The engine in the 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit has been tuned to the tastes of American drivers. VW's 2.5-liter, inline five-cylinder engine pumps out 150 horsepower, which certainly is adequate for a car that weighs around 3000 pounds.
More important, it delivers 170 pound-feet of torque, which is the power that gets a car moving from a standing start. Significant is the fact that 90 percent of maximum torque is available from 1750 to 5125 rpm. This not only makes the Rabbit feel quick and nimble, but means that it has good drivability across a wide power band. Stab the throttle when cruising along at any speed and the Rabbit takes off, making it a good car for commuting in heavy traffic. The Rabbit can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 9 seconds, not quick by today's standards but adequate for daily driving.
The Rabbit is most responsive when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. However, the optional automatic transmission features six gears so it kicks down quickly when needed for passing or freeway on-ramp merging maneuvers.
The optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic adds to the Rabbit's price, but features the manual-shifting technology developed by Porsche. The automatic matches the manual transmission in fuel economy, with an EPA-rated 22 mpg City/30 mpg Highway, a benefit of having six speeds.
The body structure of the new Rabbit is about 80 percent stiffer than the previous-generation Golf, according to Volkswagen. A stiffer structure is good because it means the various mechanical components are better able to do the jobs for which they were engineered.
Ride and handling are enhanced by revisions to the suspension system and a new electro-mechanical power steering system is responsive and precise. The relatively long wheelbase helps smooth the ride.
The brakes also are responsive. The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes allow the driver to brake and steer at the same time in a panic stopping situation. Traction control is standard for more stable handling when accelerating on slippery roads. The optional Electronic Stability Program is a computer-controlled aid designed to help keep the car on its intended path rather than spinning out of control in emergency maneuvers, and we strongly recommend getting it.
The all-new Volkswagen Rabbit is a quick and perky vehicle with enough power to make it fun to drive. Its steering and suspension give it a nice balance of smooth ride and responsive handling and help the driver maneuver safely in emergency situations. The hatchback design provides practicality and flexibility that make the Rabbit an attractive option in its price class.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Larry Edsall filed this report from Phoenix, Arizona.