Test Drive: A decade later, the Rabbit hops back to VW’s lineup

Remember the Rabbit? Car aficionados of a certain age certainly do. In the mid-1970s, it replaced the beloved Beetle, an event not everyone welcomed. But American drivers soon discovered the Rabbit was a vast improvement — faster, smoother, quieter, safer and more efficiently laid out.
For 2019, the Rabbit has hopped back into VW’s mix of models after a 10-year hiatus. It’s a limited-edition subcompact sedan based on the VW Golf GTI, with a number of flourishes. These include special badging, plaid upholstery, interior ambient lighting, a black rear spoiler and exterior colors unavailable on other Golf models. Only 3,000 will be sold in the United States.
Since it’s a Golf GTI at heart, the Rabbit has a bigger, more powerful engine than the standard Golf. Rated at 228 horsepower, the 2.0-liter inline turbocharged Four almost defies comparison with the 1.4-liter turbo Four that powers other Golf models. While much more invigorating to drive, the GTI gives up at least five miles per gallon to the standard Golf. It’s rated at 24 mpg city, 32 highway, compared with 29/37 in the Golf SE we test-drove a week before the Rabbit arrived.
Priced about $2,000 higher than the base Golf GTI, the Rabbit's sticker price was more than $5,000 higher than that of the Golf SE. It also lacked a few of the Golf’s most desirable features, including satellite radio, a sunroof and V-Tex leatherette upholstery. However, in addition to the bigger engine, the Rabbit had vented front and rear disc brakes with red calipers, 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels, the spoiler, and a sport suspension. Drive systems also can be adjusted to economy, normal, sport and custom settings.
In addition to being much quicker off the line than the Golf, the Rabbit GTI delivers more road feel and handles more crisply. Owing to the low-profile, 18-inch tires, it transmitted more road noise into the cabin and rode more firmly, but always well within our comfort level. We also were impressed with the sport seats, which had soft, beefy bolsters, and were both softer and more supportive than the seats in the conventional Golf.
In terms of safety and overall refinement, the Rabbit featured almost everything one could want — except the absence of satellite radio and automatic climate control. Both are available in the full-dress GTI, called the Autobahn.
The base GTI starts at $27,595, the Rabbit, $27,990; and the Autobahn, $35,995. At the top of Volkswagen’s sporty line is the Golf R, rated at 288 horsepower. The price of admission is $40,395.
VW’s competitors in the pocket-rocket category include the 205-horsepower Honda Civic Si; the Hyundai Veloster N, rated at 275 horsepower with the Performance Package; the Subaru WRX, up to 310 horsepower; and the Ford Focus ST, up to 270 horsepower.
Like the standard Golf, the Rabbit GTI has scored well in government crash tests, receiving 5-star ratings in almost every category including overall vehicle score.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition

Price : $29,790
Engine : 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 228 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission : 6-speed manual
Drive : Front-wheel
Weight : 3,062 lb.
Suspension : MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels : 18x7.5-in. gloss black alloy
Tires : 225/40R18 H all-season
Seating capacity : 5
Luggage capacity : 22.8 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity : 52.7 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity : 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy : 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type : regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.