I recently ordered a Subaru Outback Sport. I got an ok, not great deal. I spent a lot of time at the Subaru message boards here.
Anyway, I definitely wanted a 4-door hatch for versatility, AWD, and I didn't want to pay more than 20K. That ruled everything out except the Subaru. I test drove a Golf 1.8T which was nice, but it didn't handle any better than my '87 Integra. Both the Golf and the Subaru felt solid and tight to me, but I'm used to a rattly old car. I've heard people say that the materials in the Golf are much better than the Subaru, but I didn't notice. The Golf does have better safety features, however, and rear disc brakes vs. the Subaru's rear drums.
I also liked that the Subaru has a little extra clearance. I did not want an SUV. Another bonus is that these cars are not popular where I live.
I had started looking late last year, but when I discovered that the Impreza line was going to be redesigned, I waited for the 2002 model and I'm glad I did.
#5 of 5 Hi brekke- Thanks for sharing your purchase experience with us!