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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

2009 Volkswagen Rabbit

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The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is like soccer: huge in Europe, not so much in America. Of course, the Rabbit is known as the Golf across the pond, but the fact remains that Europeans have a keener affinity for VW's iconic hatchback, to the tune of making it the second-best-selling car in Europe last year. In America, sedans are king -- sorta like the NFL. Yet supposedly unfashionable hatchbacks like the Rabbit are interesting alternatives for those who recognize the inherent practicality of this design.

VW relaunched the Rabbit name midway through 2006 in an effort to make Americans remember a time when they didn't hate hatchbacks. Sold in the U.S. from 1975-'84, the original Rabbit was cute, nimble and practical, just like its quivering-nosed namesake -- well, except for the practical part, as you can't exactly fit a bicycle inside a small furry creature. This new-generation Rabbit isn't quite as cute or nimble, but as the largest Golf/Rabbit yet, it certainly has the practical bit down. Interior space is impressive for a compact car, with a large backseat and trunk.

For those looking for that certain je ne sais quoi that sets European cars apart from the pack in terms of driving feel and interior quality, the Rabbit has it in spades. A stiff body structure and multilink rear suspension combine to help deliver a commendably compliant ride. Solid handling is also part of the package-- on a twisty road, the Rabbit is quite happy to scamper. With 170 horsepower, this VW is one of the most powerful cars in the class, and feels like it. The cabin is also top-notch, as it offers loads of features and build quality that would put more than a few pricier vehicles to shame.

Of course, the 2009 VW Rabbit isn't alone in the compact hatchback game. Perhaps the vehicle closest in nature is the Saturn Astra, which was designed and built in Europe, although the VW does have a significant power advantage. Another car worthy of consideration is the Mazda 3, which boasts good looks, even better feature content and a decidedly European fun-to-drive character. A slew of traditional compact sedans like the Honda Civic could be considered (especially given their better fuel economy and potentially lower price). But like soccer, the enjoyable little VW Rabbit is definitely worth checking out -- perhaps you'll find something good in what you've been missing.

The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is a compact hatchback available with two or four doors, each with a single trim level (known as S). The two-door Rabbit S comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a six-way manually adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a 10-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The four-door Rabbit S adds upgraded exterior trim, heated windshield washer nozzles, front and rear center armrests, velour upholstery, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat with power recline and adjustable lumbar, heated front seats, rear air vents and an upgraded sound system with in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio.

The heated seats and windshield washer nozzles are optional on the two-door. All Rabbits can be optioned with 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof and an iPod adapter.

Powertrains and Performance

The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces a healthy 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard on the Rabbit two-door, with a six-speed automatic optional -- the Rabbit four-door comes only with the auto. Although the engine's ample power is unusual for a compact car, it does have an effect on fuel economy. EPA estimates for an automatic-equipped Rabbit are 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined, which is near the bottom among economy cars. Rabbits bred for California-emissions states are classified as partial-zero-emission vehicles (PZEV).