Not one single solitary Volkswagen was included in the more than 153,000 Pick-Ups and Cab Chassis vehicles bought by Australians last year. Get set for big changes in 2011 following the launch of the Volkswagen Amarok – the first genuine Volkswagen Pick-Up.
Clearly the Volkswagen Group is on a mission to become the world’s largest automotive company and when you think of the massive pickup markets worldwide – North America, Asia and South Africa in particular – well it’s a mystery why the German giant has taken so long to launch the Volkswagen Amarok – the first big volume ute from a European brand.
But Volkswagen being Volkswagen, it’s been worth the wait - the Volkswagen Amarok looks smart, offers 2WD and 4WD and importantly provides the most interior space of any four-door ute.
And Amarok is responsible: the first ute to score the maximum five-star safety rating by Australia’s ANCAP and fuel economy as low as 7.7l/100kms. Safety and fuel economy are two key attributes sought by major fleet customers.
Volkswagen Amarok Overview
Car Showroom had previously driven prototype Amaroks on the roads around Volkswagen’s Commercial Vehicles HQ in Hanover, Germany but this was our first chance for a real-world test and Volkswagen delivered two Amaroks for back-to-back evaluation. First-up we had the entry-level ($33,990) Amarok 2WD then we had the range-topping ($58,490) Amarok Ultimate 4WD which boasts a leather-trimmed interior amongst its luxury inclusions.
Reactions from the target market showed Volkswagen is pushing the right buttons. One colleague who has a road construction company and runs a fleet of Toyota Hilux utes virtually sprinted to the Car Showroom garage when he heard we had an Amarok and some tradesmen working at our place swarmed all over the Amarok Ultimate parked in our driveway.
Not surprising these guys were curious – a 2.52 square-metre load area, payload capacity up to 937kgs and a 2,800kgs towing capacity means - as well as everything else - the Volkswagen Amarok is equipped for hard work.
Currently the Volkswagen Amarok range only includes four-door crew cab variants with a six-speed manual transmission and production is at Volkswagen’s plant in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Volkswagen Amarok Engine
Volkswagen Amarok debuts the German giant’s new TDI400 engine – a 2.0-litre, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder diesel with common rail direct injection and twin intercooled turbochargers. A technical masterpiece, compliant with Euro5 emissions regulations, the TDI400 delivers 120kW of power at 4000rpm and stump-pulling 400Nm of torque from as low as 1500rpm.
Impressively the Volkswagen Amarok returns combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.7l/100kms in 2WD and 7.9l/100kms in 4WD.
Drive (to the rear or all four wheels) is via a six-speed manual transmission. Volkswagen Amarok 4WD models run either driver-select or permanent all-wheel-drive via Volkswagen’s acclaimed 4MOTION system with a Torsen center differential.
All very impressive, especially when you consider the Volkswagen Amarok is Volkswagen’s first shot at a ute like this. Our only criticism of the bi-turbo diesel is its noise in the low to mid-range – not quite the equal of the refined Mazda BT50 or Ford Ranger.
Volkswagen Amarok The Interior
Talking interiors, across the range of its own models and indeed its brands like Audi, SEAT and Skoda, the Volkswagen Group is amongst the global leaders for design, quality and practicality. No surprises then about the all-round excellence inside the Volkswagen Amarok.
For us, the Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate is the new benchmark in this segment – the combination of Volkswagen’s stylish design, leather seats, leather for the steering wheel and gear-lever, plush carpets and nice chrome trim highlights brings real luxury. In fact you get a choice of leathers – the standard ‘Endless Anthracite’ or optional ‘Vienna Mendoza’.
And the standard Amarok interior is more than a match for rivals with the same design and nicely-shaped front seats, but it’s trim is a bit more workman-like (hey utes are working vehicles you know).
Pleasingly, the design/layout is all Volkswagen – and that includes the instrument binnacle and dashboard. The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, front seats are height-adjustable and all things considered you could be forgiven for thinking you’re behind the wheel of a Passat or Golf.
With its 3095mm wheelbase, Volkswagen says the Volkswagen Amarok delivers the segment’s most spacious interior and it certainly feels that way up-front and in the rear seat. Access is easy too thanks to the low front seat height (83.8 centimeters above the road) and wide-opening doors.
Volkswagen has been building commercial vehicles for many years so they know a thing or two about owners’ needs and this is obvious with the many storage bins inside the Amarok. The tradies who checked-out our Amaroks were impressed with the sliding drawers under the front seats in which they could store valuables out of sight.
The standard Amarok runs a CD/MP3 audio system with two speakers while the range-topping Amarok Ultimate scores an up-rated system with six speakers. Similar story on the air-conditioning systems – both ‘Climatronic’ but the Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate gets a dual-zone model.
Volkswagen Amarok Exterior and Styling
A ute is a ute and – with an eye on the varying needs of ute buyers in all corners of the globe – there’s a degree of conservatism in the looks of the Volkswagen Amarok. Too many curves risk rapid body damage on hard-working utes.
Up front however the designers have integrated the current Volkswagen ‘DNA’ with the hallmark Volkswagen grille and stylish, precise headlights which afford a touch of class on the Volkswagen Amarok. The lower edge of the front bumper is curved for greater ground clearance and range-topping Ultimate scores some extra chrome.
The side view accentuates the glass area via blacked-out B-pillars while the rear is dominated by the large tail-gate which looks and feels very sturdy. Volkswagen Amarok can be fitted with a tailgate which opens through 180 degrees for easy loading.
Cargo area dimensions are: tailgate width 1411mm; load volume 2.52 cubic metres; length 1555mm; width 1620mm; width between wheel-arches 1222mm.
At 5.25-metres in length, the Volkswagen Amarok is no shrinking violet and it demands a strong on-road presence.
Volkswagen Amarok On The Road
On the road, the Volkswagen Amarok has again shot to the front of the ute pack. Ute drivers acknowledge these vehicles actually feel best with some load in the tray (spring rates are necessarily stiff). But even unladen, the Volkswagen Amarok exudes the most passenger car-like driving dynamics of any ute we’ve driven.
With 400nm on-tap, Volkswagen’s bi-turbo diesel delivers vigorous acceleration and the six-speed manual is surprisingly light to use (but with a torque range between 1500-2500rpm even stop-start city driving doesn’t require an inordinate number of gear changes). In low to mid-range, engine noise was a tad noticeable.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test loop, the 4WD Volkswagen Amarok was very handy and the 2WD model was no laggard – just a little bit more choppy on the limit with no weight over the rear axle.
Volkswagen Amarok Challenges
We would like a bit more refinement in the engine and Volkswagen dealers we know are super keen to get automatic transmissions and two-door versions of the Volkswagen Amarok.
Volkswagen Amarok Verdict
Notwithstanding its currently restricted model range and specifications, the Volkswagen Amarok has raised the bar for this type of ute.
Volkswagen Amarok The Competition
There’s a serious override in the pickup market in the form of the all-new, Australian designed and engineered Ford Ranger and its sibling the Mazda BT50 which are scheduled to debut later this year. Ford takes its trucks seriously and has massive global sales goals for the Ranger – we’ve seen it and expectations are high. Ditto for Mazda’s BT50.
Toyota’s HiLux is the dominant best-seller for many reasons. The Hilux has a massive range of variants, has a reputation amongst ute buyers which is unparalleled and drives superbly.
Same for Nissan’s Navara. In our eyes the current Navara looks the business (a bit more butch than the Hilux).
And Mitsubishi’s Triton range also looks good, is handily priced and tough as nails.