What's New for 2007
The new Volkswagen Rabbit, which is the next-generation VW Golf, but with the nostalgic, U.S.-only name last used in the early 1980s, was introduced late in the 2006 model year. For the 2007 Rabbit, VW adds an auxiliary audio input jack for MP3 players, an optional Apple iPod-specific adapter and an optional tire-pressure monitor. Cruise control actuation has also been simplified.
Since the mid 1990s, Volkswagen has been cultivating its image in the United States as an automaker providing cars that have an upscale European feel to them but without the extra-high sticker price normally associated with the true luxury brands. It's been a fairly effective strategy, and the company's cars have often been favorites of ours in their respective segments. But recently Volkswagen's marketing managers have decided that the brand has lost some of its former funky, enthusiast flair and possibly moved too far up-market. A return-to-its-roots approach meant to attract the young and hip is now in effect, and leading the charge is the 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit.
This isn't really 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 the newest Golf would once again be named Rabbit in the North American market. The 2007 VW Rabbit is the brand's most affordable car and is based on the same platform as the Jetta. Compared to the old 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 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit offers decent performance, plenty of standard features, a roomy interior and a slightly upscale feel. While it won't necessarily be able to recover VW's lost mojo, it should be more satisfying to own than some domestic hatchbacks (Dodge Caliber and Ford Focus) or the Kia Spectra5. The main competing hatchback that you'll really want to look at before making a purchase is the Mazda 3. Pricing and features are similar, but the 3 edges out the Rabbit in the "fun-to-drive" category thanks to its more responsive handling and steering.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2007 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. On the standard equipment list you'll find 15-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors, power windows and locks, keyless entry, cruise control and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. Two-door hatches have a single CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary jack, while four-doors receive a premium audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer. The four-door also has eight-way manually adjustable front seats (versus six-way on the two-door), heated front seats, a rear center armrest and upgraded cloth upholstery. Optional features include 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels, an exterior ground effects kit, an adapter for Apple iPods (late availability) 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. A tire-pressure monitor, stability control and, for four-door models, rear seat-mounted side airbags, are optional. In NHTSA crash testing, the 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit scored four stars (out of five) in frontal tests and five stars in side-impact tests. The IIHS gives the Rabbit a top score of "Good" for the car's protection of occupants in frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.
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. Four-door Rabbits have the obvious advantage of better rear-seat access, though two-doors have front seats that slide forward easily. The cargo area measures 15 cubic feet, and considerably more space is available with the rear seats folded.
The 2007 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.