BMW 525xi
Not The Runt Of The Litter

This should be the slowest 5 Series that BMW offers. It's got a diminutive 3.0-liter in-line six with a scant 215 bhp powering all four wheels. Oh, and it's an automatic. So, at 3660 pounds unladen, it's not a lightweight by any means.

The thing is, the six-speed auto is so perfectly geared that the car actually feels quick. It's the same kind of miracle Honda pulled off with its NSX in the early '90s. You stop worrying about horsepower contests when you're behind the wheel and go about your business in a brisk, flowing manner.

BMW claims the auto will tag 60 mph in a hair over eight seconds, which by today's standards is a bit slower than average. But then again, the previous 525i (E39) could just about manage the same zero-to-60 time, and that was without the 210-pound all-wheel drive system strapped below.

This system can infinitely vary the amount of power going to the front or rear wheels. During everyday driving it's difficult to notice, and in more sporting situations, it's basically passive, sending 100 percent of the power out back.

Near-perfect weight distribution is barely changed (it's 1.6 percent heavier up front, at 51.8/48.2). All-wheel drive doesn't seem to affect gas mileage much, either. We saw mpg figures in the high 20s when cruising at 70 mph on the interstate. The 525xi does what it does surprisingly well.

Would I buy one? Don't be ridiculous. The 550i six-speed exists, doesn't it?

From The Hip
+ Gearing well suited to the smallish engine
-That smallish six-cylinder engine

2006 BMW 525xi
*Layout
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive

*Engine
3.0-liter in-line six, dohc, four valves per cylinder

*Transmission
Six-speed automatic

*Performance
Peak Power: 215 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.2 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph
Fuel Economy: 19 city/28 hwy

Price as Tested: $45,700

Seat Time
Volkswagen Rabbit
Elmer Fudd's favowite VW

If you're looking for an answer as to why VW renamed its Golf to Rabbit, one only need consider the resurrection of the New Beetle. Call it Rabbit or call it Golf, the car still packs the same basic goodness. Like the base Jetta, the entry-level hatch is motivated by the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Peak horsepower resides at 150. More impressive is its torque delivery. Off the line, the Rabbit feels genuinely quick.

It suffers from the same sort of soft suspension woes as our long-term Jetta 2.0T. The good news is that VW appears to have finally exorcised its base engine demons with the new five-potter-anyone remember a certain naturally aspirated 2.0-liter? Me neither.

The rest of the Rabbit is adequately sensible. Not necessarily all that exciting, just sensible. Another area where new VWs shine is passenger space, plenty of knee- and headroom regardless of your location within the vehicle. Equipping it with a five-speed transmission might seem a bummer, but the manual gearbox is really well suited to the engine. The party's pretty much over after 4000 rpm anyway. If you need six gears, best opt for the automatic.

We watched as Neuspeed dis-assembled the Rabbit that would become Thunder Bunny II (see page 64) and were mightily impressed by the car's overall build quality. You can get trademark German engineering for just less than fifteen grand. Seems to me a pretty good deal.

From The Hip
+ Good fuel economy, great torque curve
-A distinct frumpiness to it

2007 VW Rabbit 2.5L
*Layout
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

*Engine
2.5-liter in-line five, dohc, four valves per cylinder

*Transmission
Five-speed manual

*Performance
Peak Power: 150 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Peak Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm
0-60 mph: 9.0 sec
Top Speed: 130 mph
Fuel Economy: 22 city/30 hwy

Price as Tested: $16,070

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By James Tate
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