by Rex Roy
"So what do we call it?"
It's an age-old human struggle and the subject of poems and contentious marketing meetings. For a moment, put yourself in Volkswagen's shoes. Your brand was hot not all that long ago, but in recent years, questionable build quality (Touareg) and ego-driven missteps (Phaeton) have cooled things off. Now it's time to launch a genuinely important car, the fifth-generation Golf. In a quest for its lost marketing mojo, somebody floats the idea, "What if we bring back the bunny?" Hmmm, what if?
Volkswagen marketing types elected to go retro with the Rabbit name. Director of Brand Innovation, Kerri Martin, believes this move will resonate with "North American enthusiasts who have an emotional connection with the Rabbit name." Whatever. Anything else up your sleeve, VW, other than a name that you used first in 1974?
Batteries don't power this bunny
Rabbit logoEnlarge Photo
It drives like it's from
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
The engine is likewise involving. Torque delivered by the 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder surprises with its immediacy. It's not that its 170 lb-ft at 3750 rpm is all that powerful, but the gearing of the five-speed manual and the electronic throttle's aggressive programming helps the Rabbit jump off the line like a scared bunny. While perhaps not as sweet as VW/Audi's 2.0-liter turbo used in the more expensive Rabbit GTI, the 2.5-liter pumps out 150 horsepower that peaks at only 5000 rpm. This bias toward low-end power is well suited to the Rabbit's expected duties.
For drivers with a brick foot, there's enough power that it's good the Rabbit features standard traction enhancement hardware and software. It engages smoothly and can be switched off when you need some wheel spin to rock out of deep snow. Once at speed, the Rabbit's four-wheel disc brakes readily dissipates speed with good feedback and capable anti-lock electronics.
The five-speed manual proves a good match for the engine. The pleasurably direct linkage delivers reasonably quick gear changes — remember, this isn't a Ferrari. Ratios are well spaced, and the overdrive fifth gear keeps revs low for economical and genuinely relaxed highway cruising. The EPA estimates the Rabbit will run 30 mpg on the highway, with an estimated 20 mpg in the city cycle. MORE--
The nicest hutch on the block
Inside, the Rabbit's front seats give great support, and the quality of the materials is high. The driver's seat helps you get comfortable with plenty of adjustability, but the controls are in three different locations; fore/aft at the right-front corner of the seat, a lever on the left side that raises and lowers the bottom cushion, and a big knob to change the backrest angle at the left-rear of the seat. Effective, but kind of convoluted. The view out is good, but the base of the windshield is rather high, a result of European pedestrian collision standards.
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
In the rear, there's plenty of room, and while the seats have a comfortable backrest angle, the cushion is a bit short for longer trips. The backrests fold down with a single pull and open a spacious passageway to the generous trunk (15 cubic feet).
Our tester had a beige cloth that was set off by textured black carpeting and touches of silver trim. The look is rich, but it may take some work to keep it that way. Black shows everything.
Volkswagen RabbitEnlarge Photo
Happy in the briar patch
The market often responds to good cars, especially ones that offer genuine value. Priced at $14,990 for the two-door and $16,990 for a four-door, the Rabbit offers buyers yet another choice in crowded segment that includes literally dozens of models. What differentiates the Rabbit is its solid, responsive chassis and the overall quality of its interior materials. These truly exceed what's offered by Asian manufacturers at a lower price, and other European manufacturers at a higher MSRP.
It will be some time before anyone can tell whether a Golf by any other name will help spin up sales and consumer perceptions. VW could use its mojo back. Maybe the bunny will help.
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit 2.5
Base price: $16,990 (four-door)
Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, 150 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 165.8 x 69.3 x 58.2 inches
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches
Curb weight: 2858 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 22 city/30 highway
Safety equipment: Dual front, side, and side curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes and stability control
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD player; power door locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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