Volkswagen Rabbit: Trims, Features, And Performance Explained - SUV VEHICLE

Volkswagen Rabbit: Trims, Features, And Performance Explained

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Summary

  • VW Rabbit: Legendary hot hatch with a rich history and iconic design; the spiritual godfather of today’s hot hatches.
  • Performance: Range of powertrain options, top speeds, 0-60 MPH times, handling agility praised by owners and auto-journalists.
  • Classic Appeal: Retro design, practicality, easy modifications, high desirability, boxy exterior and simple interior features.



Volkswagen is one of the leading auto-makers when it comes to SUVs, compact cars, compact sedans, and sedans. In fact, VW has released the most affordable compact sedan to offer a manual transmission in 2024. Throughout its long, sometimes dark, but mostly illustrious history, the German manufacturer has brought legendary classic vehicles like the VW Beetle, the VW T2 Bus, and the VW Karmann Ghia to the auto market whilst being in close competition with the likes of Ford, Audi, Toyota, Honda, and Chevrolet ever since. There is one model from the German automaker that, when released in the 1970s and since then, has become one of the most revered Volkswagen hot hatch cars to drive and own. The Volkswagen Rabbit.

We have gathered information from a number of sources to bring you information about the story of the VW Rabbit, its performance specifications, what powertrain options are available, how the Rabbit lives on today, and what makes it a desirable classic Volkswagen to own.


In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Volkswagen’s website and other authoritative sources, including Hot Cars, Customer Survey.org, Car & Driver for road tests, and Classic.com.

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The Volkswagen Rabbit Story

The Volkswagen Rabbit, as it was known originally in America and Canada, though you may know it better as the Volkswagen Golf MKI, was launched in 1974 as a replacement model for the much loved VW Beetle, which for years previously had taken the auto world by storm and is still one of the best-selling cars worldwide.


Designed for practicality, good fuel consumption, ease of use, and as a modern turn in the road for Volkswagen, the Rabbit has gone on to progress into another high-selling model for VW and change the way hatchbacks are seen, used, and revered by the car community.

Real Hot-Hatch Credentials

Boasting a front-wheel driveline, a water-cooled front-mounted engine, a suspension set-up that boasts MacPherson struts at the front and a semi-independent torsion beam axle with coil-over dampers at the rear to allow for agile handling, a steel unibody, decent power credentials from a good choice of engine options (more on that later though), ample cargo space, a huge amount of potential for modification, and a sporty exterior look, the Volkswagen Rabbit is the epitome of why you should drive a hot hatch and what is so good about the segment. The original Rabbit really is the spiritual godfather of hot hatches!

The Rabbit Lives On Today

The VW Rabbit name was only used for the first model lineup from 1974 to 1983 in the U.S.A. until the model was redesigned as the Volkswagen MK2 Golf.


In 2009, VW released the 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit, which garnered positive reviews from auto-journalists, and in 2019, Volkswagen even released the VW Golf GTI Rabbit Edition to pay homage to the great hot hatch. The name doesn’t hang around for long though and is always dropped again for the sportier sound ‘Golf’ or ‘Golf GTI’. Predecessors of the VW Rabbit live on though, and VW Golfs are still on sale today as a popular choice as part of an ever-popular lineup of hot hatches.

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Available VW Rabbit Trims

VW Rabbit Pickup in red posing in front of trees
VW 


The first line of VW Rabbits was released as practical hatchbacks with a huge range of powertrain options, including both petrol and diesel engines. A Rabbit GTI trim was introduced in 1976, which features a fuel-injected powertrain instead of just carburetors, and special editions of Rabbit GTIs were also released which feature a 1.8-liter engine, a distinctive quad-lamp front grille, Pirelli alloy wheels, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

According to Classic.com, there are only three Volkswagen Rabbits available for sale online at the moment, and they have an average used price of $18,180. Trims available for sale at the moment vary, but the highest-spec Rabbit GTI from the original lineup is even harder to come by, with none currently for sale. A cabriolet version of the GTI was also introduced, which features a convertible roof.

Different Powertrain Options

The list of powertrain options to suit the kind of driving you want to do is extensive, and it seems that VW thought of everyone when designing the original Rabbit. Engine options for the Rabbit are:


  • 1.1-liter carburetor inducted inline-four
  • 1.3-liter carburetor inducted inline-four
  • 1.5-liter carburetor inducted inline-four
  • 1.6-liter carburetor inducted inline-four
  • 1.6-liter fuel-injected inline-four (GTI model)
  • 1.8-liter fuel-injected inline-four (GTI model)
  • Turbocharged 1.6-liter fuel-injected inline-four (Diesel)

We will go into detail about power and performance specifications for these engines a little bit later on, but, if you are looking to buy a VW Rabbit, you certainly have a huge choice depending on what you want to use it for. The most sought-after models and most modified you’ll find, according to Classic.com, are the GTIs, which have the capability to output a little more power than the standard models.


There Is Even A Rabbit Pickup Truck

On top of everything else offered by the Rabbit as a hot hatch, a Rabbit pickup truck was also released for the American market in 1979 for those wanting to haul and tow. Maybe not to the level of pickups with the highest towing capacity today, but still not bad. Nearly identical to the European market’s Volkswagen Caddy which was released a few years later, and has now evolved into a small van, the VW Rabbit Pickup features a four or five-speed manual transmission, either a 1.6-liter petrol or 1.7-liter diesel engine, a 6-foot-long bed, enhanced practicality, and all that classic Rabbit styling.

If you are looking to buy one, at the moment you are out of luck. According to Bring A Trailer, there are no Rabbit Pickups for sale. So the dream of hopping in one may have to be shelved at the moment. There are also some really impressively tidy mod-jobs of the Rabbit Pickup out there that, if you get hold of one, you may want to take inspiration from. Its legendary status, the potential to modify, its game-changing credentials, total uniqueness, and the usability and practicality of this tiny compact pickup are just some of the reasons that VW should bring the Rabbit Pickup back.


Volkswagen Rabbit Key Features

1979 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel 5-Speed in beige Posing on suburban street
Bring A Trailer

If there is one thing that can be said about the Volkswagen Rabbit, it is that it has a charisma of its own, with the capability to compete with the likes of the Fiat Strada or the awesome Lancia Delta and its modified lineup. If you are a fan of the typical late 1970s/early 1980s boxy styling, then the Volkswagen Rabbit should certainly be a classic car that is on your radar. Inside and out, the Rabbit has a style of its own.


Rabbit Interior Features

The 1975 VW Rabbit was originally priced at $4,030 ($23,245 today), below the 1975 average price of a new car which was $4,950, so you can expect the interior to be built for durability and longevity over luxury. Featuring a simple and easy-to-read instrument cluster, high-quality upholstery that was made to last, and basic controls for air ventilation and heating, the sparse interior does look utilitarian, but that is synonymous with everyday cars of the era.

Features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and air conditioning were offered as upgrades and counter-fitted for some model years. With models from the GTI lineup, you can expect a little more luxury in the way of different colored upholstery choices and a more powerful engine.

Rabbit Exterior Features

Featuring the classic 70s/80s box styling, though that may not be as classically beautiful as the automotive icon that is the E-Type Jaguar, the Rabbit’s exterior design has gone on to become iconic in its own right. Showcasing ample cargo space of 12.4 cubic feet, aerodynamically designed mirrors, VW’s iconic front grille and badge combo, a neat hatch-trunk design, boxy and sharp edges, integrated bumpers, large windows all around the body, and enough sporty charm to rival other classic sports cars, the VW Rabbit creates a class of its own in retro design, practicality, and fun.


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Volkswagen Rabbit Performance Specifications

1984 Volkswagen GTI in black posing on sandy terrain
Bring A Trailer

As mentioned, the VW Rabbit/MKI Golf was produced to feature a huge range of powertrains. Below are the engine specifications, top speeds, and 0 – 60 MPH times. As you will be able to see, the fuel-injected GTI engine is by far the fastest and most powerful, one of the reasons why it is so popular among collectors and V-Dub fans today.

Plenty of owners and auto-journalists at the time said that the handling and agility of the VW Rabbit through corners and tight turns was one of its finer qualities, making it not only a reasonably fast car for the price paid in the 1970s and 1980s, but also a fun and practical one to drive.


VW Rabbit Engine Specifications

Engine

1.1-Liter Inline Four

1.3-Liter Inline Four

1.5-Liter Inline Four

1.6-Liter Inline Four

1.8-Liter Inline Four (GTI)

1.5-Liter Inline Four (Diesel)

1.6-Liter Inline Four (Diesel)

Transmission

Four-Speed Manual or Three-Speed Automatic

Four-Speed Manual or Three-Speed Automatic

Four-Speed Manual or Three-Speed Automatic

Four Speed Manual or Three-Speed Automatic

Four or Five Speed Manual

Four/Five-Speed Manual or Three-Speed Automatic

Four/Five-Speed or Three-Speed Automatic

Horsepower

49 Horsepower

59 Horsepower

69 Horsepower

74 Horsepower

110 Horsepower

49 Horsepower

69 Horsepower

Torque

59 Pound-Feet

68 Pound-Feet

79 Pound-Feet

92 Pound-Feet

110 Pound-Feet

59 Pound-Feet

95 Pound-Feet

Driveline

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive

Top Speed

90 MPH

93 MPH

99 MPH

101 MPH

112 – 115 MPH

87 MPH

99 MPH

0-60 MPH

17 Seconds

15 Seconds

13-15 Seconds

12-14 Seconds

9 – 10.5 Seconds

19 Seconds

14 Seconds

(Data collected from Classic.com and Car & Driver)

The VW Rabbit Is A Unique And Malleable Beast

Another reason that the Volkswagen Rabbit was so successful when it was released and continues to be a popular classic car, is because of the ease of self-maintenance and modifications that can be done. Someone has created a dual-engined Golf MK1 GTI, which was effectively just a bolt-on job for the owner, but the results are just insane! That is just one example but, there are literally hundreds of modified Rabbits bouncing around our roads.


According to one owner of a 1975 Rabbit who left a review on Car Survey.org, the Rabbit ‘handled beautifully’, had very cheap running costs, and though unreliable, was simple and easy to work on. Despite giving a reliability score of 5 out of 10 and complaining about burning oil and rust, it still scored the Rabbit a solid 7 out of 10 as an overall mark. An owner of a 1980 Rabbit Cabriolet that features the 1.8-liter engine option also commented that ‘they can’t stop buying them‘, but said that it was a durable machine. Like all classic cars, it depends on the state you buy one in. With classics like the Volkswagen Rabbit, if you are lucky enough to find one at a good price that isn’t rusted, you could have the potential at your hands to drive and own a very desirable classic with nearly endless retro appeal, modding potential, and charisma.

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