What's New for 2009
For 2009, the four-door Volkswagen Rabbit comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission, and all Rabbits get standard stability control.
The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is like soccer: huge in Europe, not so much in America. Of course, the Rabbit is known as the Golf across the pond, but the fact remains that Europeans have a keener affinity for VW's iconic hatchback, to the tune of making it the second-best-selling car in Europe last year. In America, sedans are king -- sorta like the NFL. Yet supposedly unfashionable hatchbacks like the Rabbit are interesting alternatives for those who recognize the inherent practicality of this design.
VW relaunched the Rabbit name midway through 2006 in an effort to make Americans remember a time when they didn't hate hatchbacks. Sold in the U.S. from 1975-'84, the original Rabbit was cute, nimble and practical, just like its quivering-nosed namesake -- well, except for the practical part, as you can't exactly fit a bicycle inside a small furry creature. This new-generation Rabbit isn't quite as cute or nimble, but as the largest Golf/Rabbit yet, it certainly has the practical bit down. Interior space is impressive for a compact car, with a large backseat and trunk.
For those looking for that certain je ne sais quoi that sets European cars apart from the pack in terms of driving feel and interior quality, the Rabbit has it in spades. A stiff body structure and multilink rear suspension combine to help deliver a commendably compliant ride. Solid handling is also part of the package-- on a twisty road, the Rabbit is quite happy to scamper. With 170 horsepower, this VW is one of the most powerful cars in the class, and feels like it. The cabin is also top-notch, as it offers loads of features and build quality that would put more than a few pricier vehicles to shame.
Of course, the 2009 VW Rabbit isn't alone in the compact hatchback game. Perhaps the vehicle closest in nature is the Saturn Astra, which was designed and built in Europe, although the VW does have a significant power advantage. Another car worthy of consideration is the Mazda 3, which boasts good looks, even better feature content and a decidedly European fun-to-drive character. A slew of traditional compact sedans like the Honda Civic could be considered (especially given their better fuel economy and potentially lower price). But like soccer, the enjoyable little VW Rabbit is definitely worth checking out -- perhaps you'll find something good in what you've been missing.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is a compact hatchback available with two or four doors, each with a single trim level (known as S). The two-door Rabbit S comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a six-way manually adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a 10-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The four-door Rabbit S adds upgraded exterior trim, heated windshield washer nozzles, front and rear center armrests, velour upholstery, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat with power recline and adjustable lumbar, heated front seats, rear air vents and an upgraded sound system with in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio.
The heated seats and windshield washer nozzles are optional on the two-door. All Rabbits can be optioned with 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof and an iPod adapter.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces a healthy 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard on the Rabbit two-door, with a six-speed automatic optional -- the Rabbit four-door comes only with the auto. Although the engine's ample power is unusual for a compact car, it does have an effect on fuel economy. EPA estimates for an automatic-equipped Rabbit are 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined, which is near the bottom among economy cars. Rabbits bred for California-emissions states are classified as partial-zero-emission vehicles (PZEV).
Both 2009 VW Rabbit body styles come standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are optional on the four-door. In government crash tests, the four-door received four out of five stars for frontal crash occupant protection, while it received five stars for front and rear side protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Rabbit received the best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rabbit's cabin is a strong selling point, with high-grade soft-touch materials and metallic trim. We're fans of the cool blue lights used for the instruments and radio display, while stereo and climate controls are straightforward and easy to use. The three-spoke steering wheel is perfectly shaped, and multiple adjustments for the front seats plus a tilting 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 the four-door is the obvious choice if you plan on regularly carrying more than a couple adults or children. Nevertheless, since both two- and four-door Rabbits have the same wheelbase, interior volume is virtually identical. Cargo volume with the 60/40-split-folding rear seats up is a useful 15 cubic feet and expands to 46 with the seats down.
The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is one of the most entertaining entries in the economy-car market. It provides a satisfying balance between a comfortable ride and capable handling, which is really no surprise given that the Rabbit serves as the foundation for VW's GTI "hot hatch." The Rabbit is tuned more for comfort, though, so don't expect it to be simply a less powerful GTI. On the highway, the Rabbit offers rock-solid stability and a surprisingly noise-free ride. The steering doesn't offer as much feedback as we'd like, but it's direct and nicely weighted. All in all, the Rabbit's taut construction and driving dynamics are worthy of its European heritage.