It’s been an age since we last drove an Amarok. In that time, SUV and LCV (Light Commercial Vehicle) sales have overtaken passenger sales. Why?
It’s hard to understand if you’re not the outdoorsy camping type of person, or a tradie. People seem to like sitting high and having plenty of headroom. Amarok has that in spades.
The range topping exterior sees upgrades like bi-xenon self-adjusting headlights, like in posh cars. It has flared guards big enough to cop the optional 20” tyres.
The V6 ute sits very high off the ground, and even a taller driver needs to step up into the cabin. You still need to keep the key handy as the smart entry system doesn’t seem to extend to utes like this. After you’ve pressed the button on your key fob, opened the door, and inserted the key into the ignition, a quick turn brings up the Apple CarPlay on the on the 6.33” touch screen. Cars get a big red card for not having CarPlay these days. You can use the screen as if it was your phone, and Siri will perform simple functions either by pressing the voice key, or my saying “Hey Siri,” which means true hands free operation.
The cabin is given a lift by leather appointed trim limiting the use to people who won’t get smeared by mud and dust. That’s not a bad thing because there are plenty of buyers who transport themselves and their gear to competitive events and watersport venues and who won’t be grimy. VW knows that many people who buy an Amarok will never ever go near a building site. However, a camping break is not out of the question so the rear tray will come in handy.
On road, Amarok feels like an off-roader. Big wheels and huge off-road tyres don’t lend themselves to sedan-like handling, but the handling is decent none-the-less. You get used to it. Off-road, Amarok uses clever electronics to help an amateur look like he knows what he is doing. 4-Motion 4wd is used right across the VW group. It feels confident in most off-road conditions. Is it the best in class? That’s for an expert to say, but for those of us who almost never go near gravel let alone mud and sand, the hill descent, ABS and traction control will probably never see much use. There is no low range gearing.
The 3.0L V6 diesel puts out a modest 165kw, but a big 500Nm of torque. Surprisingly, 0-100 is covered in 7.9 seconds. Considering the size of an Amarok, I’m stunned at the spritely performance given the claimed economy of 8.6L/100k around town. Our test returned around 10.8L/100k around town. On the highway, VW says you can expect 7.3L/100k. There is sway control, but only if you get the genuine towing package.
On the road, the 8-speed auto is incredibly smooth. Like most modern autos, it changes up as quickly as possible to aid economy. Colleagues who’ve given Amarok a good workout have towed decent sized caravans without any trouble, though why anyone would want to completely escapes me. The tray is lined so that heavy things carried in it won’t poke bumps into the outer skin. VW have thought of everything.
Amarok feels big in town. Parking at supermarkets will require careful negotiation. With a 12.9m turning circle, the 5.25m monster a bit of a handful. Remember, parking spaces are 6m long. Think twice about paralleling yourself with a shoehorn even with the standard reversing camera.
We took Amarok on our standard evaluation route which includes a stint in the curves and bends of the Royal National Park. After a while, you forget you’re in a hulking brute, and begin to throw it around. You can feel the 2,216kg heft, yet it never gets in the way of having fun.
VW says the Amarok appeals to SUV buyers, and some of the aftermarket canopies give the flexibility of being able to stow stuff out of the weather, with an emergency sleeping space if needed. I personally wouldn’t want to sleep in any car, but I’d rather be in the weather less.
Amarok was surprising fun. It is spacious, although rear passengers on a long trip might feel a little cramped. There is oodles of room for gear, and the full-ladder chassis feels as solid as a rock. The driving experience is good, but not perhaps as good as others in the class. It feels more like a truck than a car, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be enthusiastic.
The steering is power assisted rack and pinion which is rare these days.
We’ve recently driven Hilux, Colorado and Navara, and the competition is stiff. It would be hard to pick which is better on-road, but I’d prefer full 4WD with high and low range gearing if I was going to head bush.
Amarok is best for the active weekender, tradie, or anyone with a bunch of stuff to tote around.
Would I buy one? No, it is not for me. I am the Golf GTI type of guy.
Price: Ultimate $67,990 (Highline goes for $59,990)
Engine: V6 turbo Diesel
Transmission: 8 speed automatic
Econ: 7.8L combined (claimed), CO2-204g/kg
Performance: 7.9 0-00kph