Dual-cab utes are nothing new in Australia. But over the last few years the segment has grown in popularity to challenge traditionally strong passenger car sales. And now with the Ford Falcon ute bowing out in 2016 and the Holden Commodore set to follow this year a new niche has opened itself up.
Instead of being gritty, work focussed or uncouth, the Volkswagen Amarok is the kind of dual-cab ute that melds workplace functionality with passenger car comfort. It’s arrival in 2011 shook the ute segment in Australia, delivering an interior that traditional 4x4s could only dream of.
Back then the 2.0-litre four-cylinder range didn’t have the grunt to match its rivals, but now with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel under the bonnet the Amarok boasts some of the strongest outputs in its class. However, it is inside where the Amarok, particularly in top-shelf Ultimate trim, really stamps its authority.
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab ute
Price: $ $67,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 165kW/550Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo diesel
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100km | Tested: 9.4 l/100km
With a fully stocked range for the 2017 model year, the Amarok spans everything from work ready base trims in the form of the four-cylinder Amarok, Amarok Core and Amarok Core Plus to luxed-up V6-powered Highline and Ultimate models.
The car you see here is the flagship Ultimate, a true business class update on the classic dual-cab ute formula.
It may not be quite as capable as some of the more rugged offerings in its segment thanks to the lack of a low range transfer case and is fitted with massive 19-inch wheels wrapped in road-going low profile tyres but it is an exceedingly polished car that also happens to be capable of carrying 864 kilograms or towing up to three tonnes.
Nappa leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and digital radio are all utterly unneccessary when it comes to crossing the red centre, but as a way of charming the household minister of finance those things can’t hurt, can they?
Not to mention a work ready tray out back, complete with a spray-in bed liner and the largest carrying space in its class. Large enough to fit a Euro pallet between the rear wheels, something no other ute in its class can manage.
The price of admission might be a sticking point for some, at $67,990 plus on-road costs the Amarok Ultimate doesn’t come cheap, and some of the high-end safety features you’ll find in the slightly cheaper Ford Ranger Wildtrack are still missing, like adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking. The Amarok also, crucially, is the only major player in the dual-cab ute ranks that lacks rear air bag protection.
But despite that flash ute fans will still find plenty to like, and if you missed out on one of the fast-closing production slots for the last Aussie-built Commodore utes, perhaps the Amarok Ultimate is for you?
- Standard Equipment: Nappa leather seat trim, electrically adjustable front seats with seat heating, dual-zone climate control, leather multi-function steering wheel, colour instrument cluster display, rear privacy glass, xenon headlights with LED running lights, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.3-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Aux, USB and SD card inputs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, six-speaker audio
- Load Area Dimensions: 1555mm long, 1620mm wide, 508mm deep, 1222mm between wheel arches
Space? You betcha. Quality finishes? They're some of the best you’ll find in a dual cab. A high level of specification? Absolutely.
It’s the Nappa leather seats that make the first strong impression, then as you take in the simple dashboard the quality of fit, finish, and materials really drives home how different the Amarok is inside. Those are still hard plastics on the dash for the sake of durability but they look better than the usual truck plastics in other utes.
Interior space is plentiful, a wide cabin means decent shoulder room for three across the rear, although leg room (knee room in particular) falls just on the lighter side of average. Up front, 12-way ErgoComfort powered front seats with manual base length adjustment well and truly trump the opposition for adjustability and comfort.
Little touches like carpeted door bins also impress, but a small centre console isn't as impressive, and the fold-out rear cup holder is just asking to be kicked the wrong way. A folding rear backrest offers some extra storage and the seat base splits 60:40 to enable tall items to slot into the cabin.
Infotainment is via a 6.3-inch touchscreen, and the system is shared with Volkswagen’s passenger cars, offering a fairly simple layout, but easy mobile phone connection, satellite navigation, and for city-dwellers (or those near enough to it) digital radio.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6, 165kW @2500-4500rpm, 550Nm @1500-2500rpm
- Transmission: Eight speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, leaf-spring rigid axle rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, 332mm front, 300mm rear
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering, 12.95m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 3000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Under the bonnet a 165kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 that shares its basic structure (though not its outputs) with the Volkswagen Touareg SUV or even Audi’s Q7, though we’re sure Volkswagen’s premium arm would like to downplay its association to something as working class as a pickup truck.
It’s a strong unit, in a pissing contest at the local pub it’ll be able to take on both the Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado and win. On the road that 3.0-litre V6 makes the Amarok TDI550 feel swifter than any other Aus-delivered ute on a ladder frame.
Beyond that the engine is backed up by an eight-speed automatic, another segment first in a market where the Nissan Navara comes close with seven speeds, but most competitors can’t do better than six and some, like the Mitsubishi Triton, can only manage five.
It also happens to be a highly refined unit - six cylinders will generally run more smoothly than four, and as far as diesel utes go, in-cabin noise is impressively low even under wide-open throttle.
There are times where the transmission feels as though it’s too eager to short-shift, but with peak torque on call from as low as 1500rpm there’s no lack of pulling power down low.
Beneath the Amarok is the usual wishbone front and leaf-sprung rear suspension typical of the dual-cab ute class. Although it can't match the circa-one tonne rating of some 4x4 pickups it still manages a decent 864kg. Unladen ride quality still a little too abrupt and floaty, but jam a couple of bags of cement or a toolbox or two in the back and the Amarok Ultimate holds the road convincingly.
That on-road suitability is a real Amarok strength, but the lack of a proper dual-range transfer case leaves the Amarok as all wheel drive only, which is fine for gravel, grass, and snow but real rock-scaling and mud-plugging ability might be off the cards.
The Amarok’s choice of tyres is all wrong for real off roading for a start - the size (lack of sidewall in particular) and tread pattern both being at fault - but there also happens to be plenty of 4x4 utes that never go off road.
Certainly all-wheel drive is handy to have in the wet or other low-grip surfaces, and it offers some extra peace of mind when towing, but maybe there’s a segment of the ute buying public that realises they don't really need the extra weight and complexity of a transfer case they may not need.
Welcome to the era of the crossover ute.
ANCAP Rating: 4/5 Stars - The Amarok range scored 30.99 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2011.
Safety Features: Four airbags (dual front, and side thorax + head), front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters rear outboard seatbelt pretensioners, 2x ISOFIX child seat mounting points, electronic stability and traction control, trailer sway control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, reversing camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals occur at 12 months/15,000km, with Volkswagen assured capped price servicing available up to five years/75,000km starting at $470 for the first service and topping out at $824 for the 48 month/60,000km service. Full details and pricing are available from your Volkswagen dealer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The first rival that springs to mind is the Ford Ranger Wildtrack, with a more attention-grabbing appearance package and a more impressive range of safety features including forward collision alert, speed limiter, and adaptive cruise control. Pricing for the Wildtrack is getting up there, and the interior isn’t quite so premium feeling but it’s a close-fought race.
Last year a heavily updated Holden Colorado Z71 went all out with improvements to ride, refinement, and build quality in an attempt to help Holden catch up to its competitors, and on the surface it seems to have worked. The Colorado is the best it’s ever been, without costing the earth and is smarter looking inside, but still work-ready underneath.
It may have been the best-selling ute in Australia last year, but the Toyota HiLux is off the pace when it comes to engine output and premium features next to the Amarok. That’s not to say the new HiLux isn’t good, just that the top-spec SR5 simply isn’t as showy in comparison.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Mercedes-Benz is going to be the first real prestige ute competitor when it introduces the Navara-based X-Class range later this year, and there’s been no denial that to buy a premium ute you’ll have to pay a premium price.
But the premium ute is already here. The Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate offers a level of polish that’s sure to appeal to discerning ute buyers, at the same time filling the grunt-hole of the four-cylinder Amarok range.
Poised to delight family buyers, but still offer the right flexibility for genuine work use, the Amarok TDI550 Ultimate, with its plush trimmings and impressively smooth engine and transmission, might carry and tow slightly less than a Ranger or Colorado, but neither (as impressive as they are) is as premium as the Volkswagen.
For taking that risk alone, and identifying that market niche, Volkswagen deserve a pat on the back - now just stand back and watch the competitors rush in.
MORE: Volkswagen News and Reviews
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