2008 Volkswagen Rabbit

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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
August 18, 2008

Buying tip

Just like bunnies in your garden, there are plenty of 2008 Volkswagen Rabbits around. You can haggle for these and for GTIs. However, with only 2,500 R32s allocated for the U.S. market for 2008, don't expect your local Volkswagen dealer to feel compelled to cut you the world's best deal. Consumer Reports recently named the Rabbit one of its favorite hatchbacks.

features & specs

2-Door HB Automatic S
2-Door HB Automatic S PZEV
2-Door HB Manual S
21 city / 29 hwy
21 city / 29 hwy
22 city / 29 hwy

The 2008 Volkswagen is a satisfying, high-quality compact that will suit many drivers as is. Those who need more zoot can step up to the GTI or R32.

The economy-car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied the latest road tests on the new 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit to write this definitive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove the Volkswagen Rabbit, Volkswagen GTI, and Volkswagen R32, and have added more information and driving impressions of those models. This review also compares the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is the U.S. version of the fifth-generation Golf--what Rabbits are called in Europe. The Rabbit is available in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. As you might expect from something built in Wolfsburg, Germany, the Rabbit is Teutonic and all that--which explains the conservative, boxy shape that's well detailed but unexciting.

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. They're 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.

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The engine in the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is likewise involving. Torque delivered by the 150-horsepower 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder surprises with its immediacy. It's not that its 170 pound-feet at 3,750 rpm is all that powerful, but the gearing of the five-speed manual and the electronic throttle's aggressive programming help the Rabbit jump off the line like a scared bunny.

The ride from the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is taut but never jarring. The front struts and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang. Steering feels precise with a good on-center feel. Unlike so many budget-minded cars using numbing electric power-assisted steering, the Rabbit's steering is actually communicative and downright lively.

From Volkswagen, 2008 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. The limited-edition all-wheel-drive 2008 Volkswagen R32 delivers even more power from its V-6: a full 250 horsepower. More performance and luxury items are added to each model. While the GTI remains somewhat reasonably priced in the mid-$20,000 range, the R32 commands more than $32,000. Performance fans like the models, but other sportscars in that range will slice and dice the Rabbit on the track with their V-6 and V-8 power.


2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit has clean, characteristically conservative Volkswagen styling.

The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is the U.S. version of the fifth-generation Golf--what Rabbits are called in Europe. The Rabbit is available in two- and four-door hatchback body styles, and in three models: base, performance GTI, and high-performance R32. As you might expect from something built in Wolfsburg, Germany, the Rabbit is Teutonic and all that--which explains the conservative, boxy shape that's well detailed but unexciting.

"Functional, practical and sporty" are the words Kelley Blue Book use to describe the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit; it “wastes no sheet metal or bodywork." Cars.com praises its "simple lines and the uncluttered face." In addition, the VW Rabbit's "forward-leaning stance is emphasized by the narrowing side window line and the hatchback rear window," says Kelley Blue Book. According to MyRide.com, the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 is "refreshing," and its "teardrop-shaped taillights" look "great with the hatch open or closed.” Edmunds studies the exterior closely and observes, “Notably, the word 'Rabbit' does not appear anywhere on the car; instead, a small chrome bunny cast mid-hop decorates the hatch of Volkswagen's entry-level compact.” Edmunds adds, “although larger and heavier than before, it retains the characteristic boxy but very functional hatchback architecture.” The GTI and R32 editions are characterized by what they don’t have: “the gaping air intakes and wing-and-spoiler bonanza” common to other high-performance compacts, Edmunds reports, though they get distinctive wheels and lower ride heights. The R32 also comes only as a two-door.

The VW Rabbit’s interior sits somewhere just north of somber. Car and Driver calls the interior of the VW Rabbit "pleasingly adult and gimmick-free." MyRide.com echoes the positivity, noting the clean interior design, which "takes advantage of Volkswagen's long touted cabin-building competence." Cars.com makes mention of the three-spoke steering wheel and "a high-mounted center stack" putting the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 right in line with the Jetta and GTI. The dashboard and center console are "designed for compactness and ease of use," notes Kelley Blue Book. In the GTI edition, the Rabbit wears “standard cloth upholstery, which has a retro plaid print,” as well as a “flat-bottom steering wheel” and some GTI badging. The R32 uses similar seats and steering wheel, with its own badging.

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2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is predictable in base form; the high-performance editions have great drivetrains and good, not great handling.

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.”

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2008 Volkswagen Rabbit

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is a high-quality car with impressive materials and adult-sized room in back.

Volkswagen is known for high-quality building materials and excellent craftsmanship, and TheCarConnection.com finds that the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is no exception.

With its "roomy and upscale cabin" and "comfortable ride," according to Edmunds, the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit makes for a pleasant ride. MyRide.com adds that the base chairs are rather "comfortable and well bolstered." However, no more than four individuals should be in the car at a time, especially over long distances. The front seats have a manual height adjustment that MyRide.com calls "outdated." “The R32's sport seats, borrowed from the GTI, grip well without forcing you to climb into them,” Edmunds says. The VW Rabbit backseat is surprisingly roomy, notes Cars.com, providing "nearly 2 inches of legroom and more than an inch of headroom over the previous model." Edmunds agrees: “A roomy rear seat offers decent room for a pair of adults.” The four-door Rabbit and GTI have a leg up on two-door versions in terms of access: “The main advantage to the four-door GTI is its more accessible rear seat, though the two-door's front seats slide forward quite easily to improve entry and exit.”

Likewise, the cargo capacity has grown since previous models, "thanks to a 60/40-split folding rear seat," allowing the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 to carry long items like skis with the front seat folded flat, states Cars.com. “When flipped down, opens up a massive 43 cubic feet of cargo space,” Edmunds reports. With the seats raised, there’s 15 cubic feet of space, they add. Though the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 sports a large glove box, according to MyRide.com, they would have liked to see "more creative stowage in the center console" and "taller cupholders to fully secure many of today's larger drinks."

Edmunds calls out the "Impressive build quality" of the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008. They also state that the controls feel like they've been taken from a premium-priced Audi. In terms of quality, MyRide.com adds, "A cleanly styled interior takes advantage of Volkswagen's long touted cabin-building competence. Fit-and-finish is impressive for a $15,000 vehicle, and of particular note are the Audi-quality gauges and controls. Other materials, such as the laminated visor and hard plastic door inserts, appear less than top-drawer." Additionally, Cars.com enjoys the "dashboard quality" of this VW Rabbit model. Car and Driver thinks “the seat fabric looks seriously thrifty,” though.

While Edmunds calls it "refined" and "noise-free," Car and Driver reports that the "tires read road textures loudly into the interior."

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2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is a star crash performer, but stability control remains an option.

The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit (and GTI and R32 versions) scores well in crash tests and has a good amount of standard safety gear, though stability control remains an option.

When it comes to crash-test ratings, the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit fares well. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the VW Rabbit scores "four-star frontal and five-star side-impact," according to MyRide.com. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, the vehicle snags the best available rating of "good."

MyRide observes the Rabbit lineup sports "dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags" as standard equipment. "Four-wheel antilock disc brakes" are also standard on the VW Rabbit, according to Edmunds. MyRide.com adds, "Active front seat head restraints help to properly position passengers during an impact" and the "tilt/telescopic steering wheel maintains the proper distance between the driver and the steering wheel's airbag," which is a vital safety feature. There is also "a brake pad wear indicator" that keeps you in the know.

Cars.com notes other available safety features: "Stability control with electronic differential lock is optional, as are rear seat side-impact airbags on four-doors," not to mention a tire pressure monitoring system.

All in all, the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 provides "good visibility throughout and decent outside mirrors," says MyRide.com.


2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is a well-equipped vehicle with some upscale options; the GTI and R32 are almost fully equipped out of the hatch.

When it comes to features, the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is well equipped even in base form. The GTI and R32 versions are more lavishly equipped, of course.

Edmunds details the available trim levels on the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit, noting it "comes as a two-door or four-door five passenger hatchback in a single trim level called the S." Standard equipment includes "15-inch wheels, air-conditioning, heated outside mirrors, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat." MyRide.com mentions several other standard features for this VW Rabbit, including "a telescopic steering wheel; side impact and side curtain airbags; and four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, EBD, and brake assist."

The four-door body style of the Volkswagen Rabbit 2008 also comes with "upgraded cloth upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable front seats...heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, rear-passenger ventilation and a rear center armrest with pass-through." Cars.com adds a "CD stereo with an auxiliary MP3 jack" to the list, as well.

Kelley Blue Book notes the optional automatic transmission and stability control. You can also get a sunroof, metallic paint, "sport and ground-effects body kits," and an iPod adapter for your Volkswagen Rabbit 2008, says Edmunds.

The GTI and R32 editions add on their high-performance powertrains, but also pick up sport gear. The GTI tacks on “xenon HID headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, sport front seats, a 60/40-split rear seat and a 10-speaker, six-CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls,” Edmunds says, while an Autobahn package gains standard leather heated seats and a sunroof. The R32, they note, gets its own 18-inch wheel style, a new grille, a sunroof, leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, and satellite radio standard.

A navigation system is an option on some Rabbits.

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