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Volkswagen Amarok - competitive but not class-leading

Insights

With only 900 right-hand drive models coming to the UK this year, it won’t be a common sight on farms in the next 12 months.

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And that’s a pity, because a week-long test in an Amarok with Highline specification has proved it to be a very worthy competitor to any of the current crop of leather-clad, range-topping double cabs currently on the market – at least until Ford’s new Ranger arrives.

 

Fuel efficiency regularly nudged 34mpg, admittedly without a trailer behind, and the interior is hushed and rattle-free. There is storage a-plenty around the cabin, plus three 12v power sockets for all manner of electrical gadgets that most of us now seem to carry.

 

The Amarok comes in three trim levels for the UK market – entry-level Startline, mid-spec Trendline and full-fat Highline. Two engine options are available, using VW’s venerable 2-litre TDi four-pot and six-speed manual gearbox to haul the pickup’s maximum permissible 5,500kg gross train weight.

 

Under-powered you ask? Not really, not with a twin-turbo 163hp version heading up the range with 400Nm and is available in all trim levels except the Startline, which gets a 122hp TDi with 340Nm.

 


Official combined fuel figures are given as 37.2mpg for the TDi and 35.8mpg for the BiTDi, and an 80-litre fuel tank offers an impressive 600-mile range.

But there’s a nagging question in my head. VW offers this same 2-litre twin-turbo in its T5 Transporter van range, but with a much healthier 180hp. Could there be a more powerful Amarok just around the corner? We hope so.

Specification

Specification

The truck is not found wanting when it comes to specification. Startline Amarok gets electric front and rear windows, climatic air conditioning, single CD/radio and rubber flooring. Electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, a body coloured front bumper, black rear bumper with integrated step, trailer hitch preparation, 16in alloys, and a load compartment light are included too.


The Trendline spec adds cruise control, trip computer, Climatronic two-zone air-conditioning, six speakers, leather covered steering wheel and gear knob, a front centre armrest, 17in alloys, three 12-volt sockets in the dash, body-coloured door mirror housings, wheel arch extensions, storage drawers under the front seats, carpet flooring in the cab and two dash mounting points for cup holders or a clip.


Our top of the range Highline raised this further with 18in alloys, privacy glass, leather upholstery with heated front seats, chrome rear bumper, chrome/body coloured door mirror housings, rear parking sensors and polished steel sidebars.

 

Seats offer plenty of adjustment and great side support too, with generous bolsters to keep you from sliding off the side of the seat.

 

But the one area I found it lacking, was the omission of a multi-function steering wheel – such modern conveniences we take for granted, but the simple task of turning the radio volume up or down was an irritation, as it is a stretch to the left-side of the expansive dash. It’s nicely positioned for left-hand drivers, though.

 

And while there’s a raft of options available, so you can tweak your Amarok to suit, there’s not a multi-function wheel in sight.

4Motion

While Amarok is four-wheel drive — VW calls it 4Motion — there are two distinct systems; selectable and permanent.

 

Permanent 4Motion is available solely in Highline trim with a greater bias towards on-road comfort from using fewer rear leaf springs, and as such, falls short of the magical one-tonne payload, so isn’t suitable for a VAT reclaim. But at least you know which one to avoid.

 

The selectable system is the one to go for, which benefits from a set of low ratio gears for serious off-roading, in addition to the heavier-duty rear suspension and higher payload.

 

Unladen, the suspension is noticeably fidgety on the road, but is no worse than any other double cab that rides on cart springs. Put some weight in the back, and the Amarok settles nicely.

 

The selectable 4x4 transmission is managed using push-buttons by the gearstick. An electronic diff lock sits under the rear end, which uses the latest generation ESP and ABS to operate. An optional rear diff lock can be specified, and was fitted to our test model at a cost of £210.

 

While you can flick between two- and four-wheel drive on the move, selecting low range requires the vehicle to be stopped.

 

Cleverly, Amarok gets an off-road ABS function – again, button activated – which significantly shortens stopping distances on loose surfaces. And as part of the ESP system, Amarok also comes with Traction Control, Hill Hold Assist, Hill Descent Control and Trailer Stability Control.

 

Ground clearance is fairly generous, and once low range has been selected, the electronics do a damn good job of taking care of raising the Amarok’s traction to mountain goat status.

 

Steep descents can also be tackled in neutral, and while most of us with off-roading experience would never run down hill out of stick, it was worth a try, simply by dipping the clutch on a descent to find that the off-road ABS function kicks in as the truck tries to runaway, effectively pegging back downhill speeds.

 

It proved equally as capable at climbing steep inclines. Select first gear, release the clutch, don’t touch any of the pedals and let it crawl to the crest of a slope. It couldn’t be easier and it’s almost idiot-proof as the engine benefits from some effective anti-stall remedies.

 

And if you really can’t be bothered with making hill starts the proper way – using the handbrake - the Hill Hold function works well too. For most users needs, it offers more than enough off-road capability.

Towing

Towing

However, it’s less impressive when it comes to towing capability, with just 2,690kg of braked towing capacity on offer. While it will handle the weight without breaking into a sweat – thanks to a low first gear that easily gets you off the mark – we think VW should have aimed much higher than it has.

 

It is a big truck, and while this isn’t reflected in a stifled turning radius that demands five-point turns at every corner, it is noticeable when you get among other traffic, and in particular, when parking. A 5.25m overall length and 3.095m wheelbase is hard to disguise.

 

Indeed VW is fairly proud of the Amarok’s size, quoting the largest load space in class and the ability to squeeze a Euro pallet in the back, sideways on.

 

Encouraging yes, but with only four tie-down points in the load bay, this means it plays second fiddle to Nissan’s clever rail system used in the Navara’s load bed.

 

That feeling of sitting in a big 4x4 comes from a combination of aspects – there is a huge amount of space inside the cab, both in the front and the rear, and the dash is very high in front of you, making you feel insulated from what is going on around you.

 

And a heavy, baulky gear shift that cannot be rushed, simply adds to the experience – it’s much more truck-like than you’d expect.

 

What we reckon:

  • Towing ability 7/10
  • Load space and security 9/10
  • Cab comfort 9/10
  • Behind the wheel (unladen) 9/10
  • Performance 8/10
  • Fuel efficiency 9/10
  • Equipment levels 8/10

Overall score (out of 70) 59 (84%)

 

FG Verdict:

As impressive as the Amarok is for VW’s first proper attempt at the double-cab sector, we can’t help thinking it has missed a few tricks and is merely competitive rather than class-leading, in many areas.

 

We do like the interior space, comfort, tremendous build quality and the low servicing costs on offer from VW. Even its Group 8E insurance rating won’t break the bank.

 

If you’re in the market for a new double cab truck, it is worth a much closer look. It’s enough to give the 2.5 Navara a comfortable run for the money, though the more expensive V6 Nissan has it suitably licked.

Need to know

What it is:

Amarok Highline 2-litre BiTDI

  • Engine: 1,968cc, 16v, four-cylinder, twin turbo diesel
  • Power: 163hp @ 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 400Nm @ 1,500-2,000rpm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive with 4Motion selectable four-wheel drive and low range
  • Performance: 11.1 sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 209g/km
  • Wheels & tyres: 255/60 R18 on 18x7.5J rims
  • GVW: 3,170kg
  • GTW: 5,500kg
  • Load bed dimensions (w x l): 1,620mm x 1,555mm (with 1,222mm between wheel arches)
  • Turning circle (wall-to-wall): 12.95m

 

What it costs:

  • Variable service intervals: 9,000-25,000 miles or 12-24 months
  • Service cost: Interim @ £119+vat; full inspection @ £209+vat (Cordwallis Oxford Van Centre)
  • Insurance group: 8E
  • Warranty: Two years unlimited, then three years/100,000 miles
  • Price: £21,575+vat (£24,629+vat as tested)
  • Options fitted: 5in nav/radio with Bluetooth system £565, towbar £225, underbody protection £180, mechanical rear diff lock £210, metallic paint £450, load bay protective coating £485, rubber mats £39.17, multi-attachment clip £9.17, rear styling bar £574.17, front bumper trim £317.08


What it does:

  • Fuel tank capacity: 80 litres
  • Test fuel economy: Unladen – 33.9mpg
  • Manufacturer’s combined figure: 35.8mpg
  • Towing capacity: 2,690kg
  • Payload capacity: 1,064kg
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