Dual-cab utes are muscling in on SUV sales as a family lifestyle vehicle. The Volkswagen Amarok is the leading example and deservedly so. It has car-like comforts, room for five and a tub that will cope with a pallet or tonne of dirt as the need arises. Try doing that in a Prado. Parking the big beast is the only area where a traditional SUV still has the edge.
Ignore the steel-wheeled council-specials and the 4x4 Amarok starts at $45,990 for the manual-only diesel TDI400 Trendline models. Opt for same spec in the eight-speed auto TDI 420 and the starting point is $48,990, though with more power and torque.
Trendline models are fitted with air-conditioning, daytime running lights and Bluetooth steaming, but miss out on (much-needed) rear parking sensors. It’s a $5000 step up to the Highline version Carsguide tested with sensors up as standard, along with dual-zone aircon, flared wheel arches with larger, 18-inch rims and chrome highlights.
The four-wheel drive system gives more than enough scope for families to head bush. Those who aren’t too concerned about extreme off-road and who won’t use the one-tonne payload capacity can opt for the no-cost comfort suspension that takes a leaf out of the rear springs to improve the around-town ride. It cuts payload by 250kg but for most the trade-off is worth it.
Ford’s Ranger still has the tough-truck title in its grasp. The Amarok presents a more civilised, inoffensive exterior that is typical of the VW range. It is also one of the smartest-designed vehicles in the class, boasting the ability to forklift in a full pallet as a work Ute over without affecting its looks. Inside is as comfortable as most SUVs, though the operation of the roof-mounted sunglass holder and centre console bin lid are rudimentary by VW standards. The sound system is straight out of the VW vehicle catalogue, the aircon is effective and the headlights are better than average.
The ANCAP score of 32.99 made it the first dual-cab to earn a five-star rating. EuroNCAP penalised the car in the frontal offset test for transferring forces to the dummy’s chest “in a way which could not be done with a human body”. I dunno what is means, either, but it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to subject my sternum to. The newer Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 still top the dual-cab charts with a score of 35.72/37 and, unlike the Amarok, they have rear curtain airbags.
A jittery ride over chopped-up tarmac is the obvious sign this isn’t purely a passenger vehicle. Add a couple of hundred kilos into the back and it settles down nicely. It isn’t sedan-smooth but it is at the top of the pickup class for refinement. Body roll is minimal and that helps the high-riding bus corner with more composure than most rivals. It has steering to match with a little bit of play on centre that weighs up nicely as lock is applied.
The eight-speed auto is as good as many diesel cars, though, especially in sports mode... a pretty seamless self-shifter. It gives the 2.0-litre turbo diesel better acceleration than should be possible hauling a two-tonne truck. The brakes are also up to the task but there’s more pedal travel that most people will be used to before they activate.
Interior space is good front and rear but storage, especially in the back, isn’t class leading. And the glove box is small enough to make a mouse feel claustrophobic.
As an all-purpose vehicle, the Amarok takes some beating. Lack of a reverse camera aside, it has all the comforts of an SUV with the added utility of a three-tonne towing capacity and a tray that can be hosed out after a dirty weekend. And there’s always the option of a canopy to go over the tub.
VW Amarok Highline 4x4
Price: From $45,990
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Crash Rating: Five stars
Safety: Four airbags, ABS with EBD, TC, ESC
Engine: 2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder 132kW/420Nm
Body: 5.25m (L); 1.95m (W); 1.83m (H)
Thirst: 8.3 L/100km, 219g/km CO2
Mazda BT-50 XT Hi-Rider
Price: From $36,170
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 8.4L/100km 222g/km CO2
Ford Ranger Wildtrak
Price: From $57,390
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder, 147kW/47-Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 4x4 Dual Range
Thirst: 9.4L/100km 248g/km CO2