The Volkswagen Amarok is about to shake up the workhorse ute market, if the — as yet unknown — price turns out to be right. The Amarok will be introduced into the South American market next March and is due to arrive in Australia in the second half of next year, and will set a new benchmark for refinement and economy in its class. It will go head-to-head with the workhorse king, the Toyota HiLux, which Volkswagen is happy to admit was used as the benchmark, as well as vehicles like the Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton.
We'll have to wait to test it on our roads, with a full load. But our launch drive on gruelling roads — including a stretch used for the Dakar Rally — suggested Volkswagen has a winner on its hands with stand-out refinement and best-in-class fuel economy.
Models and drivetrains
There will only be one model to start with, a double cab available with a tub or flat tray. A single cab will follow around 12 months later. The Amarok will also initially be diesel-only. There are two kinds of 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder engines, one with a single turbocharger and the other with two turbos. The range-topping twin-turbo version will have 120kW of power and a healthy 400Nm of torque, available from just 1500 revs. A single turbo version will be available with 90kW and about 340Nm.
Volkswagen says it's working on a turbo four-cylinder petrol engine which will come about 18 months after the launch. Both engines are only available with a six-speed manual. An automatic will follow but could be as long as three years away. The entry-level diesel uses just 7.6 litres per 100km, while the more potent unit manages 7.8 litres per 100km. With a big 80 litre tank, the Amarok has a range of more than 1000km. It will also have fuel economy bragging rights over the Toyota HiLux diesel, a 3.0-litre engine that uses 8.1 litres per 100km.
The Amarok will be available as a rear-wheel drive, but there will be two four-wheel-drive models to choose from. One uses a constant 4WD system from the Audi Q7 and is designed more for use on slippery surfaces than bush bashing. An alternative switchable 4WD system with a Torsen centre differential and a low-range gearbox is designed for heavy duty off road work.
Both 4WD systems feature rear locking differentials and have an off-road mode which alters the anti-skid brakes so that they work better on gravel, frees up the electronic stability control to allow for some slip as well as an automatic hill descent control feature.
Capacity and ability
It has 280mm of ground clearance. Like the other traditional workhorse utes, the Amarok has a separate chassis, not monocoque like a Falcon or Commodore ute, and uses MacPherson struts at the front and heavy duty leaf springs at the rear.
The payload will vary depending on the model chosen, but will run from around 850kg through to 1150kg for the dual cab and the single cab will manage around 1200kg. Towing capacity will be a healthy 2800kg. There is 2.52 square metres of load space in the cargo area which is 1555mm long and 1620mm wide and there is a class leading width of 1222mm between the wheel arches.
The Amarok double cab is 120mm longer than the Hilux equivalent, at 5250mm, and 220mm wider at 1980mm.
Fit-out and equipment
The Amarok will be available in three different trim levels include a range topping Highline model loaded with gear including chrome bumpers and leather seats. Electronic stability control is likely to be standard in Australia, along with front and side curtain airbags.
High end options including satellite navigation and even heated seats will be available as options. Volkswagen will produce the Amarok at its Pacheco plant near Buenos Aires in Argentina. It hopes to match the Hilux on price in most countries, but is yet to decide on the pricing for the Australian market.
Letting journalists loose on a brutally tough stage of the Dakar Rally in pre-production prototypes is a pretty brave move, but it shows just how confident Volkswagen is in its new ute. The drive revealed that this confidence is well placed. The utes did have a small amount of ballast the in tray to help with handling and we didn't get to run them with big loads or tow anything, so the test is not comprehensive.
Even so, it was clear that the Amarok will be a class leader in a lot of areas. Its high level of comfort is the most impressive attribute. Driving a regular workhorse ute is hard work. They can be rough, noisy and uncomfortable.
The first thing you notice in the VW is how quiet it is in the cabin. It is very good on the broken tarmac of the roads leading out of Cordoba, but is also relatively serene on a series of terribly rough dirt roads. The suspension is compliant, perhaps a little soft, but it easily accounts for some nasty bumps and ruts. It is helped by its remarkably stiff body. You can usually feel some flexing or wobbling come through the body of most workhorse utes, but this feels as hard as a road car.
There is a lot of room in the rear, with plenty of head and leg-room for an average adult male. It is comfy enough that you wouldn’t mind going in the back for a long road trip. Occupants will appreciate the car-like interior which looks modern and practical. The plastic surfaces are all hard, but they look good. Small touches such as a power outlet on top of the dash, for sat-nav systems, and multi-function points on the dash, which can be used for either cupholders or phone holders, should also be popular.
Oddly, The disguised Amarok prototypes featured an upside down Mitsubishi logo on the grille. Asked why the three-diamond logo was chosen, a VW engineer said: "It was just the one that fitted the best." The engine is also a strong point. Some people will be scared off because it is only 2.0-litre, but they should be convinced if they drive it. We only experienced the twin turbo and it's a cracker. With a small and large turbocharger, to ensure an even spread of torque, this is a strong motor that delivers as much pulling power as you need. It is pretty quiet too, compared to its rivals. The only question is how it will stand up under heavy load, but with 400Nm it should do just fine.
The six-speed manual is a crisp gearbox with easy to place gears. The calibration of the engine and clutch means the prototype is easy to stall unless you slip the clutch, so hopefully this will be fixed. The Amarok's biggest problem will be the lack of an automatic. It is a glaring omission in a market like Australia and will no doubt limit its appeal. We drove the constant 4WD and part-time 4WD and both managed some extreme off-road driving with ease. There is 280mm of clearance which should be enough for all but the hardest rock crawling.
The way the vehicle adapts to off-road driving, with the ESC system allowing it to move around a bit before interrupting as well as the anti-skid brakes that act differently in order to actually pull up the car on gravel (unlike some other systems) make dirt road driving far easier. The prototype car only has four tie-down points in the back, on the bottom of the tray. High mounted points will be available as an option. They should be standard here.
We will have to wait and see the all-important price. But if it is reasonable, the Amarok is set to shake up the workhorse class.
Engine: 2.0-litre twin turbo diesel
Power 120kW and 400Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive
Fuel consumption (approx): 7.8 litres per 100km (combined)
Emissions: 206g/km CO2