German giant goes after Toyota Hilux SR5 and Ford Ranger Wildtrak customers with new V6 turbodiesel offering.
Vehicle style: Dual-Cab ute
Price: From $67,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 165kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Fuel economy claimed: 7.8L/100km
Volkswagen has taken a simple approach to its updated Amarok ute: if you can’t outsmart the competition, out-gun them.
The German giant became the first European brand to enter the booming one-tonne ute market in 2011 with the Amarok. It was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder range of turbo diesel and petrol engines.
But despite being an efficient and capable offering Volkswagen has had limited success loosening the stranglehold the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger have on the ute market. Particularly the lucrative top end of the segment where the Hilux SR5 and Ranger XLT and Wildtrak.
Volkswagen’s solution to this problem is to go bigger, swapping the four-cylinder for a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel endowing the Amarok with the largest engine in the class with the most power and most torque.
This is a major mid-life upgrade so the Amarok has also received updates to its styling - both externally and in the cabin - plus new equipment and a restructured model line-up.
Initially the latest model will only be equipped with the V6 before the four-cylinder models become available in the first quarter of 2017.
There are two choices for now the Highline, which starts at $59,990 (plus on-road costs), and the Ultimate, priced from $67,990. It is the latter we’re testing here, the only model available on the local launch drive of the car on the roads and through the forests between Canberra and Cooma.
The Highline comes equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, stainless steel sidesteps, bi-Xenon headlights with integrated daytime running lights and a sports bar in the tray. Also included are leather seats, Bluetooth, voice controls and VW’s App Connect system that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Stepping up to the Ultimate brings 19-inch alloys, an extended sports bar, a tub liner, Nappa leather interior trim and 14-way electrically adjustable front seats.
- Standard equipment: Dual zone airconditioning, Cruise control, cloth trim, carpet floor mats, chrome highlights
- Infotainment: 6.33-inch touchscreen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Digitial radio, Bluetooth
The design changes to the interior are subtle but in combination with the higher quality Nappa leather trim raise the Ultimate to the same level you expect in an SUV.
There’s still plenty of meaningful storage spaces around the cabin to ensure it remains a practical and functional working ute, but the level of presentation and materials has been raised for the segment.
The front seats offer plenty of adjustment but are a little flat, lacking lateral support. Space, however, is good for the driver and front passenger.
Rear occupants are so quite well looked after. The seats are flatter and while headroom and shoulder room are adequate, knee room will be tight for adults and teenagers.
Out the back the tray remains one of the best in class. Capable of fitting a full-size pallet between the rear wheel arches (1222mm) and equipped with a minimum of four tie-down points it is very practical for those who need the Amarok for work as well as family duties.
Payload is rated at 911kg for the Highline and 864kg for the Ultimate, which compares to 820kg for Hilux SR5 and the Ranger’s 950kg (XLT) and 995kg (Wildtrak).
The load height is lowest in class at just 708mm.
Another nice touch that carries over from the out-going model are a pair of LED lights embedded in the back of the cabin that can illuminate the tray if you are using it in darkness.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 165kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel
- Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, leaf spring rear
- Brakes: 332mm ventilated front discs, 300mm ventilated rear discs
- Steering: Power assisted rack & pinion steering, 12.95m turning circle
- Towing: 3000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
But for all the styling changes the real story of the new Amarok is the engine. The 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel is based on the same unit found across the Volkswagen Group - including the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.
It is comfortably the most potent engine in the pick-up class now with 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque. That’s an 18kW advantage on the 3.2-litre five-cylinder in the Ranger (and Mazda BT-50) and a substantial 50Nm more than the next torquiest pick-up, the Holden Colorado.
If that’s not enough grunt there is an overboost function that adds an extra 15KW for short bursts under acceleration.
And despite that extra performance the V6 also undercuts its key rivals on fuel efficiency, using just 7.8-litres per 100km; less than both the Ranger (8.9) and Colorado (9.7).
Volkswagen claims the Amarok V6 can dispatch the 0-100km/h sprint in just 7.9 seconds, which makes it comfortably the quickest in its class, but the new ute impresses for more than just its pure acceleration performance.
The V6 feels extremely strong from behind the wheel, not only pulling strongly off the mark but also having plenty of punch through the middle of the rev range. While it isn’t as quiet or refined as you find in a Porsche or Audi, it is smooth for a ute.
The V6 is mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is a well matched gearbox, getting the best from the engine and shifting smoothly and seamlessly most of the time.
Volkswagen has also accounted for the extra performance by increasing the size of the front brake rotors to 332mm and adding disc brakes to the rear; ditching the drum rears used by most rivals.
While the suspension has been slightly modified to account for the different weight of the engine, it is largely carried over from the previous model.
Because our test route contained some long stretches of off-road track Volkswagen fitted the test cars with smaller 17-inch alloy wheels; which would have to be bought separately through VW’s accessories division if you plan serious dirt duties with your V6 Amarok. The Amarok handled water crossings, rocky climbs and slippery trails without trouble.
On sealed roads the Amarok is one of the best utes available with responsive handling and SUV-like steering, although the ride can be a fidgety at the rear without any weight in the rear. However, with 230kg in the tray the suspension settles down and rides more smoothly.
Despite the upgraded engine towing capacity remains unchanged from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder models at 3000kg braked and 750kg unbraked.
The most controversial omission from the updated Amarok is the company’s continued decision not to fit potentially life-saving rear curtain airbags.
This puts the car out of step with its competitors, all of which offer airbag protection to all occupants.
Not only is it a disappointing move given the Amarok is being pitched as a family car alternative, the Highline and Ultimate in particular, but because it has a potential impact on the its official safety rating.
The Amarok was the first ute to earn a five-star rating from the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) back in 2011, despite lacking rear ‘bags. But shortly after ANCAP tightened the rules and made curtain airbag coverage a necessity for a five-star score.
If the new Amarok is re-tested by ANCAP the best score it could hope for is a four-star rating.
On the plus side there is airbag protection for the front seat occupants as well as the usual stability control and anti-lock brakes - which also have an off-road mode that has been tailored specifically for low grip surfaces.
A reversing camera plus front and rear parking sensors are standard on both V6 models too.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Volkswagen has made no secret of the rivals it is targeting with the V6 Amarok, at least with the Highline model. It wants to take on the current market leaders, the Toyota Hilux SR5 (from $54,390) and both the Ford Ranger XLT (from $55,415) and Wildtrak (from $59,590). To those you could add the Holden Colorado Z71 (from $54,990).
The Ultimate’s price puts it well ahead of those competitors but VW Australia is confident there will be a market for a pick-up that will cost at least $70,000 once it hits traffic.
VERDICT | OVERALL
Volkswagen Australia is confident that the addition of the V6 will increase the appeal of Amarok and push sales towards 10,000 per year; up from 8545 in 2015.
While it doesn’t come cheap the V6 Ultimate will attract those that want the most potent ute that can find. It has always been one of the nicest utes to drive and that hasn’t changed. The changes to the interior have elevated the Amarok to an almost SUV-level of refinement.
But the safety question marks remain, the lack of rear airbags will be a turn off to anyone how plans to carry people in the back seats on a regular basis.
If you can see past that - and VW’s recent troubles with diesel engines - then the Amarok V6 is one of the best utes you can buy - smarter and stronger than most of its rivals.
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