02 Jan 2019

Ford Ranger Wildtrak vs VW Amarok TDI580 Ultimate comparison

Two of the best dual-cabs battle it out on and off the road
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 Mister popular meets mister muscle. Brains plays brawn.

They are the snapshots for these $60K-plus dual-cab 4x4 utes, each recently facelifted to varying degrees and both pitching in more of what they do best.

The Australian-engineered, Thailand-built Ford scores a more advanced, quieter and slightly more powerful engine, teamed with revised suspension and new active safety technology in this flagship Ranger Wildtrak model grade.

The Volkswagen usually comes from Argentina, but this Amarok TDI580 is made in Germany and delivers - as the name indicates - a 580Nm turbo-diesel V6 that’s 30Nm up on before and 80Nm ahead of its rival, teamed with sportier wheels and more lavish appointments.

What we will aim to answer is, which has improved the most? And which is best overall for driver-pleasing, family-lugging, load-hauling, offroad-taming duties? Depending on your preferences for the above, the choice by the end will be clear.

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TESTED

Ford Ranger Wildtrak ($63,990 plus on-road costs)

Drivetrain: 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel 4cyl | 10-speed automatic

Fuel use claimed: 7.4L/100km | tested: 9.6L/100km

 

Volkswagen Amarok TDI580 Ultimate ($71,990 plus on-road costs)

Drivetrain: 190kW/580Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 | eight-speed automatic

Fuel use claimed: 8.9L/100km | tested: 10.6L/100km

OVERVIEW

Priced at $63,990 plus on-road costs, the Ranger Wildtrak undercuts its rival by a staggering $8000. Yet it also gets extra standard equipment.

Both score front and rear parking sensors, a cargo light and sports bar, electric-fold door mirrors, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, foglights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather trim and steering wheel wrap, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and satellite navigation with digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech.

However, the Ford then adds a lockable rear cargo blind, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning with active lane keep assist, auto up/down high-beam, rear curtain airbags, adaptive cruise control, auto reverse-park assistance, a larger 8.0-inch (versus 6.5in) touchscreen, vanity mirror lights, a second USB port up front, a rear 230V powerpoint, plus a centre-rear armrest.

That’s a fair list, though the Volkswagen does respond with 20-inch alloy wheels (versus 18s), steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters, premium Nappa leather trim with electric-adjust driver lumbar support (manual-adjust in Ranger), an electrically-adjustable passenger seat with electric lumbar, front under-thigh cushion extensions, a leather-wrapped handbrake, plus a fourth 12v outlet (two up front to its rival’s one, while both get one in the rear seat and cargo area). But it isn’t quite enough…

The Amarok TDI580 Ultimate does, however, make up for its feature deficit with surplus grunt. Its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 makes 190kW of power and 580Nm of torque, driving all wheels permanently. It casts a shadow over the Ranger Wildtrak’s new-for-2018 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder and its 157kW/500Nm, although its 10-speed automatic is up two gears and its switchable all-wheel drive system adds high- and low-range gearing to the rear differential-lock of both.

THE INTERIOR

Dual-cab must be many things to more people these days, especially those wearing these lofty pricetags.

If only a driver and passenger are regularly seated inside, then the TDI580 Ultimate will win over front occupants with wide, lush and beautifully trimmed seats, in addition to superior cabin fit-and-finish.

It may have less equipment, but the Amarok’s drum-tight doors, with little details such as flock-lined door pockets and auto up/down for all windows, plus tactile controls and excellent ergonomics, help it achieve a more premium feel.

Even the smaller 6.5in touchscreen has been updated to Volkswagen’s latest high-resolution monitor and slick, quick software. It’s pretty much the only model in the German brand’s model range to get a digital radio, joining the excellent voice control, crisp audio quality and easy nav - though sadly sans-live traffic updates.

The Ranger Wildtrak gets live traffic, lessening the need for CarPlay/A-Auto common to both, though its graphics are dated. Salvation comes in the form of all that extra kit, as well as two clear, colour trip computer screens flanking the central speedometer. There’s extra storage space, too, with a larger glovebox and centre console bin.

It sounds simple, but a push-button start, a dial for auto park assist and adaptive cruise are all little niceties that make you feel like this is money well spent - whereas its rival gets a twist-turn ignition and lots of switchgear blanks.

However, if the Ford’s orange dashboard stitching and matte-bronze doorhandles are an, ahem, acquired taste, then its cheaper leather, scratchier plastics and undamped bin lids are inarguably inferior.

Generally, it’s well built, but a certain cheapness pervades.

Thankfully, the Wildtrak seizes an opportunity behind the front seats. Its narrower body (by 9.4cm) is reflected in a 5cm-narrower back seat that is therefore a tad squeezier across for three people. However, its bench is 5cm longer, in addition to being more tilted and offering demonstrably superior under-thigh support. Add in another 5cm of legroom behind the driving position of this 178cm-tall tester, plus an armrest and powerpoint, and the Ford wins out back.

The Volkswagen, by contrast, places rear riders on a perch, with a more vertical backrest and harder cushion, while the lack of rear curtain airbags is a perennial downer for a brand otherwise on the forefront for safety tech.

Disappointingly, too, both miss out on rear air vents available on the Nissan Navara and Toyota HiLux, for example.

The tables turn again in the cargo area.

The TDI580 Ultimate only gets a 6mm-longer load space - so basically the same, then - but its 1620mm width is 6cm (yes, centimetres this time) ahead of its rival, which is a lead maintained between wheel arches that can fit a pallet between them.

The Amarok’s tub liner is better finished, too, and nicely grained to prevent items sliding around. And although it lacks a tonneau cover, the Ranger’s aftermarket looking lockable rollershutter blind is incredibly fiddly and it jammed during our photo shoot. We’d suggest Ford should do its own in-house to a more stringent standard.

ON AND OFF THE ROAD

The last time we tested a Wildtrak, its hoary and noisy 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five cylinder turbo diesel - still available for $1260 less than this bi-turbo - betrayed its smooth ride and steering. The new 2.0-litre turbo-four may only jump 10kW/30Nm, but it leaps forward in terms of drivability and refinement.

Aided by a superbly crisp and slick 10-speed auto, which actually uses its top gear at 100km/h to keep revs at a near-silent 1400rpm, the Ford jumps off the line and just keeps surging forth, fluently if not briskly. It’s still a tad clattery just off idle, but it otherwise transforms the Ranger experience.

Of course just as it hops 30Nm ahead, Volkswagen injects another 30Nm into its top Amarok, with the red ‘580’ badge demanded by the Australian division to proudly show off its girth. Boys will be boys, and all...

Anyway, with a 7.3-second 0-100km/h claim the TDI580 Ultimate feels about two seconds faster. If the Ford is fluent, then this is fast, complemented by an even-quieter and much more aurally appealing sountrack, plus an eight-speed auto that is just as brilliant as that in its compare.

It may have been caught up in a ‘dieselgate’ emissions cheating scandal a few years ago, but the reformed German brand presents one of few utes to comply with Euro VI emissions regulations owing to an AdBlue tank that needs to be topped up with about 7 litres per 7000km - at roughly $1 per litre. It’s hardly a hardship, and should be a genuine consideration if urban kays are frequent - the Ranger’s Euro V unit is rated to allow more oxides of nitrogen (or NOx) into the air, which causes respiratory illness, breathing issues and cancer. For your kids’ sake...

On test, though, the Ford’s lower combined-cycle fuel consumption rating of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres soared to 9.6L/100km, while the Volksy’s 8.9L/100km official rating closed the gap in the real world to (a still-inferior) 10.6L/100km.

Beyond the powerplants and power plays, too, the revised Wildtrak has the new TDI580 Ultimate soundly beat. Its steering is lighter, sweeter and more direct, versus a system that is heavier yet slower and looser just off the centre position.

The updated suspension of the Blue Oval product succeeds in delivering more level progress than before, and greater composure across mid-corner bumps that previously troubled it. Yet the excellent cushiness remains, with a great mix of compliance and control only let down by some persistent business when unladen.

Its German rival is a curious mix of abilities. It’s fast, but with slow steering. Grippy, thanks to those low-profile on-road oriented tyres, yet also susceptible to chassis shudder on country roads. Worst of all is the abrupt and terse urban ride quality, which is just so ‘un-VW’.

The difference is equally pronounced offroad, with the Ford - on those chubby 18s - skimming effortlessly across muddy and rocky ground that would see its rival thump and thud.

The Thai-built orange ute also delivers 10mm extra ground clearance, at 237mm, plus an extra degree or two across the approach and departure angles.

Realistically there isn’t much in it, though the ’Rok nudged its skirt (or maybe low-hanging mudflap) over really rocky terrain, and it relied on its traction control to scramble out of a spot where the Ranger’s better articulation kept its back wheel on the ground and not off the deck. Only some head toss from the softer suspension of the latter, over really slow rock crawling, marked it as slightly worse.

But along with 800mm wading depth (versus 500mm), a 0.25m-tighter (12.7m) turning circle, higher 961kg payload (against 836kg), five year (plays three year) warranty and cheaper servicing ($2385 versus $2650 to five years or 75,000km), it’s a win for the plusher, sweeter-steering Wildtrak on and off road.

TMR VERDICT

The Ranger Wildtrak has become a smoother, swifter and smarter dual-cab in this latest update, masterfully deploying its all-round excellence with few exceptions.

It still isn’t quick, its handling is balanced rather than sharp, and its interior could offer better finish, nicer leather and rear air vents. But these minor points are offset by its terrific new engine and auto, and benchmark safety, in addition to the already class-leading steering and ride.

However, if rear passengers are infrequent, wide loads are hauled often, and the driver perhaps owned a V8 Commodore or Falcon ute in the past, then the Amarok TDI580 Ultimate makes a powerfully persuasive case.

It hits higher highs - with performance, superb build quality and lavish front seats - but dips to lows its rival avoids, such as a tight rear seat sans airbags, missing active safety kit, a hard ride and bumpier off-road ability.

A heart over head pick the Volkswagen may be, but the latest Ford dual-cab ute better blends needs and wants, all with a more affordable pricetag to boot.

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak – 4.0 stars

Volkswagen Amarok TDI580 Ultimate – 3.5 stars

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