The What Van? Road Test: Volkswagen Amarok
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Marking a return by VW to the purpose-built pick-up market after a long absence, the new Amarok – the name means ‘wolf’ in the Inuit language – represents a major challenge to existing players such as the Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200 and Toyota Hilux.
It is being marketed in Britain initially solely as a 4x4, four-door, five-seater double-cab with either selectable or permanent four-wheel drive; a single-cab version is in the pipeline.
Power comes courtesy of the 2.0-litre TDI common rail direct injection diesel now being installed in all of VW’s light commercials, with either 122hp (single turbo) or 163hp (twin turbo) on tap. The latter carries the BiTDI designation.
We sampled an Amarok with the more powerful of the two engines and the selectable 4x4 system.
The Amarok is up for grabs with a choice of three different trim levels. They run from Startline, the appropriately named entry-level package, through Trendline and up to the top-of-the-range Highline.
All of them offer plenty of goodies, with Highline distinguishing itself by including leather upholstery along with the leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake lever found on Trendline models. Storage facilities include bins in all the doors with mouldings to hold a soft-drink can or a bottle of water, a lidded bin and two cup-holders between the front seats – there are cup-holders for the rear seat occupants to use too – a cubby-hole at the bottom of the dashboard, and a tray on top of the dash with a 12V power point.
There is a lockable glovebox too not to mention a compartment for sunglasses just above the windscreen and storage drawers under the front seats. Unfortunately, the ashtray holder projecting from the passenger side of the fascia looks rather like a cheap stick-on aftermarket after-thought and detracts somewhat from the high quality of the rest of the interior.
The driver’s seat and the steering column are both height-adjustable while the rear centre passenger is protected by a headrest and held in place by a lap-and-diagonal belt. We’ve seen far too many cases where occupants of the central seating position are secured solely by a lap strap, with no headrest provided at all. They risk serious injury if the driver has to brake heavily in an emergency and they are flung violently forwards then backwards as a consequence.
The bench-style rear seat cushion can be folded back and held in that position with straps should you need to use the back of the cab for extra carrying space. Rear privacy glass conceals whatever you may be transporting from the unhealthily curious.
Access to the cargo bay, which boasts a 12V power point and is mounted on a ladder-frame chassis, is by means of a sturdy tailgate released by a single, centrally positioned handle. It can be locked horizontally, but the presence of a large chrome bumper with an integrated step means it cannot be dropped down completely. That can cause some difficulties when loading and unloading, especially when wrestling with something heavy.
Four load tie-down points are fitted as standard but there are no externally mounted lashing hooks. Nor is there a ladder rack mounted behind the cab, although our test vehicle was equipped with a stainless steel styling bar – yours for an extra £574. In addition, the load area had received a £485 protective load area coating said to be capable of resisting chemical damage as well as scratches and scrapes. A light mounted on the back of the cab can be used to illuminate the load bay at night.
A tow-bar was fitted for £225, including the electrical kit. Don’t forget, however, that if you are proposing to use the Amarok to haul a big, heavy trailer then it is likely you will need a digital tachograph fitted and comply with the heavy truck drivers hours’ rules.
The 163hp generated by the four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine starts to bite at 4000rpm. Top torque of 400Nm kicks in across a 1500rpm to 2000rpm plateau and a six-speed gearbox comes as standard. The Euro5 diesel is fitted with a particulate trap.
To switch out of rear-wheel drive and into 4Motion four-wheel drive, you press a button next to the gear stick – no need to wrestle with a lever. Further button pushing allows you to engage a lower set of gears if the going starts to get tough.
Chassis and steering
Double-wishbone suspension is fitted at the front with cast pivot bearings and a spring displacement of 190mm to aid off-road operations. The front axle will take a maximum loading of 1410kg. Heavy-duty leaf springs help support the truck’s rear, offering a maximum back-axle loading of 1860kg.
Our Amarok’s 18-inch Durban alloy wheels were shod with Continental Cross Contact 255/60 R18 tyres and the package includes a full-size alloy spare.
Power-assisted steering is fitted and offers a 12.95m turning circle.
For a big 4x4, the well-put-together Amarok offers remarkably good on-road handling, with none of the lurching and wallowing through bends traditionally associated with 4x4 pick-ups. Nor is there any lack of performance. Floor the throttle and the Amarok surges ahead, accelerating smoothly and strongly as you go up through the gears and without generating lots of noise in the process.
Fuel consumption is respectable given that the vehicle weighs north of a couple of tonnes (2106kg to be precise) unladen. We averaged 35mpg. On the downside the gear shift is awkward and not all that precise, and the on-road ride can be lumpy and bumpy. But that has to be balanced against the pick-up’s exemplary off-road performance. The fields of Herefordshire held no terrors for it as it clawed its way up steep, muddy slopes in the cold driving rain of an English summer without seeming to draw breath, although it is a moot point as to whether its undoubted abilities will cure the locals of their love for Land Rovers. We especially like the intelligent ABS system, which intervenes slightly more slowly than usual when you are trying to stop quickly on loose gravel. The way it functions allows a wedge of pebbles to build up ahead of the front wheels, permitting the driver to remain in control and bring the vehicle to a halt safely and without slithering all over the place. To make it work like that you hit the Off-Road Mode button next to the gear stick. You can do so at up to around 60mph, and if you do so at up to around 18mph, Hill Descent Assist is triggered too. It keeps driving speeds constant on demanding descents by means of targeted brake actuations, allowing travelling down some surprisingly steep inclines without coming to grief. Actually hearing the brakes being applied, released and re-applied is comforting – especially if the descent seems to be a near-perpendicular one – rather than intrusive. If you want to retrace your route and go up that dizzying incline, then Hill Hold Assist should ensure that you don’t roll backwards. Grab-handles on the A- and B-pillars will give front and outboard rear passengers something to cling onto if your off-road antics shake them about too much.
Both front seats have cushions and backs that offer plenty of lateral support and should help to keep the occupants in place when the bouncing around on rough ground becomes too intense.
Lots of bouncing around may also make you glad that you specified an under-body protection kit – yours for £180 – to defend the gearbox. Engine protection comes as standard.
An electronic diff lock is fitted and was supplemented on our vehicle by a mechanical rear diff lock for £210.
Cruise control, electric windows all round and electrically heated and adjustable exterior mirrors form part of the equipment package, as does a heated rear screen.
We like the touchscreen radio/CD player, which in our Amarok was combined with a £565 RNS 315 satnav system. Incorporating Bluetooth phone connectivity it includes an aux-in and SD card slot plus mapping data covering the whole of Western Europe pre-loaded to the 4GB internal flash memory. Hit one point on the 5-inch colour screen and you are guided to the nearest fuel station. Hit another and you are taken to the nearest vehicle park.
Divided by an armrest, the driver and front passenger can enjoy different temperatures thanks to the way in which the Climatronic 2Zone climate control system is designed, and both benefit from heated seats.
Externally, our test vehicle was equipped with polished stainless steel sidebars on each side. With two step pads apiece they cost an extra £452.92: rather a lot to pay for step pads when one remembers that the truck is fitted with pad-less bars as standard.
We also like the £450 brown metallic paint finish, especially when combined with colour-keyed door handles, mirror casings and wheel-arch extensions and a colour-keyed front bumper.
Buying and running
The Amarok is protected by a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with both UK and European roadside assistance provided for the duration. A three-year paint warranty is included in the deal too along with a 12-year body warranty.
The engine is filled with LongLife synthetic oil while sensors work out when a service is due. Their decision will depend on the sort of work the vehicle does – a cleaner working environment will mean fewer visits to the workshop up to a maximum interval of 25,000 miles/two years. If you would rather stick with a traditional oil instead, then your Amarok will be on a flat 12,500-mile interval. VW contends, however, that remaining with LongLife can cut your fuel bill by an average 2.7%.
As well as ABS, Hill Hold Assist and Hill Descent Control, the Amarok’s built-in safety package includes Electronic Stability Programme, Brake Assist System, Traction Control System and Trailer Stability Control.
Both the driver and the front passenger are protected by airbags. Front side and curtain airbags are installed too.
A Thatcham Category 1 alarm and immobiliser are both fitted as are rear parking sensors and front fog lights. Daytime running lights are a standard feature.
Attractive package that will help VW win sales from existing players in the purpose-built pick-up market.