In the early '80s, Automotive Performance Systems--a company we know today as Neuspeed--modified a VW Rabbit and made history. Volkswagen was still trying to convince an air-cooled-Bug-loving public that its water-cooled technology was the future. This Rabbit traced a big, smoky burnout across the pages of Road & Track magazine, which coined the term Thunder Bunny. That's when the water-cooled VW tuning scene took off in the United States.

In many ways, the Thunder Bunny started the sport compact craze. Neuspeed's work was the enthusiast's first taste of import performance. Companies like Techtonics and Autotech also became pillars of the scene, pushing performance envelopes even further. And they're still doing so today.

The Thunder Bunny has been reborn for 2007, based on the new Rabbit with its 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. Keeping with the original's history, the Candy White exterior (a hue favored by design purists) has been preserved and reflects the new vehicle's sharp, distinct lines. Over this glossy white paintwork there's a silver topographical shadowing effect, to be interpreted as the aerodynamic cascade as air flows over the car. The bunnies-gone-wild theme is expressed in design elements throughout, from the floor mats to aluminum shift knob to engine cover. Even the rear emblem is cast in a `rabid rabbit' design.

A stock 2.5-liter VW engine produces a maximum of 150 bhp at 5000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm--not bad for an economy car. But hardly impressive for a performance-oriented project. To rectify this, Neuspeed's stage one turbo upgrade kit has been attached. It consists of a new exhaust manifold, Garrett GT28-series ball-bearing turbocharger, larger injectors, a new mass airflow sensor, Neuspeed software, and a front-mount intercooler. Neuspeed's 70mm stainless steel cat-back exhaust system puts the thunder in this bunny, exuding an extremely un-rabbit-like growl from its twin 100mm tips at full throttle. The exhaust and turbo set-up produces boost levels of 6 to7 psi and increases output to 225 bhp at a loftier 5200 rpm, and 260 lb-ft of peak torque at 3500 rpm. The engine is also equipped with Neuspeed's large-capacity baffled oil pan, which provides optimal flow and engine oil cooling while preventing starvation during high-g turns and heavy braking--a must for racing.

To balance this extra power, the front binders are replaced with a set of 12.9-inch, two-piece, floating cross-drilled rotors clamped by Brembo four-pot calipers in a pearl white finish with custom-painted Candy White, um, hopping bunnies. The rears were updated with OEM MkV R32 calipers (also adorned with rabbits) and 12.2-inch drilled rotors. Neuspeed stainless steel brake lines feed in the fluid.

Inside the cockpit, a Neuspeed short shift kit gives a 40 percent reduction in gear throw and complements the custom shift knob. The cabin is completely redone in a new `urban edge' design where all the stock black cloth is swapped for luxurious black leather. Light gray French stitching outlines the leather sport-bolstered seats, highlights the three-spoke flat-bottom GTI sport steering wheel, and accents black leather door panels. The seats' central inserts have been redone in a black-and-silver checkered flag design. The same design, albeit on a smaller scale, is carried throughout the interior with beltline trim formed from silver carbon fiber, custom-designed by OSIR.

The body kit consists of a full replacement front and rear bumper, side skirts, custom grille inserts and R32-style dual exit exhaust cutouts mounted dead center. Xenon headlights come from the MkV GTI. VW designed the wheels, taking a new angular interpretation on the classic mesh design and forging split-spoke 8x19-inch alloy wheels in a custom gold finish. These are fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 235/35 tires.

A Bilstein PSS9 coilover kit brings a new, sportier stance. The PSS9s are nine-way compression- and rebound-adjustable to fit the needs of daily street driving as well as track use. Neuspeed's 25mm tubular front and rear anti-roll bars (both two-position adjustable) have been installed and powder-coated blue to match the Bilstein parts. Since it's a front-wheel-drive vehicle, Neuspeed has augmented the driveline with a Quaife limited-slip differential to guarantee maximum power to the wheels and to make sure this Thumper doesn't hop off the ground.

Around Willow Springs racetrack, it's quick--this Rabbit would give a chipped 2.0T a run for its money. Its ability to navigate tight turns without the need for armfuls of correction is due in no small part to the suspension's adjustability (and subsequent handling characteristics) at the turn of a dial.

The thunderous return of the Bunny created a stir among spectators at the 2006 SEMA show. It revives a classic among European tuner cars and shows that a great thing can be made even better--once you get the Bugs out.

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