2008 Volkswagen Rabbit SPosted on August 18th, 2008
Classic hatchback appeals to budget-conscious buyers.
By Nina Russin
The Rabbit and I have history together. My first new car was a ’77 Rabbit: a college graduation present from my parents. The car cost $5000: more than my parents had ever paid for a new car. But I convinced them that I wouldn’t be caught behind the wheel of an AMC Pacer while blood coursed through my veins, and the Rabbit became mine.
The mid-1970s coincided with America’s first gas shortage. The Rabbit got good fuel economy for its time. Since the chassis was front-wheel drive, the Rabbit’s winter traction was better than many of the cars it shared the roads with.
The rear hatch was spacious enough to hold the contents of my dorm room, as long as I didn’t mind losing visibility out the rear window. Not only did my Rabbit make many treks between my hometown of Cincinnati and college in Vermont: it also ferried me and my possessions to Ketchum, Idaho, when I moved there after college.
Fast forward to a new generation of drivers
Three decades later, Volkswagen is reintroducing the Rabbit: appealing to much the same audience as the first car. Though it costs three times as much as the original model, the new Rabbit is a bargain by current standards. A base, two-door model with a manual transmission starts at $15,490.
Three decades of technology has raised the bar on the Rabbit’s performance. Gone is the carburetor that was the Achilles heel of the original car.
An inline five-cylinder fuel-injected engine on the ’08 model produces 170 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic. The test car, with the six-speed automatic, averages twenty-four miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving.
German car performance
The Rabbit’s ride and handling make it feel like a more expensive car than it is. The base model with a manual transmission goes from zero-to-sixty in 7.8 seconds; 8 seconds for cars with automatic transmissions. Acceleration in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range is excellent, making it easy to merge into high-speed traffic.
Both two and four-door models come with a fully independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking. Front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners.
The test car has sixteen-inch wheels: an optional upgrade from standard fifteen-inch rims ($450). They give the car a wider footprint, which is noticeable at speed.
Tire noise, even at speed, is not excessive. Nor is there any obvious wind noise around the front glass or sideview mirrors.
Despite its thick C pillars, visibility is pretty good all the way around the car. The side mirrors do an adequate job of compensating for blind spots to the rear.
The six-speed automatic transmission adds $1075 to the base price, but may be a worthwhile investment for commuters who don’t want the hassle of a clutch.
The automatic transmission has a manual gear select option: a boon for driving enthusiasts. A switch on the floor console turns off the optional electronic stability program for driving in the snow or on dirt roads.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Well equipped interior
The Rabbit’s interior is simple but stylish with most of the comfort and convenience features today’s buyers want. The eight-way manually adjustable driver’s seat and four-way passenger seat both have adjustable lumbar support. Standard cloth upholstery is attractive and much cooler than leather in the middle of an Arizona summer.
The rear seats have a surprising amount of head and legroom for such a small car. Rear passengers get a separate set of vents and overhead reading lamps. Small cupholders that pop out of the back of the center console are too flimsy to be practical.
All models come with remote keyless entry, power heated outside mirrors, cruise control, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.
Two large cupholders next to the shift lever are big enough for small cans or water bottles. The doors have map pockets with molded bottle holders.
A small shelf at the base of the center stack holds small electronic devices: a 12-volt outlet adjacent to the shelf recharges cell phones on the go.
An overhead console holds sunglasses or a garage door opener. The glovebox is large enough to hold maps and books. A separate shelf keeps the owner’s manual and car documents in one place.
Rotary knobs for the automatic climate control are on the center stack: they are easy to reach from either front seating position. The air conditioner cools the interior down quickly, even when temperatures outside are over a hundred degrees.
The standard audio system includes an AM/FM radio with MP3 plug-in and single-slot CD player. The test car has an optional iPod adapter ($299) in the center armrest. Sirius satellite radio is optional on four-door models.
Spacious cargo area
A standard tonneau cover keeps items stashed in back hidden. It’s easy to remove to make room for larger cargo.
The rear seats fold down by lifting release levers on the seatbacks. The seats don’t fold completely flat, but at least the floor is uninterrupted. A couple of tie-down loops secure larger items. There is a second twelve-volt power point to the right of the liftgate.
Since the Rabbit’s overall length is just 165 inches, the cargo floor is a little short for loading in bicycles. It will hold a frame, but at least one wheel has to come off. Cyclists considering the car should count on adding an external rack.
All cars come with a five year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and 50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that includes four years of roadside assistance. Volkswagen produces the Rabbit at its Wolfsburg, Germany assembly plant.
Likes: A versatile, affordable hatchback that’s fun to drive and has excellent fuel economy.
Dislikes: Rear seatbacks don’t fold completely flat. The cargo floor is too short for loading in bicycles, and the carpeted surface is harder to clean than vinyl.
Model: Rabbit S
Base price: $15,600
As tested: $18,524
Horsepower: 170 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 177 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $650 delivery charge.
One response to “2008 Volkswagen Rabbit S”
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