Like any good German car, the 2006 VW Rabbit is solid on the highway, nimble in the city, quite comfortable, and genuinely fun to drive.
We drove the 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit five-door for 200 miles, trying both the manual and the automatic transmissions. Due to heavy rains and flooding on the two-lane roads VW originally planned for the test drive, we were relegated to freeway and congested city motoring and were not able to truly stretch the Rabbit’s legs in a more rural setting.
While the Rabbit’s acceleration time to 60 mph is a somewhat laggard nine seconds for the manual and a tick over that for the automatic, this car is no tortoise. It feels torquey off the line and when nosing to get past taxis and buses, but is mannerly in its quest to gain speed rather than rev-happy. The manual gearbox is tight and guides between gears with little effort. We enjoyed manipulating the Tiptronic automatic, and found an appreciable difference between “sport” and “normal” settings, preferring the higher-revving boost of the former. While Tiptronic’s response to manual input is not as crisp as some others we’ve driven, we did appreciate its fun-factor. The Rabbit’s engine and exhaust notes are pleasant and non-intrusive, a perfect fit for its around-town mission.
The Rabbit’s five-cylinder engine is unique in its class, as competitors use four-cylinder motors. An output of 150 horsepower is unimpressive given the engine’s 2.5 liters of displacement and extra cylinder. The five-speed manual is competitive for the class and the six-speed automatic is advanced, although Dodge offers a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Caliber. Also worth noting: despite its weight advantage over the Jetta, the Rabbit is heavy compared to its competition, save the Caliber. Fuel economy suffers because of this, but the added weight, along with its rigid body structure, yields a better ride quality.
Inside, the Rabbit’s cockpit is well-lit, with good visibility throughout and decent outside mirrors. Doors open wide to allow easy access to the front and rear seats on the five-door Rabbit we drove, but we would strongly discourage more than four travelers for any lengthy distance. Manual height-adjusting front seats are outdated and cranking them made us cranky, but the chairs are comfortable and well bolstered.
It remains to be seen whether the new Rabbit will find a faithful following. It garnered little attention during our city drive, a solo rabbit badge at the back end proclaiming that the car was new, and because of its evolutionary design the Rabbit likely passed as a VW Golf for most who bothered to take a second look. But one thing’s for sure; this is the best Golf…er, Rabbit, yet.