KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
Despite a commonly-held belief that Americans don't like hatchbacks, the success of Volkswagen's long-running two- and four-door modelsas well as the recent success of the MINI Cooper, Mazda Mazda3 and its own GTIhas prompted Volkswagen to revive the beloved Rabbit hatchback. The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit (formerly known as the Golf) becomes VW's entry-level economy model, offering a number of upscale safety and convenience features, a frugal new five-cylinder engine and a roomy and versatile interior. Despite its hefty standard content, the Volkswagen Rabbit manages a sticker price that won't leave consumers hopping mad, which should have sales multiplying like, well, Rabbits.
You'll Like This Car If...
Tangible German lineage and an exceptionally high level of interior fit and finish for this price combine to make the Rabbit the most sophisticated $16,000 vehicle on the road. Compact SUV-like versatility provides practical appeal.
You May Not Like This Car If...
While it's very much a German car from behind the wheel, the Rabbit isn't as much fun to drive as some of its competitors, particularly the Mazda Mazda3. The Mazda3 also offers features not available on the Rabbit, such as heated leather seats, on-board navigation and a Bose audio system.
What's Significant About This Car?
A new "S" trim level is added, a tire-pressure monitoring system is made standard on all models and there is 20 additional horsepower, bringing the output to 170.
Despite its small size, there's a solid feel to the Rabbit and it delivers overall confidence in difficult driving situations. Nimble in city and country driving, it handles busy street corners and curvy rural lanes easily, thanks in part to the new suspension system and the responsive steering. Increased specifically for the U.S. market are ride height and tire sizes. The 2.5-liter, five-cylinder powerplant is well-suited to the American driving style, offers lots of torque off the line and requires less revving than the previous 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. The five-speed manual transmission has reasonably short throws, in line with its sporty character, and slides effortlessly between gears. The automatic version is just as slick, and both transmissions share the same average highway mileage of 29 miles per gallon. A fair amount of handling firmness reminds you of the Rabbit's German engineering, along with delivering the satisfaction of driving a small-outside, big-inside vehicle.
The Rabbit Logo
Eschewing the traditional nametag, the Rabbit identifies itself only with the once-familiar bounding hare logo.
New Five-cylinder Engine
Shared with the Jetta and developed specifically for American driving styles, the new 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine delivers the quick response worthy of the Rabbit name.
The spacious interior is the surprise here. With far more room than is apparent from the outside, the Rabbit can seat five as well as provide plenty of cargo space. The dash and center console are designed for compactness and ease of use, and nooks and crannies for storage abound. Nifty indicators include one for brake pad wear, and a fuel-cap seal warning to remind impatient drivers to tighten the cap properly. A passenger seat that folds flat and 60/40-split folding rear seats enhance versatility. Adjustable lumbar-support seats (four-door only) hold driver and passenger comfortably on sharp turns. The hatchback has an exceptionally large opening, and the pass-through on the four-door model can accommodate skis.
Functional, practical and sporty design cues identify the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit as a German hatchback that wastes no sheet metal or bodywork. The hood, headlamps and grille are integrated cleanly with the front bumper, the side panels and doors flow together smoothly and the rear couldn't be simpler. The slightly forward-leaning stance is emphasized by the narrowing side window line and the hatchback rear window.
Notable Standard Equipment
The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit's standard equipment list includes cruise control, anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control, AM/FM stereo with single MP3-compatilbe CD player (six-disc CD changer on four-door models), remote keyless entry, an anti-theft engine immobilizer system and a new high-tech electro-mechanical steering system. Comfort and safety equipment includes heated front seats (four-door only), front and side airbags, Side-Curtain Protection, air conditioning, heated side mirrors and a rear window defroster.
Notable Optional Equipment
Options offered on the two- and four-door models include VW's anti-skid, lateral control Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) to help curb skids and maximize handling, 16-inch alloy wheels and a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic and a Sport mode for manual shifting. For backseat riders in the four-door the addition of rear side-impact airbags is probably reassuring, while the power sunroof with sunshade adds a little style as well as fresh air. Other options include SIRIUS Satellite Radio and an iPod connectivity adapter.
Under the Hood
In place of the previous Golf's anemic 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder engine, the Rabbit gets a 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder unit developed specifically for the acceleration tastes of American drivers. Its 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque are transmitted through a five-speed manual transmission or a new manually-selectable six-speed automatic version with a satisfyingly aggressive Sport mode. The independent rear suspension helps it keep a grip on the road, as do the anti-lock braking and electronic traction control systems. Gone for now, unfortunately, is the popular diesel model.
2.5-liter in-line 5
170 horsepower @ 5700 rpm
177 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/29 (manual), 21/29 (automatic)
The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) begins at just around $16,000, which is not bad for a compact with a 170-horsepower engine and plenty of standard equipment. The MSRP on the two-door Rabbit with six-speed automatic transmission starts around $17,000, and a four-door automatic with all the options tops out around $23,000. We expect the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit to maintain resale values on par with the Toyota Yaris, Mazda Mazda3 and Honda Civic and to best the Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus.