2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase; photos by Greg Wilson and Bob McHugh

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Not all of the most recognizable car and truck names are attached to high-dollar rides. Take the Volkswagen Rabbit: here’s a car with the most humble of roots, starting out as a basic subcompact hatchback. Its smart design and efficiency – in an age of hulking gas-guzzlers – made the Rabbit a household name in a few short years.

The Rabbit name disappeared in the mid 1980s, when Volkswagen brought the Golf name, which the car wore in Europe, to this continent. Then, in a surprising move, Volkswagen decided that the fifth-generation of Golf (the Mk. V as it’s know by VW geeks) would be called the Rabbit in North America. It was equally surprising, then, when VW announced that the sixth-gen, 2010 model year car would revert to the Golf name. The short-lived “new” Rabbit, and its sporty GTI counterpart, is the focus of my column.

2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
2007 Volkswagen GTI
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit (top); 2007 Volkswagen GTI (bottom). Click image to enlarge

As the fifth-generation of VW’s small car, the Rabbit was an evolution of the Golf that came before it. And, like previous generations, the entry-level Rabbit was sold alongside a sporty GTI variant. Both cars were more refined and, some might say, less fun to drive than their predecessors.

The Rabbit strayed from previous generations by coming standard with a five-cylinder engine making 150 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque (all previous Golfs and GTIs used either four- or six-cylinder power), while the GTI used VW’s terrific 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, good for 200 horses and 207 lb-ft of torque.

The five-banger proved to be a torquey piece, which helped in the drivability department, but was thirsty and wasn’t much fun to drive hard. Fuel consumption ratings were 10.7 L/100 km (city) and 7.2 L/100 km (highway) – numbers that were more in line with, say, the $40,000 Toyota Avalon (whose V6 made 268 horsepower in 2007!) than with the compact sedans it was sized to compete with.

By contrast, the GTI’s NRGuide ratings were actually a little better than the Rabbit’s, at 10.1/6.8 L/100 km (city/highway), despite its extra power and rev-happy nature.

The Rabbit was standard with a five-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed automatic (a rarity in the class) being the option. The GTI got a six-speed manual as standard, and VW’s six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) sequential transmission as the extra-cost choice.

It’s early to tell for sure, but I’m hopeful that Volkswagen has exorcised the reliability demons that have afflicted some of its other recent models. Consumer Reports gives the fifth-gen Rabbit/GTI above-average used vehicle ratings, but a quick search of the forums at VWVortex.com revealed that there are a few things to look out for.

2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit. Click image to enlarge

Here is an informative post detailing a few things to look out for in the GTI’s turbo four-cylinder engine. In fact, the entire thread that post is found in is quite handy.

Interior rattles seem to be a common affliction in Mk. V cars. This thread details how to eliminate an annoying dash rattle; this one takes care of one in the area of the dome light; and thread number three looks after a rattle caused by poorly secured fuel lines.

The DSG transmission “Mechatronics” unit, which I gather is the device that helps the transmission’s complex electronic and mechanical bits cooperate, is prone to failure. Symptoms include a hard second-to-first shift when decelerating, surging under light acceleration and a reluctance to downshift in automatic mode. Here’s a thread detailing some of the DSG issues owners posting on VWVortex.com have experienced.

2007 Volkswagen Rabbit
2007 Volkswagen Rabbit. Click image to enlarge

Excessive/premature rear brake pad wear could be due to a parking brake cable that was improperly adjusted at the factory. This can cause the rear brakes the drag slightly, and wear out much more quickly than they should.

This forum section at VWVortex.com is dedicated to the Rabbit’s 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine; here is a thread specific to common problems in the 2.5-litre-powered Rabbit.

Crash safety is good: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Rabbit “good” ratings in both frontal offset and side impact tests. From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Rabbit earned four stars for front seat occupant protection in frontal impact testing, and five stars for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts.

All Rabbits have six airbags (two front, two front-seat torso and two front-seat curtain) as standard, and rear-seat curtain airbags were available in certain models. Traction and stability control was standard in GTI and optional on the Rabbit.

Like many a German car, used Rabbits hang on to resale value. According to Canadian Red Book, used prices range from $15,400 to $18,100. Four-door models, which were $1,000 more expensive than two-door Rabbits when new, tend to be worth $600 to $700 more on the used market, but expect real-world prices to vary greatly depending on options.

Meanwhile, the GTI comes in at $21,650 to $24,600; again, the four-door model is worth more used, just like it was when new.
Despite its higher price, the GTI is my choice, for its sporty-yet-comfortable ride and Euro-tight driving feel. The more efficient, more powerful engine is a treat, and while the sophisticated DSG transmission seems prone to some problems, it’s a sweet unit when it’s working as designed.

Many used Rabbits will still have some of their factory warranty left, which is a bonus if you’re concerned about reliability but love everything else about these cars – and this is one car that’s easy to love.


Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) November 2009:

Price today
Price new
Rabbit four-door Trendline
Rabbit four-door base
Rabbit four-door base
GTI four-door
GTI four-door
GTI four-door

Used Rabbit values include manual transmission; Used GTI values include DSG transmission and power sunroof

Online resources
  • Start your search at VWVortex.com, a huge forum where membership also gets you access to the entertaining CarLounge.net forums. RabbitOwnersClub.com and GolfMk5.com/GolfMkV.com (different names for the same thing) are excellent resources, too.

  • Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009249; Units affected: 2,700 (includes other models)

    2009: On certain vehicles equipped with a Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG), the wiring harness of a temperature sensor in the DSG may have connector wires that were insufficiently crimped during assembly. As such, the temperature sensor could falsely detect a high gearbox oil temperature, causing the transmission to abruptly shift to the Neutral position. A loss of propulsion, in conjunction with traffic and road conditions, and the driver’s reactions, could increase the risk of a crash causing personal injury or death. Correction: Dealers will reprogram the transmission control module with updated software.

    Transport Canada Recall Number:2007306; Units affected: 52,475 (includes other models)

    2007-2008: Certain vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of CMVSS 108 – Lamps, Reflective Devices and Associated Equipment. 1). The required cap designed to disable the headlamp horizontal aim may not have been installed during vehicle assembly. 2). A cap may have been inadvertently installed to disable the vertical aiming screw. 3). An adjustment mechanism allows aiming of the low beam relative to the high beam. Correction: Dealers will affect repairs.

    Transport Canada Recall Number:2006122; Units affected: 244,526 (includes other models)

    2007: On certain vehicles, the brake lamp switch may malfunction. If this happens, the brake lamps could become inoperative; or could come on and stay on, even though the vehicle is parked. Correction: Dealers will replace the brake lamp switch with a newly revised version. This action includes vehicles previously affected by Transport Canada recall 03-184 and 04-075. The switch installed during this prior repair may not function properly. Note: parts available December 2006.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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