2009 Volkswagen Rabbit

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2006 Volkswagen Rabbit

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Volkswagen is betting that there is lots of equity in Rabbit nameplate.
Pros:
  • More fun than typical compact
  • Practical
  • Good highway fuel economy
Cons:
  • Ordinary styling
  • Average city fuel economy
  • Subpar dealer service history

Volkswagen has resurrected its iconic "Rabbit" nameplate to replace the drab "Golf" name for the fifth-generation Golf to be sold in America.

Smart move, because the Golf name never meant much to Americans. Conversely, many remember the small, lively, popular VW Rabbit sold here from 1975 through 1984, when the car was renamed the Golf—the German name for the Gulf Stream, not the sport.

The Rabbit name means nothing to Europeans. In fact, they think Americans are crazy for favoring the Volkswagen Jetta notchback with its regular trunk over the more versatile Golf, which has a hatchback. But then, Europeans couldn't understand why Americans were ga-ga about the original, antiquated Volkswagen Beetle, last sold here in 1979.

The similar sized front-wheel-drive Jetta and Golf long have been almost mechanically identical, and the slightly larger new fifth-generation Golf—er, Rabbit—shares the fifth-generation Jetta's more powerful base 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. It generates 150 horsepower and replaces a marginal 115-horsepower 4-cylinder engine.

Relaunching Image
It's hoped that the Rabbit name on the latest Golf to be sold in America will help Volkswagen relaunch its image as a maker of affordable, efficient, fun-to-drive cars after blowing part of its image by offering the $66,700-$101,300 Phaeton luxury sedan, which it's discontinuing here.

The Rabbit succeeds a Golf model that dates to 1999. The new car has more muscular styling, and Volkswagen is betting that the Rabbit name will allow catchy advertising and lure back folks who owned one of the old Rabbits, However, many who remember that Rabbit have aged out of the car's target market of 18-to-34-year-olds.

The Rabbit was the first Volkwagen made in America, where it was produced in Pennsylvania from 1978 to 1984. The new Rabbit is built in Wolfsburg, Germany, not VW plants in Mexico, Brazil or other countries, although it's questionable if anyone cares where cars are built these days.

Only in America
The Rabbit name will be used only in America for the new Golf, which has been sold in Europe for several years but hasn't been offered here for various corporate reasons. Funny, but the only Rabbit identification I could find on the car was a small Rabbit-shaped chrome emblem on the hatch, but perhaps that's enough.

The Rabbit's smooth engine doesn't make the 2,974-3,137-pound car all that fast, with a 0-60 mph time of 8.9 seconds. But it provides lively enough performance. Plenty of torque means a driver need not to shift gears often to keep up with traffic, and there is instant response when flooring the accelerator with the automatic transmission that was in my test car. Some 90 percent of torque is on tap from a low 1750 rpm.

Good Highway Economy
Estimated fuel economy with both manual and automatic is 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. Only regular-grade fuel is needed.

The Rabbit is quiet and solidly built, although it remains to be seen if subpar VW dealer service improves. The car comes with two or four doors and is more functional looking than handsome. Wheels are pushed to the far corners of its aerodynamic body, which rides on a 101.5-inch wheelbase for more interior space.

The Rabbit is offered with either a 5-speed manual or responsive 6-speed automatic transmission. Prices begin at $14,990 for the 2-door version and at $16,990 for the 4-door. The automatic has manual-shift capability and adds $1,075 to those prices.

Fairly Well-Equipped
Standard are air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD with MP3 capability, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping wheel, manually adjustable front seats, a split-folding rear seat and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.

The 4-door adds heated front seats, front and rear center armrests, fold-flat front passenger seat, upgraded sound system, better seats with a power driver-side recline feature and even heated windshield washer nozzles.

Safety Items
Safety items include front-seat side and side-curtain airbags (rear side airbags for the 4-door cost $350), traction control, limited-slip differential and anti-lock disc brakes. For child seat safety, the Rabbit uses the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) with marked anchorage points.

Options include a $1,000 power sunroof, $375 XM satellite radio and a $450 anti-skid system, which is well worth the money.

Quick electro-mechanical power steering has good on-center feel at higher speeds and nice feedback on winding roads. The chassis delivers a supple ride and nimble handling. The brake pedal, though, needs a more linear action, although stops are quick, thanks partly to electronic brake-pressure distribution.

Roomy
Front seats provide good support, and there's good room for four tall adults. Rear doors open wide, and rear seat room is impressive—although getting in and out of the 2-door Rabbit calls for dexterity.

The driving position is comfortable, and the speedometer and tachometer are easy to read, although the fuel and coolant temperature gauges are too small.

The Rabbit 4-door's front center armrest has a cooled storage compartment. All doors contain storage pockets, and front cupholders are easily reached. However the manual backrest adjuster for the front passenger seat is hard to reach and difficult to use.

The hatch swings open smoothly on struts, and there's a low, wide opening for the large, nicely shaped cargo area. Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward to enlarge the cargo area and sit flat.

The Rabbit's sheer practicality promises to win over those who want a safe, efficiently designed German-designed car, but so will its sporty character.

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BB06 - 9/3/2014 12:24:11 AM