For a pocket rocket, VW’s new Rabbit is a whole lotta car for the money
Volkswagen is bringing back the Rabbit. Actually, it is the replacement for the Golf, but the name takes us back to when Volkswagen had just replaced the Beetle with a front-drive hatchback that again revolutionized the small car world. Rabbit also reminds us of when the hopped up GTI scatted onto roadways and stormed by performance cars with a high-revving engine and agile performance. Sharing a platform with the latest Jetta and Audi A3, the latest evil bunny promises to take VW to better times. Two new performance versions of the same platform are serious autobahn runners that are as lovable as ever.
2006 VW GTI
Early advertisements for the first-generation GTI shot the little car catching air over a crest in the road and highlighted its achievement with the tagline “Fly GTI.” By today’s measure, the “performance version” of the ’83 Rabbit wouldn’t have flown out of its own way as it lumbered from 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds and ran out of carrots at 108 mph. It was propelled by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that dropped a whopping 90 horsepower. A 2006 Beetle will blow it into the underbrush.
If the original GTI is a pudgy pet bunny, then the 21st Century version is a thoroughbred jackrabbit – a jackrabbit that knows its way around the fashion scene. Smooth two-box styling is as timeless as a Brooks Brothers suit, but is aerodynamically efficient with its sloped rounded nose, raked windshield, flush lower ground affects, streamlined mirrors with integrated turn signals, and large rounded taill lamps. GTIs sport a little spoiler above the rear window, ride on 18″ alloy wheels, and break wind with a blacked out honeycomb grille. There is no denying the GTI is related to the fifth generation of the Golf/Rabbit species, but it gives visual clues that it is ready to throw down.
It is ready for the fight; no other car has the mechanical bliss found under the GTI’s suave skin. Volkswagen’s stellar 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 200 horsepower and loads of torque that feels always ready to shove the car forward with enthusiasm. Drivers can choose a six-speed manual transmission, but I prefer the DSG six-speed automatic. This new generation of VW automatic transmissions, which will migrate to other models in the coming years, uses twin clutches to seamlessly shift faster than even the best drivers. It can be paddle-controlled from the steering wheel, via a special gate on the center gear selector, or left alone to work its magic. Unlike many manumatic transmissions, the DSG actually responds! Fuel economy of 25/31-MPG city/hwy is hard to stamp feet about.
So is true of the GTI’s exquisite interior. Power leather-covered sport seats (plaid cloth is standard), glass-covered analog instruments, in-dash navigation, Sirius satellite radio, thick-pile carpeting, padded interior surfaces, alloy interior trim (includes pedals), telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, front and rear reading lamps, and 6-disc changer could just as easily come from the uber cruiser Phaeton sedan as the sport version of VW’s entry-level model. Real people can sit in the rear seats when the 60/40 split/fold bench isn’t configured for hauling bicycles or other large items. Everything passengers and drivers touch or see meets standards usually reserved for world’s best automobiles.
As a fully developed composition of German divinity, the GTI performs beautifully on the highway. Electro-mechanical power steering and a four-wheel independent suspension system gives the car an unflappable poise whether running near its 130-MPH top speed or hustling through corners on your favorite back road. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control, and a locking differential insure a level of safety that keeps you on the straight and narrow. At every turn of the alloy wheels, the car’s inner soul shines through and constantly communicates with the driver.
A $29,405 sticker seems like a lot for a hopped up Rabbit until you drive it. The name and look are familiar, but this is an entirely different league of car than any of its predecessors. Grip the thick sport steering wheel, engage the DSG transmission, and enliven the turbo engine; you too will want to Fly GTI.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 28, 2006.