Jumat, 06 Juni 2008

VW Rabbit Review

By Walter Pabst

Rabbits are renowned for their reproductive skills. Clever ads for Volkswagen’s long anticipated A-platform hatch show city-dwelling Rabbits multiplying by the dozens. Ironically, the tiny population of US-bound Volkswabbits is hardly bound to satisfy demand, never mind dominate the landscape. A prospective buyer is lucky to sample Wolfsburg’s new bunny prior to placing an order, and then faces a wait of around 60 days. VW dealers couldn’t care less; nurturing understandably impatient leads is hardly worth the pennies of revenue it generates. So, with lukewarm fanfare, scarce availability and laughable profit, the Rabbit is back.

The ‘07 Rabbit exhibits a subtly evolved physique, sharing much of its architecture with the original iteration. Compared with its prominently creased Italdesigned forbearer, the new model’s lines melt into a soft, one-box shape with a slick .32 drag coefficient. Face on, the Mk 5’s headlights mimic Speed Racer’s concerned brow, while a body-colored smiley-face grill eliminates the muzzled look bestowed on A-platform siblings.

In current Volks fashion, the belt dips way below the front fender and rises high above the rear wheel arch, accentuating the traditionally thick C-pillar (particularly on the two-door). Black bumper strips between the belt and the rocker help break up space, but with 15” wheels, the Rabbit’s profile looks more Cadbury bunny than black-tailed jack, and less rich than the previous Golf.

From the rear, the new Rabbit appears unpimped from the Mk 4, repeating the cartoon theme with Power Puff Girls’ eyes taillights. Details like twin exhaust tips and a hatch lift hidden in the Vee-Dub logo help redeem otherwise gawky styling. Taken as a whole, the Rabbit’s styling is comfortably familiar, and familiarly comfortable.

Clearly, the Vee Dub’s interior accommodations account for much of the model’s massive worldwide appeal. Though the base model’s anthracite interior is as dry as a Steven Wright punch line, all the diminutive German’s papers are in order. From its modern motel styling, to the carefully considered placement of indestructible semi-hard plastics (which are not half as exciting as it sounds), to a rear compartment that accommodates full-sized sedan passengers in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, the Rabbit’s two box design is still the very model of a major model general.

This Wolfsburgian Rabbit feels a lot more solid than its hecho en Mexico predecessors. All the subconscious cues that you’re driving German quality have returned: doors thunk, switchgear snicks and switches respond without delay. The fact that the new Rabbit is bigger may also have a little something to do with it. In fact, the long delayed next gen Golf is a “Super Rabbit” of sorts: ten inches longer than the Mk 4 and 70% heavier than its Paleolithic namesake. The extra girth takes its inevitable toll on straight line performance.

Rumor has it the 2.5-liter five cylinder engine hauling the heft is derived from Lambo’s Gallardo V-10. Be that as it may, in practice, the 150-horse long-stroke mill feels like Volvo’s unboosted five: adequate at the low end and short of breath up top, with an off-key exhaust groan that mimics Darth Vader’s Imperial fighter. Give the mill its marching orders and zero to sixty eventually rocks up after nine seconds. The fun factor is well short of Wolfsburg’s old, equally horsed 1.8 turbo four. But the jingle saved on regular gas buys a six pack of Natty, half a ham sub and a bag of pretzels per tank, come game night.

The Rabbit’s handling is, as always, its strong suit. The car’s electromagnetic steering system feeds back like Slash’s guitar, tracking straight over choppy pavement and adjusting the assistance according to speed. A new four-link independent rear suspension harness the Rabbit’s reflexes, helping you maintain hard-earned momentum while improving the overall ride quality. And when it’s time to shed what you worked so hard to achieve, the Rabbit’s four-wheel disc brakes are up to the challenge, assisted by a trick electronic brake pressure distribution system.

With increased demand for versatile, fuel efficient vehicles, VW Rabbits should be hopping off car lots and crowding streets like the swift, promiscuous creatures they’re named after. There’s a lot to like about Volkswagen’s bread and butter hatchback– if only American consumers could get one to like. This year, VW’s bringing in around 19k cars for a 50k market (at the least). The ratio of supply to demand will certainly please owners lucky enough to secure their pet Rabbit, what with used examples commanding a relatively stiff price, but disappointed VW customers will be, well, disappointed.

Sadly, the German-built Rabbit has so little profit at American prices, it’s a wonder Vee-Dub even bothered bringing it here. Dealers and customers alike await the profitable, cheap-to-multiply replacement promised by VW brass within two years. Perhaps then the US Rabbit population will rise above that of an endangered species.