Volkswagen is returning to the purpose-built pick-up market with a vengeance after too long an absence with the launch of the Amarok. Due to appear in UK dealerships this September – dealers will doubtless be happy to take advance orders in the coming months – it’s VW’s answer to models such as Mitsubishi’s L200, Toyota’s Hilux and Ford’s Ranger.
The newcomer is built as a 4x2 and as a 4x4 with either push-button selectable or — unusually in this sector of the market — permanent four-wheel drive. The latter works on a 40/60 front/rear distribution of power, but the figures vary in line with the conditions the driver is tackling.
The four-door five-seater double cab 4x4 will arrive in Britain first, with the two-door single cab, produced in both 4x2 and 4x4 guise, set to debut here in 2011. It will first break cover at the commercial vehicle show in Hanover, Germany, this autumn.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no plans to introduce a stretched two-door single cab with extra space behind the front seats. That additional room can be useful if you want somewhere half-way secure to stow power tools and other easily stolen items rather than leave them lying around on an open unprotected cargo bed.
This gap in the line-up is partially addressed by the ability to fold down the double-cab’s rear seat and backrest if there are only two people on board says VW. It adds that its standard single cab offers slightly more behind-the-seats space than is usually found on such models.
Amarok is equipped with a 2.0-litre 163hp (at 4,000rpm) 16-valve common rail TDI diesel with two-stage turbocharging. Peak torque of 400Nm kicks in at 1,500rpm.
The alternative is another 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI that pumps out 122hp. Maximum torque of 340Nm makes its presence felt at 2,000rpm. Fitted with variable turbine geometry, it will debut during the second half of the year. Married to six-speed manual gearboxes as standard — an optional automatic ’box is a possibility for the future — both engines comply with the Euro 5 exhaust emission regulations.
Where fitted to a 4x2 — and this is likely to be solely on the single cab in the UK — the most-powerful engine offers fuel consumption of 37mpg on the combined cycle and modest-in-context CO2 emissions of 199g/km. Fit it to either of the 4x4s and you’re talking 36mpg and 206g/km; higher, but still by no means bad.
The less-powerful engine consumes a frugal 37.6mpg in a 4x2 and boasts CO2 emissions of just 198g/km. Add four-wheel drive and you’re talking 37mpg and 199g/km again; impressive figures for a truck of this type.
ABS, an ASR anti-skid system and an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) that can also helps stabilise any trailer that’s being towed are all fitted along with an electronic diff lock. A mechanical rear diff lock is an option.
Top payload capacity is 1,150kg and Amarok can haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,800kg. Don’t forget that pulling a big trailer may oblige you to have a digital tachograph fitted and comply with the heavy truck Drivers Hours regulations. You may also be obliged to hold a heavy-truck-style Operator’s Licence.
Two suspension packages are available, Comfort and Heavy Duty, depending on the use you’ll be making of the vehicle and how much weight you’ll be carrying.
Because VW is launching the double cab 4x4 in Britain initially, the following figures and specifications apply solely to that model. Maximum cargo bed width is 1,620mm narrowing to 1,222mm between the wheel boxes. Maximum length is 1,555mm and the sidewalls are 508mm high. Rear loading height is 780mm.
VW points out that it is possible to slide a Euro pallet into the load bay sideways; always assuming that you’re brave enough to allow a forklift truck jockey anywhere near your shiny new pride and joy. Four load lashing points are provided, one at each corner of the 2.5m2 cargo area.
Load bay entry is by means of a drop-down tailgate released by a centrally-mounted handle. The tailgate can be locked horizontally, but not dropped down completely because the back bumper, which incorporates a step, gets in the way. Opt for an Amarok without a back bumper if you need to be able to lower the tailboard completely.
Well-put-together and with a sturdy no-nonsense look about it, Amarok is being marketed with three different trim levels; base, Trendline and Highline, although different names will be used for the last two in the UK.
The entry-level model is designed for users such as construction companies after a no-frills utilitarian workhorse; and that’s exactly what they’ll get. We’re talking manual windows and manual exterior mirror adjustment, for example. However, the driver’s seat is height-adjustable and you get a light for the cargo bed; features you’ll find on all Amaroks, along with driver, front passenger and head and thorax airbags.
Opt for Trendline and you get 16in alloy wheels shod with 245/70R16 tyres, front fog lights, a radio/CD player with four speakers, electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors and central locking. Cruise control is fitted too along with semi-automatic climate control, a couple of 12v power points — there’s one in the cargo area too — and handy drawers under the front seats. A neat touch is the provision of a multi-connect point; useful if you want to install, say, a hands-free phone.
Choose Highline and you get 17in alloys with 245/65R17 tyres, chrome trim on the front and rear bumpers and mirror casings and tinted rear window glass over and above everything that Trendline has to offer. Fully-automatic climate control is a standard feature and this time around entertainment comes courtesy of an MP3-compatible radio/CD unit with half-a-dozen speakers.
All models get stowage bins and bottle holders in all four doors plus a couple of cup-holders in the centre console and a storage box between the front seats.
Amarok is assembled in Argentina and in yet another exclusive What Van? was the only British commercial vehicle publication to be invited out there to try it out.
We ended up tackling an off-road course in Patagonia, in the foothills of the Andes, in a 163hp Highline double cab with selectable four-wheel drive. You use buttons next to the gearstick to engage it and to switch to a low-ratio set of gears should you need them.
Amarok tackled everything that was thrown at it and came back demanding more, clawing its way up steep slopes without seeming to draw breath. The use of a 2.0-litre engine rather than the bigger 2.5-litre slotted into most of its competitors makes no difference at all to its performance.
One feature we really like is a clever ABS system that intervenes slightly more slowly when you’re trying to stop in an emergency on loose gravel. The way it works allows a wedge of pebbles to build up in front of the front wheels, permitting you to keep control and bring the vehicle to a halt safely and without sliding all over the place. To make it operate like that, you hit the Off-Road Mode button. Do that — you can do so at speeds of up to around 60mph — and you’ve just tuned the ABS, ESP, ASR and diff lock to help you to the maximum in the rough.
Punch that magic button at up to about 18mph and Hill Descent Assist is activated too. It keeps driving speeds constant on demanding descents by means of targeted brake actuations, allowing you to go down some amazingly steep inclines without coming to grief. The way in which you hear the brakes being applied, released and re-applied is remarkably reassuring. If you’re ascending one of those perilous slopes, then Hill Hold Assist ensures you don’t roll backwards when the brakes are released.
On conventional roads Amarok rides and handles remarkably well for a 4x4 pick-up and with 163hp on tap there’s no lack of performance. Noise levels are well-suppressed too. On the downside the at-times-clonky gearchange could stand to be smoother.
VW aims to sell some 450 Amaroks in the UK this year rising to around 2,000 in 2011. Its dedicated commercial vehicle network will undoubtedly aid the pick-up’s fortunes. However, VW may find that sales to customers who are buying highly specified versions in preference to a passenger car — and who will naturally gravitate to one of company’s car dealerships — may suffer.
How come VW’s new baby is called Amarok? Apparently it means ‘wolf’ in the Inuit language; and wolves are reckoned to be tough, powerful and able to survive in demanding conditions. Shame the name sounds so much like ‘anorak’ though…
The last time VW was active in the pick-up market was over 20 years ago with the Taro; in effect a rebadged version of Toyota’s Hilux. It’s come back with a product that’s easily as good as anything its rivals have to offer and in many respects significantly better given some of its intelligently thought-out features. If you’re in the market for a new pick-up then you’ve got to check Amarok out the first chance you get.