The decision to replace the Golf with the Rabbit will shock some people, bewilder others and, according to Volkswagen, create a new image for its volume model.
Company officials say the change is not so much to evoke memories of the Rabbit that hopped around this continent in the 1970s and early 80s, but to allow for some creative marketing. That means fun with the advertising, which should put a smile on your face and help you think happy thoughts about this newest Volkswagen model.
If this somehow sounds familiar, it should. The Rabbit name was changed to Golf in 1984, partially because of a dip in image and quality related to an ill-fated attempt to build the car in America. Here we are, 22 years later, and VW is reverting to the Rabbit name after several years of the Golf languishing near the bottom of the Initial Quality and Reliability Survey charts.
Call it what you want, but the change in name signals a significant new car from one of the world’s largest automakers.
The 2007 Rabbit is a strong entry in one of the busiest segments of the biggest new-vehicle market in the world. Compact cars are all the rage in North America these days and the Rabbit has been priced and equipped to grab your attention.
At $14,990, the front-driver offers significantly more power and performance than past models and comes loaded with six airbags, anti-lock brakes and a host of other features. As the Golf before it, the Rabbit comes in three or five-door body styles with a flip/fold rear seat and large rear hatch allowing it to move five people or a whole lot of stuff from Point A to wherever.
Style-wise, this is obviously a new VW with much more modern lines. The interior, especially the instrument panel, is typical VW, which is to say among the best in class in terms of design and execution. There is more leg and shoulder room than the outgoing Golf offered and the seats get our seal of approval for comfort and support over long distances.
The new Rabbit might be tardy getting to the party, having been available in Europe for more than two years, but it’s equipped to make a noteworthy entry with European style and attitude at Korean-make prices, certainly unusual for a German automaker.
There will be no diesel version due to strict 2007 emission regulations and it will be built solely in Wolfsburg, Germany. Brazil and Mexico are out of the picture.
The decision to call this new VW model a Rabbit is also partially based on the desire to promote the car’s quickness and agility. VW begins with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that’s used on the four-door GLi (nee Jetta).
With 170-horsepower compared to the meager 115 offered by the outgoing base Golf, performance is in a whole new arena. The inline-five is a North American exclusive. Not available in other markets, it was developed with North American needs (torque) and driving styles in mind.
The dual-overhead-cam 20-valve unit is produced in Mexico and shipped to the assembly plant in Germany. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but opting for the automatic ($1,075) yields six forward gears.
Built on a totally new platform and offering more crash protection and interior space, the Rabbit is significantly more refined than the Golf. Instead of the old beam-type rear axle it offers a truly independent suspension and the difference in both ride and handling is quite remarkable.
Even the base three-door model comes with power windows and locks, air conditioning, power heated mirrors, tilt and telescope steering wheel, 10-speaker audio system, cruise control and traction control. The five-door version adds an eight-way adjustable passenger seat, upgraded seat trim, adjustable and upgraded center console, rear seat armrest with pass-through, body-colored side moldings and a number of option packages not available on the three-door. They include rear-seat side-impact airbags, alloy wheels, sunroof and satellite radio.
The Rabbit and GLi are the first of several new VW models in the pipeline. Also coming are the Eos hardtop/convertible (September) as well as a minivan (to be built at the DaimlerChrysler plant in Windsor, Canada) as well as a new small sport-utility vehicle.
Volkswagen dealers and aficionados have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Golf’s replacement. Even though it carries a different badge, it has definitely been worth the wait.