When Japanese automakers were swamping the market with small, economical cars back in the 70s, Volkswagen was amongst those who felt the most pressure. With the dwindling sales of the Volkswagen Beetle, the introduction of the Volkswagen Rabbit marked the timely reentry of the German automaker among the top vehicle choices. Small, fuel-efficient, spacious, and inexpensive, the Volkswagen Rabbit easily captured the hearts of many. Eventually, the Volkswagen Rabbit grew to occupy a spot at the top as the world’s third best-selling car model and Volkswagen’s top-selling model overall.
1974-1985: A runaway hit
Although the Volkswagen Rabbit shared its history with the model’s other nameplates such as the longer-lasting Golf name and the Mexican Caribe, many Americans still hold a torch for the Rabbit marque. Made as a response to the fast-rising Japanese econoboxes, the first generation Volkswagen Rabbits boasted of a sturdy construction, excellent fuel efficiency, and a very attractive price tag. These features got the Rabbit a warm response from the get-go, but it really solidified its presence among America’s top cars when the oil crisis hit in 1979. With its spacious cabin and unparalleled mileage, the Rabbit was a runaway hit amongst the various family cars of the time.
The first generation Rabbit was a hatchback that featured a front-wheel drive design and water-cooled four-cylinder engine. The success of the Rabbit also led to the Rabbit or Golf GTI hot hatch and the Rabbit Convertible or Golf Cabriolet.
1985-2003: Living under the Golf name
In 1983, the second generation Rabbit was introduced with a larger wheelbase, interior, and exterior dimensions. However, 1985 came with sad news for the Rabbit nameplate: only the Golf name would be retained for the succeeding releases. But although the Rabbit marque was abandoned for a while, the model continued to be one of the most successful cars of the time.
Gaining various upgrades both in size and performance, the Golf continued to up the ante in its next generations. It received a Syncro four-wheel drive system and ABS braking for the second generation as well as a Turbocharged Direct Injection engine and 2.8L VR6 engine for the third generation. Apart from vehicle upgrades, it also cemented its top position through several awards and recognitions. After being a runner-up for several years for the European Car of the Year Award, the Volkswagen Rabbit or Golf finally received the top spot in 1992 beating PSA’s ZX and GM’s Astra in the process.
2003-2008: The Rabbit name returns
The drop in sales for the Volkswagen Golf in its fifth generation marked the revival of the well-loved Rabbit nameplate in 2006. Proving its charm once again, the Rabbit was well-received when it was reintroduced as a two-door or four-door hatchback equipped with a 2.5L inline-5 engine that featured 150-170 horsepower. Although it was offered in a single trim level, the new Rabbit offered lots of perks such as heated seats, a classy cabin trim, and a very comfortable ride and handling experience.
Sadly, Volkswagen once again discontinued the Rabbit nameplate for the model’s sixth generation. But even though it enjoyed a very short-lived reappearance in the market, the Rabbit’s legacy makes it one of the very worthy used car choices around.