Hey you there, cruising down the freeway in your dual cab ute – what gear are you in? Sixth? Fifth or perhaps fourth? If you were driving a Volkswagen Amarok you’d be in eighth gear.
Volkswagen Group Australia knew the Amarok would not be fighting a fair fight when it was launched in February 2011 only in dual cab form with a manual transmission. For sure the lack of an automatic and a single cab variant restricted Amarok sales but 18 months later, in August last year, the game changed when Volkswagen launched the Amarok single cab and introduced an automatic transmission.
And in typical Volkswagen form, the auto was worth the wait – an eight-speeder which makes the Amarok a real fuel-sipper, ambling along the freeway with the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel seemingly barely above idle at 100km/h.
Volkswagen Amarok Overview
Volkswagen Amarok might be made in Argentina but everywhere you look is the precision, quality and style which are the hallmarks of Germany’s number one car-maker. Car Showroom tested the Amarok automatic in dual-cab 4MOTION all-wheel-drive form with the TDI 420 engine and the Highline model grade.
Over the entry-level Trendline, Highline versions gain body-colour wheel-arch flares, a stainless steel sports bar in the cargo tub, alloy side steps, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome accents (side mirrors and front bumper), dark privacy glass for the rear windows, chrome-plated rear bumper and rear parking sensors. Inside are chrome accents for the gear-lever, steering wheel and air-conditioning vents.
The TDI420 Amarok Dual Cab Highline we tested is priced at $53,990.
Volkswagen Amarok Engine
Our Amarok test car was the TDI420, the most powerful of the Amarok range. As the name implies, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder biturbo-diesel delivers 420Nm of torque at 1750rpm and 132kW of power at 4000rpm.
Euro5-compliant, the Volkswagen Amarok TDI420 4MOTION returns combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.3l/100kms.
Typically Volkswagen, the TDI420 is a complex piece of machinery with direct fuel injection and dual-stage bi-turbos.
Staggeringly quite at all speeds, the TDI420 is a perfect match for the new eight-speed automatic transmission. Eighth gear is very much an overdrive ratio for relaxing and fuel-sipping attributes at cruising speed while first gear is quite low and appreciated by those who cart heavy loads, tow trailers or head off the beaten track. Very clever.
Volkswagen Amarok The Interior
Just a quick glance at the dashboard and instrumentation of the Volkswagen Amarok has you thinking “Volkswagen Golf”. And that’s a good thing – not your usual ‘basic’ ute layout and instruments but a more up-scale look (Highline gets the ‘Multifunction’ display an RCD 510 six-speaker audio).
Same for the steering wheel which provides rake/reach adjustment in the usual Volkswagen way.
The cloth seats were nicely trimmed in cloth and the rear seat cleverly folds (backrest forwards, base upwards) and is held by a fastening strap when you need extra space. Highline models also gain floor carpeting and under-seat storage drawers.
Volkswagen Amarok Exterior & Styling
Like other dual-cab all-wheel-drive utes, the Volkswagen Amarok is large and quite heavy (2087kgs for our test car). But nice work by Volkswagen’s styling department has provided the Amarok with a cohesive look which is quite balanced.
There’s certainly some ‘family look’ going on at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and the Amarok’s front-end shows a relationship to the similarly nicely-style Caddy van.
We liked the single-plane front grille. Underneath is a spoiler with air intake and the bumper has a concave edge for optimised ground clearance/approach angle.
The side view sees blacked-out window frames for the B-pillar (to visually extend the glass area) and our Highline Dual Cab enhanced this with rear privacy glass.
The rear sees a two-piece bumper which allows a low centre step and the full 90-degree opening of the tailgate.
Our Highline model also ran nice 17-inch alloy wheels with body-colour wheel-arch flairs to suit.
Our Highline TDI420 dual cab provided a payload of 960kgs and a cargo area of 2.52 square-metres with four tie-down points. Our test car was fitted with a good-looking bed-liner.
Volkswagen Amarok On The Road
Let’s talk about…well anything really…because, unlike many in this league, when cruising down the freeway at the legal limit, the Volkswagen Amarok 420TDI is supremely quiet. That’s a major advance over many rival utes which still get noisy and harsh at speed, requiring an elevated level of volume to converse.
Of course that’s not just the engine/transmission - Volkswagen chassis engineers and even the aerodynamic department had important roles in Amarok’s quiet operation.
Equipped with Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, our Amarok TDI420 handled our high-speed mountain roads loop with aplomb – predictable understeer at the limit but good body control and suspension calibration even when we pitched it into the corners we know have bumps at the apex. You certainly knew you were driving an eight-speeder as the Volkswagen Amarok frequently swapped cogs up and down – all very smoothly we should add.
Same around town – we started counting the gear changes as we traversed Melbourne’s CBD but got distracted and lost count. Safe to say the Amarok TDI420 ensures you’re in the right gear at all times – and that ensures you’re optimising performance and fuel consumption.
The Amarok dual-cab 4MOTION is no shrinking violet and its 5254mm length, 1834mm height and surprisingly large 12.95-metre turning circle required some fancy manoeuvring in our tight CBD car-park.
Volkswagen Amarok Challenges
While the Volkswagen Amarok is a standout technically, we’ve often wondered by, as a ‘blank-sheet’ design, Volkswagen didn’t seek to deliver best-in-class rear seat space. Clever and competent as the Amarok undoubtedly is, rear-seat space is on-par with rivals but no better.
Volkswagen Amarok Verdict
In many ways the Volkswagen Amarok is to utes what the Volkswagen Golf is to hatchbacks – German precision engineering, top-shelf quality, hallmark Volkswagen interior and technically the benchmark vehicle.
For our mates in the Commercial Vehicles Division at Volkswagen Group Australia, talk of the period from February 2011 to August 2012 must be akin to hitting your best tee-shot at golf only to see the wind steer it deep into the pond. That’s a massive 18 months without an automatic transmission - frustrating to say the least.
Arrival of the eight-speed auto finally has the Volkswagen Amarok equipped for a fair fight. Fact is there isn’t a rival within two gears of the Amarok.
However reputations for toughness and reliability don’t happen overnight and in that department Volkswagen Amarok has some ground to make up to Toyota Hi-Lux, Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara – simply because this is Volkswagen’s first crack at a ute.
But we ask: when was the last time Volkswagen came to market with a sub-standard product? That would be never.
So let’s put it another way: the Amarok is brilliant already and this is only Volkswagen’s first shot at it. Rival utes better lift their game if they want to keep up with future models from the German giant.
Volkswagen Amarok The Competition
Ford Ranger is a CarShowroom favourite. The Australian designed and engineered Ranger scores for its stylish good looks (reminiscent of Ford’s F-Series pickups), excellent interior and best-in-segment driving dynamics.
Toyota Hi-Lux was updated last year and is the other CarShowroom favourite. The fact Hi-Lux is the biggest-selling vehicle outright in a number of Australian states and actually topped the national charts a few times says it all – this is the King of pickups ‘Downunder’.
When it comes to ‘grunt’ Nissan’s Navara ST-X 550 is the top of the totem pole. Not quite in the Amarok-Ranger league for driving dynamics, the Navara is tougher than the opening tackle in a State Of Origin football match and actually quite stylish on the inside.
Isuzu D-MAX and Holden Colorado also score highly with us. While Holden’s media launch for the Colorado was quite tame, Isuzu’s D-MAX was one of the best for some years – our D-MAX conquered tropical jungles which would have challenged ‘Indiana Jones’.