I only drove the Rabbit briefly, but my overwhelming impression is that it oozes quality and refinement for an $18,000 car. There is nothing about it that feels cheap, from the nicely damped exterior door handles to the typically well-crafted VW interior, with its great seats, to the smooth and refined 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. There’s nice steering feel and a supple ride, and I didn’t even mind that the inline-five, which at 170 hp provides plenty of power, was hooked to an automatic transmission, since it’s a six-speed unit that’s well mated to the engine. If it were me, though, I’d opt for the five-speed manual and use the thousand-dollar savings toward a four-door Rabbit, which has a base price of $17,485. Still, if you’re looking to get into a high-quality small car, the two-door Rabbit with a five-speed manual, starting at $15,490, is a very attractive proposition. And heated seats are only a $225 option!
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
It was such a long, excruciating day today. I trudged out of the office, slogged to the parking structure, and came face-to-face with a two-door Rabbit. Sigh. My first thought was, “I need a chauffeur.” Big sigh.
Got in, looked around, and perked up a bit. Very nicely trimmed with satin metal touches on the doors and wide, thin radio presets. Cool. Good: Big, fat steering wheel. Great chairs. Bummer: autobox.
It fired up with a nice blattt, roared out of its spot, and leaped out into the street. Alright! Waking up, I started driving like we all prefer to drive, that is, in real time, exactly in the moment, not as the dead time between A and B, but as our chosen and preferred activity for that hour.
As it is trimmed, this Rabbit is a real prize. A five speed would make it cheaper, but not more fun. This manumatic shifts crisply with spirited up or down flicks of the short shift lever. You can toss it into turns at sporting speeds, and come out the other end with a roar. But Joe D. is absolutely right: the base two-door with manual is a killer deal.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
Joe and Jean both make excellent points, but there’s one nagging issue that most people seem to forget. The current Rabbit is every bit as charming and entertaining as the last-generation MINI Cooper, and yet, climbing behind its wheel, I find myself consumed with worry over its build quality. It feels nice, yes, and it drives wonderfully, but what of future repairs? I know a lot of people with current-era Volkswagens (Jettas, Golfs, Rabbits, GTIs, Passats, the whole lot), and every one of them has a repair horror story to tell. Entire months spent in the shop. Electrical glitches. Interior rattles and leaks. Recurring driveline issues. And almost all of them happened once the cars left their factory warranty period. Most of these people have had such poor experiences that they’ve sworn off the brand altogether. VW owners, it seems, are universally in love with the way their cars drive but perpetually frustrated with the ownership experience.
It’s not like this is a new concern. Volkswagen reliability has been an issue for over a decade, and as the company’s cars increase in complexity, horsepower, and capability, the issue doesn’t seem likely to disappear. The Rabbit is enormous fun to drive and every bit the no-compromises small car that America needs, but I can’t say that I’d ever buy one, or recommend one to a friend. Here’s hoping that VW takes care of its ills before its customers walk out the door-the Rabbit, at least, deserves better.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
I too love the way the Golf (er, Rabbit) drives. Funny, it seems even VW doesn’t know what to call the hatchback either as our test vehicle featured rubber floor mats with a “GOLF” logo. At least the Rabbit name has given VW of America an excellent way to market the car.
The Rabbit feels a step above the rest of the cars in the class. The steering and dampening are both excellent, as is the general layout of the interior. But there’s a reason for the cut above the others feel. The Rabbit is an expensive car to build and VW loses money on each one they sell in America. I learned this on a trip to Germany with VW last spring. With the weak U.S. dollar, VW is getting killed on any of its German-built cars. Still, at least buyers can reap the rewards of this situation and get an excellent car for not a lot of money.
Still, I’m not in love with the slightly gruff five-cylinder engine. This newest 170 hp version is better than the old 150 hp version but I’d still like to see VW offer its smaller, more fuel efficient engines into the USA. There are rumors that VW will drop their new Jetta TDI engine into the Rabbit in the fall of 2009 so that’s good news. I’d love the efficiency of the TDI combined with the more practical, hatchback layout of the Rabbit. But VW, can’t we please have some more frugal gasoline engine options as well? Diesel fuel is just too expensive right now.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
My colleagues are right: the Rabbit is a lot of car for the money, it’s quite good to drive, but its makers reputation for unreliability is pretty frightening.
When I first set eyes on the front end of this particular car in the parking garage, however, I assumed that it was a few-year-old model. But a glance around revealed no other Vee Dubs, so I hit the key-fob unlock button, and sure enough the lights flashed, confirming that this old-looking Rabbit was the 2008 model I’d signed out for the evening.
Inside, though, the Rabbit provides a well-trimmed, comfortable ambiance rarely found in sub-$20,000 cars. The automatic does its job well, but I’d prefer a manual because, as Joe D noted, it would free up some cash to spring for a four-door model. That’s crucial to me, because I find that the two-door creates huge blindspots at the B-pillars; merging can be scary if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, Volkswagen won’t be selling the four-door with a stick for the ’09 model year. What are they thinking?!
If it were my money, though, I’d buy a Honda Fit over this Rabbit, purely on the basis of the two brands’ opposing reputations for durability. Or Id just save up a bit more money and get a copy of the incredibly fun VW GTI instead.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Base Price (with destination): $16,250
Price as tested: $18,524
– Six-speed automatic transmission $1075
– Electronic stabilization program $450
– 16-inch Alloy wheels $450
– iPod adapter including center arm rest $299
Fuel Economy: 12/29/24 mpg(city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.5-liter 20 Valve DOHC I-5
HP: 170 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
– Six-speed automatic
Weight: 3041 lbs
– 16-inch alloy wheels and all season tires