The Not-So-Wascally Wabbit.
I swear, every time I get behind the wheel of the current Volkswagen GTI, I’m more impressed by how well it’s aged. This is a vehicle whose roots date back to 2013. By all accounts, newer rivals should have left it in the dust with nicer interiors, better powertrains, and smarter technology. And yet, here we are with the 2019 Volkswagen GTI Rabbit Edition.
Think of the Rabbit Edition as a mid-range GTI SE with better upholstery (plaid cloth!), a slightly smaller infotainment system, and a $2,900 discount that yields a starting price below $30,000. That’s a fine recipe for a hot hatch, particularly one as potent and engaging as the GTI.
Volkswagen rates the GTI's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine at 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which to be entirely frank, is absurd. If you aren't willing to read the multiple reports about VW sandbagging on the GTI's output, just take one for a spin. This car is effortlessly quick for its class and price tag, with all 258 lb-ft of twist available at 1,500 rpm. The Honda Civic Si is playing with just 205 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, while the Hyundai Veloster Turbo packs just 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Heck, the GTI is barely down on the Golf R’s torque output – there’s a 22 lb-ft difference between the two. The middle child of the Golf family, though, is 300 pounds lighter than its all-wheel-drive big brother.
That front-drive setup has its virtues, of course. While the GTI lacks the all-weather ability of a Golf R, it feels lighter and quicker to react to sudden directional changes. That's despite it missing the R’s adaptive suspension (more on that in a moment). What the Rabbit Edition does have – like the base GTI – is an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which contributes to its ability to claw out of bends. The electric LSD doesn't feel as delightful around turns as a traditional mechanical limited-slip – in the right car, you can really feel one of those working – but it's impossible to ignore the GTI's ability to maintain grip through a turn without succumbing to understeer.
This is just the coolest upholstery on the market, bar none (sorry Porsche houndstooth). In fact, it's one of the primary reasons I'd consider a GTI. I'll just leave it at that.
This one could fall in either column, to be honest, but I'm marking it as a con simply because newer competitors feature more assertive aesthetics. There is something pleasant about a sleeper, but the GTI is just a little too anonymous. Even with the Rabbit Edition's 18-inch wheels, black mirror caps, and the red grille surround that graces all GTIs, this car never approaches the style or panache of rivals. Were it up to me, the more assertive design of the Golf R would be present on the GTI, while the range-topping hot hatch would get a style that better counters the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, and late Ford Focus RS.
The Rabbit Edition may be a GTI SE with better upholstery, but it's also missing that car's lone factory option: the $860 Experience package, which adds adaptive dampers, as well as an excellent Fender audio system. As I said, the Rabbit Edition is fine as is, but the DCC system had a significant impact on the driving experience when I tested the Jetta GLI. There's little reason to think it won't be similarly transformative here.
I remember the first time I drove a car with Volkswagen's dual-clutch automatic transmission. It was a Mark 5 GTI. It performed brilliantly, but it was also as fun as a manual transmission; farting at every wide-open-throttle upshift. This latest unit improves on the manners of early DSGs – the seven-speed in the GTI is much quicker to engage off the line, and on hills it doesn't roll backwards – but it never feels as aggressive or sporty. On a Mark 5 GTI, I'd recommend the DSG, but I just can't do the same here.