First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Mont Tremblant, Quebec – They’ve had the new version of the Volkswagen Golf in Europe for a couple of years, and very positive reviews it has received, too. In Canada, we’ve been waiting, and waiting.

Now, we’re finally getting the latest from VW, but it won’t be called the Golf here any more. We’re getting the Rabbit – same car as the European Golf, but a new name for North America – and a new bunny logo. Volkswagen’s Director of Brand Innovation, Kerri Martin, believes this move will resonate with “North American enthusiasts who have an emotional connection with the Rabbit name.”

It is a surprising move (even Volkswagen said that) as the Rabbit name hasn’t been used for 20 years, and its original introduction as a North America-only nameplate goes back to 1974. But rather than get into a stew about the name change, let’s focus on the considerable merits of the new car.

Bottom line: at a starting price of $19,990 for the two-door, five-speed manual model, the 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit is a huge bargain. Volkswagen has sharpened its pencil and packed this car with desirable standard features for which you have to pay much more in other vehicles. And they’re offering an introductory lease offer at $2,000 down and $218 per month for 48 months to make it easier to put one in your hutch (okay, no more Rabbit jokes).

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

The 2.5-litre, inline five-cylinder engine, for instance, makes 150 horsepower and a prodigious 170 foot-pounds of torque, and moves this car from a standstill with authority (happily, it uses regular grade gasoline). You also get air conditioning, cruise control, remote central locking, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, active steering, a 10-speaker in-dash CD/audio system, side impact and side curtain airbags, tilt/telescoping steering column, power windows with auto up/down on all windows, semi-automatic climate control, and many other discrete but equally impressive features (like turn signals built into the outside rear view mirrors, and height adjustable driver’s seat).

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

You can step up to the four-door for an additional $1,000, and opt for a slick six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic sport shift for $1,400.

As you would expect in a German car, the interior is impeccably tailored and a solid feel is evident throughout. The seats are firm but comfortable, like the Rabbit’s ride and handling. Interior dimensions are up slightly, as are all the external dimensions and the wheelbase, although the cargo area behind the rear seat is somewhat compromised compared with the outgoing Golf. However, there is a sophisticated multilink rear suspension below the floor that contributes to a particularly stable ride at speed.

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

And speaking of stability, you can add electronic stability control for a mere $450, while the Bosch active steering (electro mechanical steering) is an unprecedented standard feature in a vehicle of this price and type that deserves special comment (similar technology is an option in a 5-Series BMW, a car that starts at $66,000). Active steering assists the driver by compensating for lateral forces on the car caused by gusts of wind or undulations in the road that push the vehicle from side-to-side. In combination with the standard ABS, electronic brake force distribution and traction control, this is a formidable suite of traction and stability aids that are is not found in any other vehicle in this class.

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

Similarly, a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic sport shift is another unexpected and appreciated feature, and one typically found in larger, more expensive vehicles. The transmission shifts very smoothly and enables the 2007 Rabbit to motor along at 120 km/h while barely turning 2,000 rpm. As you might have guessed, the automatic transmission returns slightly better fuel economy than the manual, at 10.5/7.1 versus 10.7/7.2 L/100 km city/highway. The manual is fun to use, though, especially with all that torque available.

Several Audi touches are evident in the cabin, including a familiar display on the instrument panel, TT-style grab handles on the centre console, and the overall ambiance of the interior (which is charcoal, although beige is being considered as an additional choice). At this time, the sound system, while impressive, doesn’t have provision for iPod/MP3 connectivity or another digital interface.

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

And if you’d like a diesel – one of Volkswagen’s claims to fame – there won’t be one available in the Rabbit until 2009, although VW has inventory of 2006 Jetta Tdi models to last into calendar year 2007 (Volkswagen is developing a new common rail diesel to replace its Pumpe Duse system, and is working on new technologies to meet upcoming North American emissions standards. My advice: if you want a diesel, get one now).

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

Options for the 2007 Rabbit are few, but reasonably priced. Heated seats: $205; 16″ alloy wheel package: $565; sunroof package: $1,400; stability control: $450; premium audio with six CD changer: $400; rear side airbags for the five-door: $450.

On the road, the Rabbit is smooth and very quiet at speed, with sharp steering even from the base 15″ steel wheels and tires. Braking from the four discs is equally impressive, and getting a comfortable position behind the wheel is easy with the multi-adjustable seat and tilt-telescoping steering column. Visibility all around is good, with the mirrors slightly on the small side. Lots of storage space for odds and ends, a chunky steering wheel, and easily operated controls characterize the driver interface.

First Drive: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit volkswagen first drives
Click image to enlarge

The 2007 Rabbit has its work cut out for it from several fine competitors, like the Mazda3, Hyundai Accent 5-Door, and sedans like the Honda Civic. But the German-built Rabbit retains the Volkswagen character, look and heritage that differentiate it from the rest. While its starting price is higher than the competition, the base model Rabbit is substantially better equipped.

But if you’re looking for something even less expensive from VW, stay tuned for a product announcement in August. We don’t yet know what this is, but it won’t be called a Rabbit.

At a glance: 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit

Type: Three or five door hatchback
Price: $19,990 (3 Door); $20,990 (5 Door)
Notable: Comprehensive safety and convenience equipment; powerful engine; sporty but practical.
Built: Wolfsburg, Germany; engine built in Mexico
Available: June, 2006


Related stories on Autos – Competitors:

Manufacturere’s web site:


www.vw.ca

Connect with Autos.ca