VW AMAROK AUTO REVIEW
VW Amarok TDI420 eight-speed auto: $45,990
VW Amarok Highline TDI420 eight-speed auto: $53,990
Towing capacity: 3.0 tonne
Downball capacity: 300kg
Fuel consuption: (listed) 8.3 l/100km
Fuel consumption: (on test - highway and gravel) 9.7 l/100km | (off road - heavy climbs, mud and sand) 11.8 l/100km
We set out from Port Augusta to Hawker, headed deep into the Flinders Ranges, then looped back across the highway to the low country east of Lake Torrens.
The route had us nosing through plunging washouts, took us high into the Flinders escarpaments, then led us along muddy trails turned into thick glue-pots before ending in the soft red sand of Nilpena Station (site of the famous Ediacaran fossil field).
Our ride was the new Amarok eight-speed automatic 4Motion.
Most were twin-turbo TDI420 dual cabs - there were just two single cabs - and with the assembled rabbits of the Australian motoring press at the wheels of each.
With rain and thick fog shrouding the summits, shards of shale and sump-puncturing basalt outcrops lying in wait for the unwary, with red dust rapidly turning to sticky glue, and with an unknown quantity below us - that new eight-speed auto - it had "disaster in waiting" written all over it.
We need not have worried.
We also drove the lower-specced model fitted with 'comfort suspension' and no load behind.
Each featured the new TDI420 twin-turbo diesel, the most potent in the range and the only choice when the auto is specified.
Each also featured Volkswagen's 4Motion permanent 4WD, Torsen differential, electronic and mechanical diff locks, and a switchable 'Off-road' mode.
Isn't there something missing here? Where's the low-range transfer case?
But the Amarok auto baulked at nothing. And while we've tackled steeper and more murderous climbs before, wallowed through deeper bog-holes, and ploughed across softer dunes, the Amarok went up, down, across and through everything we pointed it at.
Easily. And on road tyres. That's not half bad.
And it does it with such refinement and levels of comfort at the wheel that you would scarcely have known that there was any hard graft going on.
More to the point, while its off-road capability is impressive, the Amarok's on-road performance for a load-carrying commercial ute is simply brilliant.
For its effortless highway composure, its ability to swallow surface imperfections on broken secondary roads, and the way it isolates and absorbs corrugations and pot-holes on rough gravel, the Amarok is in a class of its own.
On road, not even the Ford Ranger can hold a candle to it.
Whether at the wheel of the base model Amarok auto, or the Amarok Highline auto, there is a superior feel to the interior finish, styling and accommodation.
For the quality of the trim materials, soft-surfacing, controls and switchgear, the Amarok is more the smart SUV than 'commercial ute'.
All controls fall to hand exactly where you'd expect them to be, and the touchscreen in the Highline is easily learned and navigated - even for ageing hippies, techno-dunces and other Luddites.
The layout of the centre-stack is simplicity itself, just a few rotary dials and buttons, and while the inscribing is a little hard to read, the layout is logical and controls are easily mastered.
Sitting alongside the gear-lever (which has a manual mode), are just three buttons - one to switch off the ESP, the second for the mechanical diff-lock, and the third for selecting 'off-road mode'. (The latter, remarkably, can be selected at up to 130km/h.)
The front seats in both models are nicely trimmed and padded, and height adjustable. The leather-wrapped multi-function wheel adjusts for tilt and reach (unlike the Ranger and Colorado et al), making it easy to find the right driving position.
The square proportions of the Amarok also make easy work of keeping a watch on the nose and tail when on a narrow track, and the relatively short bonnet and height-adjustable seats means you're not left wondering where the track has disappeared to on steep climbs.
The rear bench is also reasonably comfortable, and kneeroom and headroom is not an issue. Cabin space clearly benefits from the Amarok's 3.095 metre wheelbase and square-rigged rear.
Accessed through wide-opening rear doors, there's room there for three adults at a pinch, and two comfortably. The rear seats can also be selectively folded for additional in-cabin storage.
You can pick the Highline and Ultimate models from the large touchscreen, higher quality trims, and dress-up features like sports-bars, side-steps, bigger alloys and wheel-arch flares. The Highline looks pretty damn good.
For storage, there are lots of nooks around the cabin including sliding drawers under the front seats. Up-spec models get two nifty retractable cup and bottle holders in the centre stack (the base model gets two plastic plugs).
The tub in the dual cab is one of the largest in the class. With a depth of 1.55m, and width of 1.62m, it can accomodate a pallet between the wheel-arches (and the single cab can take two line-astern).
Towing capacity is 3.0 tonnes with a downball capacity of 300kg. (You need to be a little wary interpreting these figures as raw data however, as load and towing capabilities vary depending upon what you've got in the tub and how many with you in the cabin.)
ON THE ROAD
The arrival of the eight-speed auto - a quick-shifting ZF - also brought with it the higher output 2.0 litre TDI420 twin-turbo diesel. Available exclusively with the auto, it puts out a very respectable 132kW and 420Nm of torque.
It's the quietest and most refined turbodiesel you will find in any light commercial, and quieter and more refined than all but the very best of diesel saloons.
At idle, it sounds 'like an engine', and barely 'like a diesel'. From inside, except when really hard at work, just a distant hum reminds you it's there.
While it doesn't haul like the Ranger - its 3.2 litre diesel has real 'toe' - the Amarok will sprint effortlessly to highway speeds and beyond, and is equally effortless when overtaking.
The willing and wide torque band also allows the auto to be settled. There is no fidgety 'hunting' for ratios at the first sign of an incline. And changes are crisp and precise - who needs a DSG with an auto this good? It's also smart, and will downshift pre-emptively when braking for corners.
The greatest benefit of the eight-speed is that it puts a ratio underfoot for every situation and slinks seamlessly between them. The result on-road is that the Amarok auto can be surprisingly quick point-to-point.
NVH - mechanical noise, wind flutter and tyre roar - is exceptionally low. The A-pillars generate a little wind noise at above legal limits, but the Amarok is otherwise quieter than most passenger cars of our recent experience.
But it's the ride that is the Amarok's trump card - it is simply uncanny that a work ute with cart-springs at the back can track so well and with such well-engineered compliance.
While the ballast in the rear of two of the test cars we drove would certainly have helped with the settled ride, both these vehicles had the heavy duty suspension.
That means firmer settings and an additional leaf to the rear springs.
On every road and surface we put the Amarok over, we were simply amazed at how settled it felt, how refined and how distinctly un-commercial.
The Amarok has a balance, accuracy at the wheel and poise you would be pleased to find in an SUV - you don't have to fight it at the wheel, it tracks like a car; and you could drive it to Cape York without wondering if your kidneys will go the distance.
It swallows a broken track, absorbs jarring thuds effortlessly, and can be belted along a gravel road without pitching over potholes and juddering through corrugations.
OFF THE ROAD
We would need to put the top contenders head-to-head with the Amarok to establish who was king-of-the-heap in the toughest off-road terrain.
We think the Ranger still holds the mantle.That said, the Amarok is a very capable vehicle off road. And its simplicity is brilliant.
Why carry around a transfer case when an eight-speed auto with low off-road gearing and a switchable off-road mode, a Torsen differential and diff locks, can produce similar low-down crawling performance?
By activating off-road mode, the ESP, diff-locks and ABS all recalibrate for off-road conditions. The transmission defaults to first gear (on road, the Amarok will normally take off in second gear), although it will upshift once speeds rise, and you can crawl through the deepest washout or pinch.
Although it has electronic diff-locks, we found it best to also lock in the mechanical diff lock operating on the rear axle.
We put it up and over some reasonably challenging climbs, and took a very steep excursion to the top of a butte away from the designated route.
Using the twin-turbo diesel's ample low-down torque, and the crawling first gear ratio, the Amarok had no trouble tackling whatever we pointed it at.
The hill-descent function takes a little getting used to though. Activated via the 'off-road' button, it will hold and creep down anything. But if you touch the accelerator, it will raise the descent speed, bringing your foot back to the brake.
It means you have to keep your wits about you on 'stepped' declines.
Approach, departure and ramp-over angles though are very good. There were few occasions we found the sump-guards or under-body protection.
The Amarok auto was similarly adept in the mud and red sands at Nilpena station, which was the real surprise. Although recently dampened by rain, things were thoroughly churned by the time we came along the track.
But neither mud nor sand posed a problem. For the muddy glue-pots, it was simply a matter of turning off the ESP, selecting off-road, locking in the diff, and holding the revs at a constant 1500-1600rpm to push effortlessly through. (High revs and wild wheelspin is the enemy in these conditions.)
The dampened sand dunes were also easily traversed. (We'd need to tackle them dry to get a real picture here).
Lastly, but importantly, the Amarok has a 5-Star ANCAP rating. It comes with ABS and ESP, front airbags, side and thorax airbags, height-adjustable head restraints, three-point safety belts at all seating positions, and front seat belt tensioners.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Amarok TDI420 eight-speed auto is a very impressive piece of engineering.
Comfortable, quiet, swift, and composed, it is almost everything you expect a commercial vehicle not to be. For refinement and on-road compliance - on any road - its performance is without peer in the light commercial segment.
But it's also a very capable go-anywhere, climb-anything off-roader.
We particularly like the base model Amarok TDI420 with its rubber mats and no-nonsense interior, but with all the mechanical features and capability of the higher-specced models.
Throw away the steel rims, put on some decent wheels and off-road tyres, and you've got the perfect dual-purpose vehicle.
- TSI300 4x2 cab-chassis - $24,490
- TSI300 4x2 ute - $25,990
- TDI340 4x2 cab-chassis - $27,490
- TDI340 4x2 ute - $28,990
- TDI400 4x4 cab-chassis - $35,490
- TDI400 4x4 ute - $36,990
- TDI340 4x2 cab-chassis - $30,490
- TSI300 4x2 cab-chassis - $31,090
- TDI340 4x2 ute - $31,990
- TDI400 4x2 cab-chassis - $32,490
- TSI300 4x2 ute - $32,590
- TDI400 4x2 ute - $33,990
- TDI400 4x4 cab-chassis - $41,490
- TDI400 4x4 ute - $42,990
- TDI420 4x4 cab-chassis auto - $44,490
- Trendline TDI400 4x4 cab-chassis - $44,490
- TDI420 4x4 ute auto - $45,990
- Trendline TDI400 4x4 ute - $45,990
- Trendline TDI420 4x4 cab-chassis auto - $47,490
- Trendline TDI420 4x4 ute auto - $48,990
- Highline TDI400 4x4 ute - $50,990
- Highline TDI420 4x4 ute auto - $53,990
- Ultimate TDI400 4x4 ute - $58,990
- Ultimate TDI420 4x4 ute auto - $61,490
Note: Above prices exclude on-road costs.
- Metallic Paint - $490
- Pearl Effect Paint - $490
- Rear Differential Lock (2WD only) - $790
- Heated Front Seats (Ultimate only) - $590
- Park Distance Control – Rear ( Trendline only) - $590
- Cruise Control with Multifunction Display (2WD only) - $590
- 16” Alloy wheels “Taruma” (Amarok) - $990
- 17” Alloy wheels “Aldo” ( Trendline) - $1,490
- 18” Alloy wheels “Durban” ( Trendline) - $2,490
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