One of the best utes out there, period.
The Volkswagen Amarok was never destined for our shores. Designed primarily for the South American market, the Amarok’s global introduction came as a bit of a surprise to Volkswagen, who didn’t expect a German-badged ute to take quite so well in other markets. With its car-like interior and tidy presentation, the Amarok has garnered praise around the globe, bringing previously-alienated ute fans into the big warm embrace of the Volkswagen Group.
A revision saw the Amarok receive fresh styling tweaks, as well as a wondrous 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 straight out of plusher VW Group models, without any real fuel consumption penalty, while the smaller four-cylinder oil burners continue to soldier on. We’ve raved before on the sheer breadth of ability that the Amarok provides, but can it continue to earn strong praise among newer rivals?
“The new Amarok looks largely the same as the original, with its underpinnings remaining unaltered.” - Autocar
The Amarok first debut some time back with a tough, chunky exterior that won over plenty of fans. Knowing how this image appeals to the market, Volkswagen did very little to alter that style with the facelift, limiting themselves to a revised bumper and grille up front, and a LED third brake light at the rear. Despite the (very) minimal changes, the Amarok continues to cut a very sharp suit, blending refinement and utility really rather well.
Higher-end models with their projector headlamps and LED-daytime running lights look even snazzier, and the big wheels that come with V6 models continue to add pizzaz to the overall style. The side steps you see in some of these photos are removable should you want to do some serious off-roading, but due to the height that the Amarok rides at, you’ll need them for easy ingress and egress.
Engine & Drivetrain
“In modern terms, the Volkswagen Amarok diesel engines aren't hugely economical.” - Carbuyer
Two engines and two gearboxes on offer here, so we’ll keep this short and sweet. There’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel, good for 132kW & 420Nm. This engine comes paired to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This engine consumes 8.3L/100km on the official testing cycles, and is generally a good performer across most conditions, though it’s known for being a little unrefined.
The gem in the lineup is the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, which is the same unit you’d find under the bonnet of some of the posher cars in the Volkswagen Group. The big bruiser consumes a scarcely-believable 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque, going through a standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox. This big engine even comes with an overboost function, which pushes power up to 180kW and torque up to 580Nm for about 10-seconds, which is great for overtaking and is a lot more useful than most gimmicks.
“Its cabin is bloody excellent.” - CarAdvice
The chunky, go-anywhere looks of the exterior are somewhat at odds with the interior. While the outside may have you believe that this is a smooth work-ute, the interior has you believing that you’re in just another Volkswagen passenger car. The materials employed are rather plush, with soft-touch plastics in more places than you’d expect, and all five seats offer great support, making the Amarok a capable long-distance cruiser.
The kit levels on all Amaroks are generous, as befitting their somewhat bloated prices. Of special mention are the V6 models (which make up half of all Amarok sales), with Ultimate models even coming with electric leather front seats (electric seats, in a ute!). Core Plus models are the most value-driven we think, packing reasonable levels of kit, interesting features (like power sockets everywhere), and creature comforts (like carpets inside, rather than rubber matting). And the interior is vast, with cabin acreage more generous than most utes. Due to that size, V6 models pack a unique feature that amplifies the voice of the driver through the rear speakers, to ensure that you can always maintain a conversation. Nifty.
Behind the Wheel
“If you want a diesel dual-cab 4WD that goes and turns like a sports car, this is as close as you’ll get.” - WhichCar
If that interior leaves you believing that you’re in a passenger car, the driving experience will continue to heighten the illusion. There’s a degree of agility and immediacy to the controls that remind you of a Volkswagen Passat saloon, helped further if you’re being cosseted in the heavily-bolstered seats of the V6 Amaroks. Of the engines available, the V6 diesel is definitely the one to go for, with all that power and all that torque consuming less fuel than the sometimes-gutless 2.0-litre 4-cylinder oil-burner over official testing. Sweetening the experience further is the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which makes for smooth, confident progress over any surface.
Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels are respectable through the cabin, though the rear half can sometimes suffer from elevated tyre noise at higher speeds. All-time four-wheel drive in some models means that there’s always huge reserves of grip, and while some may give the Amarok flak for not offering a proper low-range gearbox, first and second gears on the automatic are “unusually” low, so you likely won’t be left wanting.
Safety & Technology
“The Amarok is one of the safest choices on the pickup market.” - AutoExpress
The Amarok scores highly in terms of safety, with the usual electronic safety aids present and correct. Antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution, stability and traction control all feature here, as well as things like an electronic differential lock, hill assist, hill descent control, and the brand’s ‘Post Collision System.’ PCS is designed to limit or mitigate damage caused by secondary impacts during an accident. Amaroks also get things like front and side airbags, but notably lack any airbag protection for the rear passengers. This is one of very few demerit points for the VW ute, as the omission of rear-passenger passive safety features wouldn’t be tolerated on anything other than a pick-up.
Active safety tech is also missing on the Amarok, which leaves it vulnerable to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak (that offers active cruise control & lane-departure assist). But convenience tech is strong here, with a touchscreen infotainment system available on some models, while electric windows, electric mirrors and semi-automatic air-conditioning coming as standard (higher models get two-zone climate control).
The Volkswagen Amarok may not have been designed with the global market in mind, but it’s strengths and attributes have won fans in every market it’s hit so far. And in a ute-dominated market like ours, the Amarok has gone on to become the choice of ute fans who want a more compliant and car-like driving experience. It’s well screwed together, and has thus far proven to be reliable, with only the less-than-generous safety kit being the only real bugbear here. Even the utility aspects are good, with the widest bed in class, able to fit an Australian pallet in there widthways.
Despite its strengths, the Amarok faces stiff competition from more established players like the Ford Ranger and all-conquering Toyota Hilux, while (relatively) left-field choices like the Holden Colorado and Nissan Navara continue to make their presence known. The Volkswagen Amarok might be a new contender in the ute segment, but the gem of a V6 turbodiesel will likely win over even more fans as time goes by.
If the Volkswagen Amarok will be doing duties as a family car most of the time, then we’d recommend the Amarok V6 Highline model, which packs impressive levels of kit while maintaining a reasonable price tag. And if that isn’t enough to sway you, life with that 3.0-litre V6 most certainly will.
CarBuyer - 3.5/5.0 - “The Volkswagen Amarok pickup is an upmarket entry into the class, with an SUV-like cabin and five seats, as well as a large load bed.”
CarAdvice - 8.0/10 - “Its cabin is bloody excellent. Its engine is unfathomably good. Its compliance and comfort, not to mention its driveability, is all benchmark brilliant. The levels of refinement mean you feel like you’re actually in a near-$70K SUV.
Car Magazine - 4.0/5.0 - “The ‘only-car-you-need’ label is thrown around a lot but this VW Amarok makes a genuine case for itself – it’s comfortable, fast, drives well and has a massive boot that you can fill with wetsuits and scuba equipment.”
WhichCar - 4.5/5.0 - “The comfortable and sophisticated Volkswagen Amarok handles and steers better than most SUVs – let alone other dual-cab utes. The smooth V6 diesel in the most expensive Amaroks provides highway performance that’s unmatched. Four-wheel drive Amaroks are very good off-road, too, and auto versions drive all wheels at all times.”
WhatCar? - 4.0/5.0 - “The Volkswagen Amarok is good to drive for a [ute], but it’s quite an expensive option.”
AutoExpress - 4.2/5.0 - “Whichever spec you go for, the car-like cab design is more than a match for anything in the pick-up class. This helps the VW pick-up appeal to owner-drivers looking to mix business use in the week with the pleasure of running a flexible, fun to drive family vehicle at the weekend. Performance is impressive with that V6 engine delivering class-leading refinement and a smooth power delivery that high-mileage drivers will really appreciate.”
Wheels Magazine - 4.0/5.0 - "All the Amarok’s good points now come with an engine better suited to its muscular image. It’s no performance car, but the V6 TDI adds some welcome muscle to a great-driving 4x4 ute package. But some features still aren’t part of the premium price.”
Autocar - 2.9/5.0 - "It is, for want of a better analogy, the premium double-cab pick-up. And just as car makers have discovered that ever more expensive SUVs will sell, so VW has opted to capitalise on the fact that some customers are after a classier pick-up. For people who use pick-ups for pleasure as much as work, the badge and the quality of the trim matter.”