Full 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit Review
What's New for 2008
Volkswagen's compact Rabbit receives a welcome infusion of power for 2008, celebrated with a modified moniker as it's now called the Rabbit S.
For most economy cars, value is the key selling point. But with an emphasis on value, "fun to drive" and "enjoyable to own" often don't make it into the final product. With its 2008 Rabbit, however, Volkswagen aims to buck that trend. Now in its third model year, the latest Rabbit is actually the current stateside version of the company's Golf hatchback sold overseas -- a situation that harkens back to the nameplate's first appearance on our shores back in the '70s.
The 2008 VW Rabbit is based on the same platform as the compact Jetta and is therefore a bit larger than the old Golf, which pays dividends in terms of generous interior headroom and legroom. The Rabbit is powered by a smooth inline five-cylinder engine and hops along more impressively this year due to a 20-horsepower bump to a more competitive 170. A stiff body structure and multilink rear suspension combine to help deliver comfortably compliant ride and handling, though the taut European character of past generations is missing in action. Enthusiasts will also lament the loss of some steering feel due to the adoption of electric-assisted power steering.
Though perhaps not as fun to drive as previous models, the more powerful 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit offers reasonably satisfying performance and a spacious cabin for its size with above-average ambiance and quality. It's also well equipped, though that does mean a higher MSRP. Overall, we think most owners will find it more satisfying to own than domestic economy hatches like the Dodge Caliber or Ford Focus, though segment favorites like the Honda Civic and sporty Mazda 3 should not be overlooked. Those shopping for a two-door hatchback might also want to take a look at this year's refreshed Scion tC coupe or the stylish new Saturn Astra.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit comes as a two-door or four-door five-passenger hatchback in a single trim level called the S. Both body styles share the same wheelbase and overall length. 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. Two-door hatches have a single-CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary jack and eight speakers, while four-doors receive a 10-speaker premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and satellite radio.
The four-door also comes standard with upgraded cloth upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable front seats (versus six-way adjusters on the two-door), heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, rear-passenger ventilation and a rear center armrest with pass-through. Optional features include 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, sport and ground-effects body kits, a sunroof (four-door only) and an iPod adapter.
Powertrains and Performance
All VW Rabbits are equipped with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A standard five-speed manual transmission sends power to the front wheels, while a six-speed automatic with manual-shifting capability is optional. Thanks to the engine's respectable amount of torque, acceleration is brisk at lower speeds with either gearbox, and the optional six-speed automatic makes great use of the engine's power band. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2008 Rabbit is 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway with the five-speed manual -- a bit lower than average for this class of car. Models sold in California-emissions states earn a cleaner PZEV tailpipe emission rating.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are standard on all VW Rabbits. Stability control with electronic differential lock is optional, as are rear seat side-impact airbags on four-doors. In government testing, the 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit four-door scored four stars out of five for front occupant protection during frontal crashes and a top-ranked five stars for both front and rear occupants in side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Rabbit a top score of "Good" for the protection of occupants in both frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rabbit's well-appointed cabin is certainly one of its strengths. At night, the gauges illuminate in stylish VW blue with contrasting red needles, and all the knobs and switchgear feel as if they were borrowed from a premium-priced Audi. The three-spoke steering wheel is perfectly shaped, and multiple adjustments for the front seats plus a tilt and telescoping steering column assure a proper driving position for drivers of different sizes and shapes. Two-door Rabbits have front seats that slide forward for easy rear-seat access, though four-doors are the obvious choice if you plan on regularly carrying more than a couple adults or children.
The 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit is tuned to provide a satisfying balance between a comfortable ride and capable, reasonably fun handling. Although not as taut and responsive through the curves as earlier generations, the current model is more refined, with reassuring, rock-solid stability and a surprisingly noise-free ride. The steering is direct and nicely weighted, but doesn't offer as much feedback as we'd prefer.