The latest special-edition version of the Volkswagen Amarok goes with basic black as its theme. We see what’s behind the Dark Label.
Base price: $69,900.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo diesel four, 132kW/420Nm, 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 8.3 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 5254mm long, 1834mm high, 3095mm wheelbase, tray volume 2.52 cubic metres, fuel tank 80 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Subtle styling enhancements, car-like driving character.
We don’t like: Dark Label package a dress-up only, strangely similar to previous Canyon special-edition.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? New Zealand is a ute-crazy market and with the explosion in popularity of double-cab models serving as dual-purpose work/weekend vehicles – not to mention the high level of competition among the various brands - there’s no shortage of special-edition models.
But the Volkswagen Amarok seems best suited of all to a bit of dressing up. It doesn’t challenge for sales honours in the segment, but it is arguably the poshest ute around; not just because of the badge on the front but also because of its slick styling and interesting technology, including a small-capacity, high-output diesel and eight-speed transmission.
The latest special-edition Amarok is the Dark Label. An odd name but a factory package nonetheless, with blackened exterior elements including the 18-inch alloy wheels, black sports bar, silver underbody guard on the front, hard cover for the tray with non-slip liner, and some extra cabin equipment.
It’s not a million miles away from the Canyon special-edition launched last year, although that model favoured orange over black.
There’s a few more of these as well: the Canyon was restricted to 60 units (to mark 60 years of VW in New Zealand), but Dark Label volume has been increased to 100.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The Dark Label package is purely cosmetic. But the Amarok is pretty special even without the warpaint, with a 132kW/420Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and 4Motion four-wheel drive.
The Amarok’s small engine capacity remains controversial among some ute buyers, but you cannot argue with the outputs or the slick eight-speed gearbox – itself a unique feature in the pickup-truck segment. The Amarok lopes along in supremely relaxed fashion, even at open-road speeds.
The Amarok must also be the most car-like ute in the corners – even if it’s not car-like full-stop. The steering is accurate and body control is excellent. It’s also one of only two utes on the market that’s designed to run in four-wheel drive on the road (the other is the Mitsubishi Triton). The others are rear-drive, with all-paw motion reserved for off-road driving.
The main drawback with Amarok as an urban vehicle is size, but it’s not alone in that. Traffic often magically parts for such an imposing vehicle, but parking can be tricky. The Dark Label comes to the rescue somewhat with parking radar, plus a camera on the tailgate.
It’s tempting to dismiss the Amarok as a townie’s truck, but it was developed for ute-focused markets such as Australasia, South Africa and South America, and benchmarked against established stars such as the Toyota Hilux. It’s every bit as capable as the competition off-road.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Extra interior equipment for the Dark Label includes satellite navigation (albeit on a very small screen), reversing camera and Alcantara upholstery with strange trim inserts that are supposed to look a bit like carbon fibre. No, we don’t it either.
The seating might be a matter of taste, but it’s less polarising than the Canyon’s grey and orange detailing and you didn’t get sat-nav with the earlier model.
The Amarok cabin is still very car-like in styling, but with the durable (read hard) plastics you might expect to find in a one-tonne ute. The instrumentation is clear and the steering wheel is nicely shaped – there’s a great sense of attention to detail about this truck. Note the large circular cutouts in the dashboard, which have stoppers in them but can be used to attach a wide range of accessories – giant cupholders and the like. Clever.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The name sounds a bit daft but the package is tempting. While $70k sounds like a lot for a light-commercial ute, the reality is that many brands now have double-cab models in this price range and you could argue that the VW pulls off a premium price a bit better than most.
- Blind spot warning: No
- Lane guidance: No
- Cruise control: Yes
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Parking radar: Yes with camera
- Self-parking technology: No
- Head-up display: No
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Keyless entry/start: No
- Stop-start: Yes
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Heated/ventilated seats: No
- Power seat adjustment/memory: No
- Leather upholstery: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40 base folds upwards for extra storage, backrest folds down in one piece