Full 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit Review
What's New for 2006
VW releases the 2006 Rabbit hatchback very late in the model year. This is the next-generation Golf but with the nostalgic, U.S.-only name last used in 1984. Compared to the outgoing Golf, the Rabbit features new styling, a more sophisticated rear suspension design, more interior room and a new powertrain.
Volkswagen's calling card has traditionally been offering an upscale, European feel in its small cars without the normally associated high window sticker number. This philosophy continues with the all-new 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit. This isn't an all-new model for Volkswagen; rather, it's the next generation of the Golf hatchback. In a throwback to 1975 when the European-market VW Golf debuted in the U.S. as the Rabbit (a name it kept until 1985), the company has decided that the newest Golf will once again be named Rabbit in the North American market.
The 2006 VW Rabbit is based on the same platform as the current-generation Jetta; the main difference is that the Rabbit is a two- or four-door hatchback, while the Jetta is a sedan (and soon, a wagon). Compared to the 2006 Golf, the Rabbit is a bit larger and heavier. The larger size is beneficial in terms of interior room, as the car provides a few more inches of headroom (front and rear) along with nearly 2 more inches of rear-seat legroom.
Under the hood is a 150-horsepower inline five (instead of the lackluster 115-hp four used previously). The car's body structure is stiffer than before, and a new multilink rear suspension has been used to improve the car's ride quality on bumpy pavement. Most consumers will be satisfied with the Rabbit's soft ride, though driving enthusiasts will likely be disappointed by the loss of that taut, European character of previous generations. Additionally, a switch to electric assist for the power steering has taken away some of the car's traditionally communicative steering feel.
In its favor, the Volkswagen Rabbit offers decent performance, plenty of standard features, a premium interior feel and plenty of cargo space, thanks to its hatchback body style. Beyond that, however, there's little that makes this newcomer stand out from the pack of competent cars in this class, such as the more fuel-efficient Honda Civic or the decidedly sportier Mazda 3.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit comes as a two- or four-door hatchback in a single trim level. Apart from the number of doors, the cars are identical, as they share the same wheelbase and overall length. Air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat are common standard features. The four-door gets a few upgrades, such as a premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer (versus a single CD player), eight-way manual adjustable front seats (versus six-way), heated front seats, rear center armrest, upgraded cloth upholstery and body-color bumper strips/side moldings. Options are limited to 16-inch alloy wheels and, for the four-door hatch only, a sunroof and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
All Rabbits come with a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine that produces 150 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic (which allows manual-style shifting if desired) is optional. Acceleration is satisfactory, if not particularly energetic, and the six-speed automatic does a fine job of making the most of the engine's power band. The EPA rates the Rabbit's fuel economy at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants and full-length head curtain airbags are standard on all Rabbits. Stability control is an option and four-door models can be equipped with rear seat-mounted side airbags. In NHTSA crash testing, the Volkswagen Rabbit scored four stars (out of five) in frontal tests and five stars in side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rabbit's cabin is a high point, and the level of quality in the materials says "German engineering" loud and clear. At night, the gauges light up in VW blue with red needles, and all the knobs, buttons and switches work as if they were lifted from an Audi. The three-spoke steering wheel is as perfectly shaped for driving as anything from Momo. Multiple adjustments for the front seats, along with a tilt- and telescoping steering wheel assure a proper driving position for drivers of all sizes and shapes. The cargo area measures 15 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and considerably more space is available with the seats folded.
The 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit manages to provide both comfortable ride quality and competent handling. Although not as sporty as the older Golfs (and Rabbits) when tackling a set of curves on one's favorite road, the current model is more refined, with a reassuring, rock-solid feel and a surprisingly quiet ride. The steering is nicely weighted but doesn't offer as much feedback as we'd like.