01/02/07 — Attractive Rabbit back in showrooms

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Attractive Rabbit back in showrooms

VW Rabbit (2007)

What goes around comes around.

That old adage has some relevancy because here comes the Volkswagen Rabbit again. 

The Rabbit is back, Volkswagen's answer to the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. Actually, the Rabbit has been roaming the American landscape since it was introduced as the replacement for the old Beetle in 1975. But in 1985 it became the Golf, the name it has carried worldwide since its inception.

VW Rabbit, 2007

Now we’re back to the Rabbit in the U.S. and, frankly, we were puzzled with the name change until we delved into some Rabbit chatter on the Internet. The original Rabbit, which was manufactured in Pennsylvania from 1976 through 1984, was an entertaining little car. But it was poorly made with inferior materials. And by today’s standards it was agonizingly unreliable.

We remember road testing a new Rabbit GTI in 1983, a pocket rocket that offered a delightful driving experience, but rattled so much we had no trouble handing the keys back to the salesman.

The Rabbit seems to be fondly remembered despite its proclivity for mediocrity.

We found a guy on our Web travels who wrote that his 1981 Rabbit is a “great around town car,” and noted that he would buy another Volkswagen. 

So what’s the big deal?

He made those statements AFTER citing a laundry list of problems under the heading “what things have gone wrong with this car.” The list included “steering rack replacement, all hoses in engine replaced, alternator replaced, heater core replaced, brakes replaced, ignition switch replaced (twice), muffler replaced, water in headlight compartment, roof leaks, trunk leaks, paint rusted, rear window defroster broken, speedometer cable replaced, horn broken, driver's seat recline knob broken and turn signal assembly replaced.”

Granted, the car is 25 years old, but most cars that age with that much aggravation would now be decorating the far corner of a junkyard.

And there are dozens of missives much like that one.

It has to be Rabbit love.

And that gave us an insight into the resurrection of the Rabbit name.

Fortunately, the new Rabbit has little relationship to the old one except for the driving dynamics, which continue to be among the best in the segment. Volkswagen’s build quality, fit and finish, interior materials and reliability are far superior today than in the late ’70s and mid ’80s. 

The Rabbit has a nostalgic cachet and Volkswagen saw dollar signs in dredging up the name. At least that seems a good theory. 

The Rabbit is actually the new fifth-generation Golf with classic Rabbit/Golf squared-off styling that now comes with more rounded lines, an appealing look in a familiar sort of way. The first vehicles, shipped in the spring and summer were tagged 2006 models. In October, they became 2007 models, basically unchanged.

The Golf/Rabbit design has never been one of swooping lines and sexy curves. But the new iteration, which shares a platform and an engine with the more upscale Jetta, is aerodynamic and the design speaks volumes for functionality over styling simply for styling’s sake.

The prime example is in the rear-seating area where head room is abundant thanks to the squared-off rear. The Rabbit is truly a four-adult-passenger car in both two-door or four-door models.

The Rabbit has a more classic Volkswagen stance than the new Jetta and is devoid of the over-the-top big-mouth Jetta/Passat grille treatment. And that’s a good thing. Despite its boxy design, the Rabbit has a crouching look, like it’s ready for action. Some of that look is derived from the color-keyed bumpers and doorhandles on the four-door model.

One of the more appealing aspects of the Rabbit is its eye-popping list of standard features, starting with the peppy 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, for the base price of $15,620 for the two-door hatch and $17,620 for the four-door. 

And unlike most manufacturers who fill their dealer lots with option-laden vehicles, Volkswagen says that more than a third of all Rabbits will reach dealers in base trim. 

Base trim on our four-door test car included air conditioning, power one-touch up and down windows, power heated outside mirrors, adjustable wipers, cruise control, AM-FM stereo with six-CD changer and MP3 jack, heated front seats, antilock brakes and a full array of airbags including side curtain.

The most popular option will probably be the six-speed automatic in place of the five-speed manual transmission for $1,075. Our tester also added a power sunroof, Electronic Stabilization Program, 16-inch alloy wheels (15-inch wheels are standard) and XM Satellite radio. That brought the bottom line to $20,920 including destination charge.

The good news is that the new 5-cylinder engine generating 150 horsepower is energetic and fun to drive. The bad news — there’s no optional powerplant for those willing to pay a couple grand extra for more horsepower or for those willing to pay more for a fuel-efficient diesel.

The new engine gives the Rabbit a playful nature. It’s got enough grunt to zip from stoplight to stoplight and it’s tossable on the winding back roads thanks in part to a fully independent suspension system.

Zero to 60 can be achieved in under nine seconds with the automatic, certainly not pocket rocket territory, but satisfying none-the-less.

Switchgear and gauges are standard Volkswagen. That means most of the controls are intuitive and easy to use. It also means the instrument panel lighting is the typical Volkswagen blue and red, very appealing.

The seats are comfortable, and the front passenger seatback can be folded flat to haul such things as a step ladder.

In addition to decent headroom, rear seat passengers also are rewarded with decent legroom, which is exemplary in a compact design. They also get individual reading lights and cupholders. When not hauling passengers, the interior can be configured for 69 cubic feet of cargo space.

As a bonus Volkswagen has generous warranties — four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and five-year/60,000 powertrain.

If you are looking for comfortable, basic transportation at a price that won't break the budget and that can accommodate a small family while offering a rewarding driving experience, the new Rabbit might be your animal of choice.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on January 2, 2007 2:59 PM