VW Rabbit: All new, but not noticeable

By The Car Family

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The Golf is dead. Long live the Rabbit. Volkswagen has seen fit to rename its handy compact and load it with more features and a higher asking price. The two- or four-door body styles have more of everything from interior space to power to handling capabilities. Oh, and pricing has increased with the MSRP now starting around $17,000 (US).

For the increased price Volkswagen is offering a plethora of standard equipment starting with 15-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors, power windows and locks, a keyless entry system, cruise control, a CD changer and upscale audio system. The four-door even has more standard features. Key options include an iPod adapter, satellite radio, and tire pressure monitoring system. We highly recommend the $450 electronic stabilization system.

On the downside is lackluster fuel economy, we average 23 mpg in mixed driving, which is not nearly as good as the competitors. If you like the new Rabbit and need the extra mileage we recommend you wait until a diesel version arrives which is good for at least ten miles more per gallon. The two- and four-door Rabbits also are available in sportier GTI trim with 200-hp. turbocharged engines. A R32 version with 250 horsepower is planned and certain to be in demand.

A major concern of ours was the fact that this new model didn’t turn a single head. It looks so much like the older version people had no idea this was the fresh model. Adding to that is it is nearly identical in size to the Golf it replaced and you have the enormous potential for mistaken identity.

Driving the Rabbit is fun and the new independent rear suspension works well to make handling corners enjoyable despite steering that lacks much feel. You need to order the optional larger tire and wheel package to get the full advantage out of what makes this model entertaining and that is its tossable nature.

Mom’s view: Very low to the ground and not that easy to gain entry without ducking your head, this new Rabbit is not my favorite. I did like the interior and found the seats fairly comfortable, but clearly this is a younger person’s car until you see the price tag of nearly $20,000 with optional moonroof, heated front seats, and most everything else you could want. It has a handy fold down flat rear seat with a 60/40-split and the passenger seat can fold flat should you have the urge to buy a ladder or go skiing by yourself.

Safety wise you have four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, active head restraints, side-impact and side curtain airbags with an optional electronic stability system offered. The Rabbit safety ratings were four out of a possible five stars for frontal crashes and five out of five for side-impact crashes. It doesn’t do as well in rear crash tests.

Dad’s view: The 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine makes just 150 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque meaning that either the five-speed manual or optional $1100 Tiptronic six-speed automatic transmission must work extra hard to exploit the Rabbit’s handling capabilities. Expect to reach 60 mph in about nine seconds.

On the road you’ll find that the sedan is frisky enough at low speeds as the torque comes on early with most of it ready to play around 2000 rpm. The clutch is difficult to master being soft with a high take up, but the manual transmission shifts are easy. Thanks to the independent rear suspensions cornering a simple matter of point and shift. There is a bit of vagueness to the steering, but it isn’t difficult to master. Of course the good handling comes at a price and the ride can be stern and tiresome on long trips over unkept roads. There is little road noise and the car feels heavier than its 3200 pounds. The four-wheel disc brakes work exceptionally well and make you feel secure.

College going male’s view:

Despite exterior measurements equaling the previous Golf, the five-passenger Rabbit interior has 7 percent more passenger volume. Most of that goes into the backseat area as rear passengers gain nearly 2 inches of legroom and more than an inch of headroom. Still entering and leaving the backseat in the two-door model isn’t easy.

The Rabbit’s illuminated gauges are love it or hate it red and blue and the same holds sway for all the other switches and knobs as well. The result is a bit circusie, but they are easy to read. The steering wheel and seats are the best part of the interior as they both fit me very well. The wheel tilts and telescopes and the rear seats are easy to fold down. A handy and friendly car, the Rabbit isn’t a disappointment on the road, but the price prevents me from hopping onto this bandwagon.

Young working woman’s view: There is plenty here. From the everywhere air bags to the standard four wheel antilock disc brakes, to the air conditioning, heated front seats with a height adjusting lever, power windows, locks and mirrors, a good stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player, traction control, and plenty of small storage areas make it user friendly. I especially liked the way the controls were easy to reach, but the cupholders were too small and too shallow. Of all the features I was most enamored with the way you opened the rear hatch. You push the large Volkswagen hinged emblem and it unlocks the cargo bay. Easy to use and shuts soundly.
The 14.5-gallon tank is good enough to make 300-mile trips without refueling an easy task and it was also reassuring to have the Volkswagen warranty that extends to four years or 50,000 miles limited and an extra year and additional 10,000 miles of coverage for the powertrain.

The Rabbit just didn’t fill my needs. If I buy a compact car I want better fuel mileage than the Rabbit and I want a sporty car I want more performance. Both are available elsewhere for less. On the other hand, this is a very solid feeling drive with a perky feel and an eager to please and playful nature.

Family conference: We liked the Passat wagon a great deal and felt it was well priced, but the Rabbit appears to be too expensive for what it offers. It is good handling, but that costs in ride quality, and the gas mileage is not good enough considering the performance of the engine. We believe it certainly has appeal to younger buyers and is fun to drive. However, with its same old looks are they going to want to pay for the privilege of driving a vehicle doesn’t differ much from its predecessor. The bottom line for us is that the Rabbit is much improved and more capable now. It will certainly appeal to those who like the Volkswagen image and spunky performance. Whatever you do consider waiting for the more powerful engine if you like driving.   The competition is mainly the Mazda 3.

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