if you want the hot rod look, how about a used vw gti? or you could get a golf, lower it, change the turn signal covers, get a racing exhaust, etc...
I agree with matadorpoeta. I own a 2003 VW GTI (Anniversary Edition), and while it retails for a few thousand more than your price range, I would recommend it for consideration. The 2004 GLI might also be worth a look if a sedan is more appropriate. Keep an eye on the price drops, incentives, or deals over the next few months as the 5th generation Golf/Jetta begins to arrive at dealerships. I've found my VW
to be both easy to maintain and upgrade myself, and the array of aftermarket products is stunning. I've done a 6 disc CD changer, Euro spec light switch, smoked side markers and indicators, K&N air filter, rear fog light, blue LED interior lighting (doors, vanity mirrors, map lights, rear domes, trunk), OZ Racing center caps, Enfig MotorSport antenna mast, Hella smoked tails, and Llumar 35% tint. For some idea of the variety of projects, check out VW Vortex
, a great VW community website.