we have a golf mk3 gti they are quite cheap to buy as they are older shaped but we have had ours for years its a fab nippy reliable little car with a boot big enough for most push chairs and plenty of leg space. our car is a p reg so is over 10years old but it has everything we need on it, electric windows, electric sunroof etc etc, even more bits and pieces than a modern day cheepie car, you don't have to buy a new golf to have a fab car ours is begining to look retro and quite funky but you have to keep it clean and sparkly or it doesn't look loved! if the mk3 is a bit too out dated for you a mk4 is just as good but newer shaped. (as you can probably tell i love my car and think the sunshines from it, but it is an overall wonderful little car )
We recently traded in our vw toureg for a passatt estate and it is fab. 60 miles to the gallon (I have a diesel), low servicing and road tax, and really comfy for long journeys. we have had 4 vw and they all have been great, including a golf and a golf plus. I was gutted to lose the toureg but it just cost too much to run everyday!
tbh, i think it's the same with any make of car, there are good ones and bad ones. i have 2 friends who have always favoured vw, in particular golfs. one discovered her car had been sold to her with a bent subframe (admittedly it was second and and she didn;t get it checked over before buying), and the other (this one was brand new) spent more time driving a courtesy car as hers spent so much time in the garage being fixed.
We have had a few different Golfs over the years nd DH likes them a lot. VW are very reliable in our experience and well built cars. There are cheaper options yes, but DH prefers VW to things like Seat and Skoda.
We have had various models from deisel to GTIs, and currently have the Golf R. Now the latter is pretty pricy for a hatchbook, but DH likes it.
DH and I have had various Golfs and Polos over the years, and have loved them. Mostly diesel, but also petrol We now both drive Skodas - both company cars and neither of us had the choice of VWs - and they are very similar feel/drive/quality as the equivalent VW, although trim level is more basic. I have also had an Audi A4 which I hated. Fuel thirsty,sluggish for size, tiny boot for size, v high tax (road tax and company car tax).
Either way, I can't see us choosing any other than VW/Skoda in future.
We have a diesel Passat estate and we love it. It has a lot of oomph, and yet we get a reasonable mileage from it (though I have to close my eyes once the fuel guage at the petrol station goes past £60). It seemed to be reasonable in comparison with similar cars (it's an 06 reg) when we bought it and we haven't had any problems with it so far.
I don't think you can fit 3 car seats across the back though, if that's an issue.
Much better value is a Skoda Superb (shame the old model doesn't come in estate though). 90% VW/Audi so will run the same. Massive rear cabin. Super cheap secondhand. For a real Golf beater/family practical car an Octavia estate is hard to beat too.