TheCarConnection.com finds reviewers generally impressed with the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit's performance, and lavishing much more praise for the high-powered GTI and R32 editions.
MyRide.com says, "The Rabbit's five-cylinder engine is unique in its class, as competitors use four-cylinder motors." Cars.com echoes the sentiment, noting the VW Rabbit "shares its 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder engine with the Jetta," and "Thanks to improved airflow and valve-train management, output in both cars increases to 170 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque, up from 150 hp and 170 pounds-feet last year." MyRide.com observes a "somewhat laggard" acceleration time of 9 seconds to 60 mph, but Car and Driver reports “torque pours forth from small motions of your right foot.” MyRide states the base Rabbit offers a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. The "manual gearbox is tight and guides between gears with little effort," they contend. Edmunds adds that the standard five-speed manual shooting power over to the front wheels and the optional six-speed automatic with manual-shifting capability "makes great use of the engine's power band."
The other offerings based on the Rabbit include the GTI and R32 models. A 197-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo is fitted to the 2008 Volkswagen GTI; Edmunds reports it has “a deep, burbling engine note,” an “enjoyable tone that's rare in the world of turbocharged cars. The engine also provides plenty of torque at low rpm to make squirts through urban traffic quite easy.” The limited-edition all-wheel-drive 2008 Volkswagen R32 delivers even more power from its V-6: a full 250 horsepower. Automobile likes its “VR6 acoustic magic,” while Edmunds admires its “broad power spread and a hearty exhaust note” and notes an estimated 0-60-mph time of “6.5 seconds.” The GTI gets a six-speed manual or a “six-speed, sequential-shifting automated manual called DSG. The DSG transmission can be shifted via paddles on the steering wheel or placed in fully automatic mode,” Edmunds states. “For a GTI with the regular six-speed manual, expect a 0-60-mph time of about 6.7 seconds.” The R32 comes only with the DSG, which “snaps off shifts as soon as you flick the wheel-mounted paddles,” Edmunds notes. Left to shift on its own, it works just fine, but "selecting the 'Sport' setting results in it downshifting (often with a 'clunk') when it's really not needed.”
MyRide.com considers the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit a bit rough on fuel economy. Cars.com provides the numbers, saying the car gives you "21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway" with the manual transmission and 22/29 mpg with the automatic. Edmunds adds that "fuel economy for the 2008 Rabbit is...a bit lower than average for this class of car." Even so, "Models sold in California-emissions states earn a cleaner PZEV tailpipe emission rating." The GTI version is rated at 22/29 mpg by the EPA with the automatic and 20/29 mpg with the manual; the R32 checks in at 18/23 mpg.
Car and Driver appreciates the VW Rabbit's handling, noting, "The Rabbit rewards high corner-entry speed with a chassis able not only to help you survive the experience but also to facilitate tire-squealing fun." Steering is "Germanic," feeling "hefty and communicative" in the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008. Edmunds notes, "A stiff body structure and multilink rear suspension combine to help deliver comfortably compliant ride and handling." However, real VW lovers will "lament the loss of some steering feel due to the adoption of electric-assisted power steering."
When it comes to the higher-performance versions, reviewers generally feel the Rabbit GTI and R32 are exciting, but a little less edgy and sensually perfect than smaller, lighter competitors. Of the GTI, Edmunds praises its “agreeable” ride quality but says it “falls a bit short of cars like the Civic Si and Cooper S in terms of handling and driver enjoyment” due to its “beefy curb weight and lackluster steering feel.” Of the R32, Automobile says, “There is some discernable body roll, but big body motions are kept commendably in check. The steering is precise, but feedback is muted. The brakes shrugged off repeated full-threshold braking zones as if they were made from dry ice: no smell, no smoke, and not a hint of fade. Very impressive.” Edmunds agrees: “the R32 is fairly forgiving when pushed hard, tending toward understeer that diminishes as speed is scrubbed off.” The R32 also “sends the power to all four wheels via Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.”