Volkswagen Amarok ute

By: Ken Strugnell


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We take the VW Amarok for a spin, the brand's first 4x4 pick-up

Volkswagen Amarok ute
Volkswagen Amarok ute
  • Impressive acceleration
  • Good fuel economy
  • Large tray
  • Good on hilly terrain

I drove the Amarok over our rolling North Canterbury farm, keen to allow the full sized VW Amarok double cab to strut its stuff where it counts for a twin ratio 4WD.

So, what’s the truck really like? In a word: impressive.

Engine and power

A "tiny" two-litre twin turbo may invoke shock and horror by fans of cubic capacity. Remember Nissan experienced initial backlash years ago when it downsized its popular light commercial 4.2 diesel to 3.0 litres? But the marvels of modern engineering now ensures smaller engines are developing more power and torque than ever before.

The Navara leads the power stakes with 140kW and 450Nm of torque, while the default Hilux option offers only 126kW and 343Nm.

With Navara and Hilux boasting 2.5 and 3.0-litre capacity respectively, the Amarok’s 120kW and 400Nm power and torque output is impressive.

Tiny it might be but it performs and does so with an alacrity that will surprise – both in outright acceleration (0-100km/h in 9.8sec, Nissan Navara 9.9) and in how smooth the drive is. Fuel consumption at a claimed 7.8 litres/100km will be welcomed as will the 20,000km service intervals.

Inside

It’s not as quiet as the Nissan, but the cabin is more in keeping with a luxury car than a hard working truck. Leather upholstery adds $3k to the asking price, though it includes heated and powered seats. However, all the materials and fabrics are easy clean and the switch gear and controls have that chunky, durable feel.

Being European it has the indicators wiper stalks on the opposite side. Airbags cover frontal and side with curtain for all occupants. The front seats are supportive, well-shaped and comfortable. The rear pews are mounted higher than the front to give all three passengers a good view. Leg, hip and head room are more than adequate for up to six-foot passengers. Back seat bases fold up in a 70/30 split, allowing carriage of tall objects inside on the flat floor. The rear seat back folds forward and almost flat allowing access to the storage compartment behind the seats.

Storage includes drawers under the front seats, a centre dash top box as well as the glove box behind the gear selector and in front of the passenger seat. All doors have storage bins capable of at least holding one-litre drink bottles.

An AM/FM, CD, MP3 USB radio that incorporates a Bluetooth function for hands-free phone use.

Tray

Bigger in all directions than the competition, the tray is well proportioned: 1.55m long, 1.62m wide with 1.22m between the wheel arches. Four load ties are provided in the 780mm deep tray and a light integrated into the high stop brake light provides illumination for the entire rear deck and out to behind the truck. Rated capacity is 900kg.

The Amarok comes pre set-up with wiring and engineered for a tow bar. It will tow 2800kg braked, short of the 3000kg claimed for most other utes in the sector. The clever electronics package also includes a computer-controlled trailer stabilisation package, which automatically monitors drawbar load and stops any dangerous fishtailing or swaying.

Offroad

This is the first ute to incorporate Downhill Assist (DA) along with Hill Start (HS) as well as ABS. Once low is selected from the dash-mounted switch, changes to the ABS setting allow for some wheel lock to maximise braking conditions on slippery going. It certainly slowed with more assurance than some ABS offroad systems that seem to let the vehicle run away on slippery surfaces. Amarok takes care of this and if it’s not exciting enough, try using DA. Hit the button when you start off down steep or tricky slopes and without intervention it holds back the two-tonne mass better than even the ABS can.

Through up to 500mm of water and scrabbling up steep exits the only gripe was the lack of departure angle, though as the truck is well protected underneath and at the back, rear damage is unlikely. The standard traction control and LSD will take the Amarok over really rough and undulating ground. Our cross axeling ditch was dispatched without fuss and almost no wheel spin.

Similarly the hill climbs provided little drama with the twin turbo providing low speed acceleration similar to a petrol motor. In common with particularly the Navara and Hilux, the Amarok shows up its weakness: forward visibility when the nose is pointed to the sky.

On the road

Over a million kilometres of testing has got the mix right on the metal for the Amarok. It’s not perfect; a leaf spring set up, as used by ox carts, will never give a really good ride, though it is surprising how compliant it is, even without a load. On the sealed roads and back roads the Amarok, with its huge low rev wedge of torque, is easy to pilot. I will wait for the six-speed auto to award it an excellent score here as gear changes are slightly notchier than expected though clutch action and gear throws are light.

All said and done

The Amarok is nicely styled and well proportioned, competitively priced and arguably offers more than any other truck available in NZ, particularly in the safety area. Will it win sales in the rural sector to other farmers who work their trucks hard? It should as VW has built a reputation for solid, well engineered cars that do exactly what they are designed to.

 

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