Ah, the power that marketing specialists wield. Those hired by Volkswagen decided that the German automaker’s compact, known everywhere else on the planet as the Golf, would be taking back its former name, Rabbit, in North America.
I don’t know about you, but my memories of the Volks Rabbit of old are those of rusted jalopies equipped with virtually useless shock absorbers. Thankfully, times have changed, and despite its North America-only name, the car’s fifth generation is basically the same as the one that has been rolling on the roads of Europe for three years now. It has taken some time for the new Golf, er, I mean Rabbit, to make it onto our market.
The Rabbit (assembled in Wolfsburg, Germany) comes with a 2.5-L five-cylinder engine (150 horses) that is also found under the hood of the Jetta, generating the same responsive, reasonable power. The five-speed manual transmission, which is a standard feature (and fun to shift), or even the wonder that is the optional six-speed sequential transmission, also feel familiar.
One major disappointment: The diesel version of the North American “Rabbit” will not be available for the next few years at least. Let’s hope that Volkswagen will reconsider, at least with respect to the Canadian market.
Now, a word about handling: If you are seeking the dynamic, Germanic thrills for which the Volks GTi is known, don’t bother with the Rabbit, which has fully abandoned its “macho” side when it comes to performance in favour of preppiness. I found its handling a tad sterile, with its electro-mechanical steering (also taken from the Jetta) as the likely culprit, toning down the thrills of the ride. I also would have preferred a firmer suspension — on potholes, suspension travel was not as solid as I would have liked.
All in all, the compact is decent, but not exuberant. Is this bunny tamer? Not when it comes to price. It starts at $19,990 (add on $1,000 for the five-door version), currently making it one of the priciest compacts on the market.
On the upside, it comes with a comprehensive standard equipment package: power group, air conditioning, cruise control, heated mirrors, ABS brakes, traction control and airbags throughout the interior. The stability control system is an extra $450.
Expensive? Let’s not forget about insurance … This is why Volkswagen Canada execs are said to be working on an offer to be made by the fall in the form of a stripped down version for under $15,000. You may want to wait a month or two before hopping into a new Rabbit.