Volkswagen’s Amarok 4Motion Twin Turbo TDi ute is somewhat of a revelation for the utility market in general
Volkswagen may have earned a name for well-built premium(ish) passenger cars over the years, but we shouldn’t forget the brand is certainly no stranger to commercial vehicles. The Kombi started out as plain old vans after all, with pick-up versions also available.
So the Volkswagen Amarok ute isn’t, perhaps, the revelation for the brand as a lot of people might initially think. It is, though, somewhat of a revelation for the utility market in general.
VW has captured just the right mix of masculine dimensions (it’s longer, higher and significantly wider than a Navara ST-X) but has cleverly engineered in the road manners of a European car.
For those familiar with the likes of Volkswagen’s passenger vehicle line-up, this is all fairly familiar stuff, with some obvious parts-bin raiding from the popular Golf or Passat models. This isn’t a problem, of course, why re-invent the wheel? Especially when you already have a reputation for producing among the best interiors available. But don’t think this is an upmarket show pony that can’t cut the mustard on the farm. As well as my range-topping “Highline” spec test vehicle, a base model is available for more dedicated farm work.
The Highline brings all the stylish trimmings you’d expect in VW cars, like colour-coded front bumper, door handles and mirrors, and privacy glass to keep prying eyes off valuables left inside. Interior comforts include dual zone climate air conditioning, cruise control, upmarket trimming, carpet floor covering and high-quality audio.
Like I say, it’s a revelation in the ute segment, at least among current competitors, and this is most perceivable in the ride and handling characteristics. It’s a vehicle built with agriculture in mind, but it’s far from agricultural.
The ride is uncharacteristically compliant for a ute. There isn’t the jarring stiffness you’ll experience in an unladen Hilux over bumps, for instance. Typically ute suspension by design is at it’s best with a partial load, and while the Amarok’s claimed payload range of 900-928kg for its four-wheel drive versions is respectable, a quick tow test (if the dealer permits you) will best determine if the VW’s suppleness isn’t an issue when towing the boat or caravan.
Volkswagen’s claimed tow rating is a maximum 2800kg braked on any model in the range, just shy of the likes of some Ranger and Navara models’ 3000kg maximum, but still respectable.
Given the shadow the Amarok casts it’s hard to believe this thing’s powered by just a 2.0-litre diesel donk. At entry level (2WD) that means just 90kW of power and 340Nm, but in 4WD or Highline models the engine receives an additional (twin) turbo to boost outputs to a remarkable 120kW/400Nm. Definitely on par with the more potent utes on offer and performance reflects this, all be it in a smoother, slightly less dramatic fashion which is typical of twin turbo applications.
Offroad prowess comes by way of Volkswagen’s new 4MOTION all-wheel drive, which isn’t phased by the general rigours of farm work. An offroad ABS setting allows greater braking control in gravel and mud and you switching between 2WD high and 4WD high can be done at any speed. 4WD low aids traction further when it gets really hairy and it’s all easily switched electronically. For water crossings the Amarok offers a 500mm wading depth and approach and departure angles are also handy at 28 and 23.6 degrees respectively.
As is often the way with European product, you have to tick a few option boxes to get the vehicle up to comparable specification with other ute models. Cruise control, for instance, is standard across the board on a Navara, but the convenience (with an extra multi-info display) adds $500 to all but the highest grade Amarok. A mechanical diff lock is available on some Colorado and Triton models as standard, but will set you back $1250 here.
From there, you really can go crazy – rear parking sensors: $550; heated seats: $750; a voice-controlled 6.5-inch colour display audio system with six-disc CD changer: $900; and leather upholstery is, ahem, $3000. All great stuff, if you’ve got deep pockets.
The huge tray area will, however, at 1620mm wide (1222mm between the rear wheel arches) and 1555mm length you can get a conventional pallet in the back no problems and the tray is also very deep at 508mm. Single and crew cab options will join the fray over the next year or so, but this is excellent for double cab fans and there’s the full compliment of accessories available like Kiwi-sourced tray liners, nudge and roll bars, monsoon shields etc, through VW’s nationwide dealer/parts network.
It’s as safe as any passenger car too, and the Amarok (Highline specification) is the first commercial ute to be awarded a maximum five-star crash safety rating from independent expert, NCAP. All models come with stability control as standard although farm-friendly versions do miss out on a diagonal centre-rear seatbelt and side airbags but these can be included for a very reasonable $650, you’d need your head read if you didn’t take that option.
It really is as comfortable in day to day family-car duties as it is on the farm. All the fruit aside, there in lies the Amarok’s real party trick, it’s the most versatile ute on the market.