You’ll fall in love with the 2019 Volkswagen GTI Rabbit Edition

By Jim Prueter

(February 7, 2019) To begin, let’s try to clear this part up: The Volkswagen tested here is named the Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition. Yes, the Rabbit name is back as a heritage-inspired edition, new for the 2019 model year. The original Volkswagen GTI made its first American appearance back in 1983 and is now in its seventh-generation.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Golf GTI, know that it has the reputation as perhaps the best compact car one can buy and has enjoyed that status for years. It’s been a staple on Car and Driver’s 10 Best Cars list 16 times, and appears on countless “best of” automotive lists annually.

It’s an affordable and practical car with superb performance credibility, outstanding driving dynamics, useful passenger room and cargo space, excellent technology and fuel economy. It also has one of the longest warranties and enjoys enviable resale value, with a commanding cult-like following.

The special Rabbit Edition is essentially an appearance package that features 18-inch gloss black aluminum-alloy wheels, a black rear spoiler, LED headlights with adaptive front-lighting, black mirror caps, red GTI-logoed brake calipers, Rabbit-badged seat tags, red-stitched floor mats and a few tech features. There’s also a Rabbit badge on the lower corner of the rear liftgate. Of course, it wouldn’t be a GTI without the Titan Black & Clark Plaid cloth upholstery standard in the S and Rabbit Edition trim levels.

The Rabbit GTI will have a limited production run of 3,000 units and is offered in a choice of four colors: Cornflower Blue, Pure White, Deep Black Pearl, and, our test Rabbit, a non-metallic Urano Gray finish unique to the Rabbit Edition. The color drew compliments from several people during my weeklong testing.

The current generation Golf dates back to 2015. It’s visually changed little since that time and still looks great with smooth, simple lines and dedicated GTI styling cues such as the spirited red line spreading across the fascia and into the headlamps, the aforementioned red brake calipers, and model-specific badging with red GTI logo on the grille, rear deck lid, and both front fenders. 

GTI is available in three standard trims — S, SE and Autobahn — with the limited edition Rabbit slotting between the S and SE. It’s only offered as a five-door hatchback.

All trim levels are powered by the same 228-horsepower 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four cylinder that’s up from 220-horsepower last year. It can be paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or – new for 2019 – the optional seven-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic shifter. The DSG incorporates a launch control feature and a start-stop system designed to save fuel.

While its styling is simple yet attractive one would never guess by looking at it that the GTI possess impressive performance and driving capabilities; most will see it as just another small, five-door hatchback economy car. But that’s how deceiving looks can be, since few cars in its class can match the GTI’s capabilities.

Inside, operating controls are laid out in an attractive and user-friendly fashion. White-on-black switchgear and controls make them easy to use by day, with glowing white illumination at night. I also liked the GTI’s no-nonsense tech and operating features, which we’ve found frustrating on other vehicles. It has a simple, straightforward infotainment system that’s fast, includes Apple CarPlay, and Android auto, and has actual audio volume and tuning knobs versus a touchscreen operation.

We loved that the heating and air conditioning was operated with three easy to use knobs: twist the left knob left or right to set the temperature, the center knob controls the speed of the fan blower, and the third the direction of the heat or air conditioning to either the windshield, vent, floor or a combination of the three. Beautiful.

The cabin is larger and roomier than it looks from the outside with 93.5 cu-ft of interior space along with 16.5 cu-ft of luggage space up to the rear parcel shelf and 22.8 to the roof space, rivaling even the largest midsize sedans. The trunk floor can be raised or lowered depending on cargo while the back seat can be folded 60/40 to give an almost flat cargo area capable of holding a full-sized bicycle. With the seats folded, cargo space increases to a capacity of 52.7 cu-ft.

GTI specific trim includes red ambient lighting and illuminated doorsills, a GTI-specific instrument cluster, sporty aluminum-look pedals, and a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching and a GTI logo.

For 2019 Volkswagen, has expanded its availability of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems making important safety features available on the base S trim for only $450, which gets you blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking.

We like that Volkswagen also includes what’s called an automatic post-collision braking system standard on every GTI trim level. It’s designed to bring the GTI to a complete stop as soon as possible after a collision to assist in reducing the injuries that are typically suffered in a secondary collision after the air bags have deployed.

If you want more advanced safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist you’ll have to opt for the top tier Autobahn trim level.

On the road, acceleration comes on immediately with the turbocharged torque that makes it thrilling every time. On twisty canyon roads in Arizona where I tested the driving capabilities of the GTI, handling was downright astounding as it carved mountain roads. Steering has a perfect feel and the new-for-2019 performance brakes borrowed from the up-market Golf R are relentlessly capable.

Another standout feature on the GTI is the driving mode selection with three suspension choices: Normal, Sport and individual. When the driver selects Normal or Sport there is a different steering heft and throttle response, while selecting Individual allows the driver to tailor the steering and throttle. Sport mode delivers more aggressive transmission shifts. Not surprising, most of my driving was in Sport mode.

If there is one complaint relative to the ride and handling with the standard sport suspension, it’s that it delivers a choppy ride. However, you can eliminate that by choosing the optional Experience Package ($860 includes DCC chassis control and Fender Premium Audio) on the SE. Standard on the GTI Autobahn is the latest version of the DCC adaptive chassis control system which manages the suspension’s rebound and compression rates individually, improving vehicle dynamics and ride quality.  

Few cars we’ve tested are as fundamentally capable and fun to drive as the GTI. And it is thoroughly satisfying as a daily commuter vehicle. It’s easy to drive, returns excellent road dynamics and behavior, and is nimble and easy to park. It continually outperformed my expectations across the board.

For those of you who want an even more powerful Golf driving experience with greater handling and ride refinement you might want to consider the higher performance all-wheel-drive Golf R starting at $40,395.

However, if you’re looking for a car that’s practical, safe, with a superb sense of build quality and solidity that’s not found in competitive vehicles, and is always fun to drive, at an excellent value with a long factory warranty, the GTI would be nothing short of a perfect choice.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $27,595 - $37,095
Price as Tested: $30,890
Engine/Transmission: 2.0-liter 228-hp turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine with a choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 25-mpg City – 31-mpg Highway 27-mpg Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Overall highest possible five-stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and overall Good rating in six out of seven crash tested categories from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Puebla, Mexico

Competes With:
Ford Focus ST
Honda Civic Si
Hyundai Veloster N
Kia Soul !
Mazda CX-5
Subaru WRX

Fab Features:
Superb driving dynamics
Red & Black plaid cloth seats
The Rabbit Edition appearance extras