 mpg rather than 24 to 25 mpg combined. (its geared more towards performance rather than economy). The car is definitely no slouch, and acceleration is quite good. But in terms of fuel economy these days, having your cake and eating it too is a given isn't it? One saving grace is that this is VW's most reliable engine, so being able to drive a German engineered affordable substantial vehicle is a worthy trade off. At least, that's the excuse i used.
Past personal experience
I've owned a 2001 New Beetle GLS 2.slow, and believe you me, overcoming my past affliction with the unreliability with this Beetle was my biggest hurdle to surpass in becoming an owner of the 2013 Golf 2.5L. VW's are excellent cars to drive and live with and any VW owner will attest that their cars develop character over time, unlike the past appliance like character of Japanese cars I've owned. I'm hoping that the squeaks, rattles and electronic gremlins of the past are long gone in the 3rd and final production year of this updated design. Time will tell and i look forward to updating you all with my good or bad fortune. (knocking on wood right now!).
All VW dealerships tend to stock cars with higher option levels, thereby negotiating a lower price becomes harder than usual. This means that the fewer moderately equipped cars can tend to be driven between dealerships as trades before the first owner gets to drive it. Its easy to pay too much for these cars because of the quality they exude and because they can be frugally equipped as base models. Make sure you absolutely need these features before you commit to the high price they demand as once over $21K, its harder to justify the 2.5l with the 2.0 TDI and 2.0 GTI. Solution: visit the dealership that has the car you want as they are motivated to sell what they have rather than trade.
The 17 and 18 inch wheels look great but in this small a car, they tend to make the ride a bit harsh (totally livable on smooth roads, but realistically, these roads are few and far in-between). If maximum comfort is your requirement, resist the urge to splurge on the larger rim size as the little 15 inch wheels steel rims provide the cushiest most forgiving ride with least penalty. Decent 15 inch alloys can be purchased separately for under $500 rather than splurging to a higher equipped model or VW sourced $1800 alloy wheel kit.
Warranty, maintenance cost
3 oil changes at every 10k miles does not a "scheduled carefree maintenance" plan make. The service is mostly a gimmick and at the very most accounts to $250. Its definitely a valid service, but not that big a deal. It does not cover wear items like tires, brake pads, wiper blades etc. Also, the finance guys work against the image VW is trying to build around reliability and dependability. Yes you will need the extended warranty if you intend to keep this car a while. But know that many insurance companies offer Mechanical Breakdown coverage for a fraction of the cost from VW for the same 7 years 100K miles. There are a few more things to consider, but all this for a fraction of the cost.