The eight-speed auto quickly endeared itself on the long transport stage
Stuart Martin road tests and reviews the new Volkswagen Amarok auto at its Australian launch with specs, fuel economy and verdict.
Good things come to those who wait - apparently - so the Volkswagen brand is hoping the eight-speed auto Amarok will be a very good thing indeed.
The German brand's answer to the dominant Toyota HiLux has been longing for an automatic and it now has one, at least in the top-spec all-wheel drive models. There's also a single-cab version to get the German brand's steel-capped boot in the door of the workhorse market.
VW Australia managing director Anke Koeckler says she is happy with Amarok sales but a single cab and an automatic will have an impact in getting more on the streets.
"We are going to have access to customers which we didn't have in the past, so our dealers are experiencing new customers, rural Queensland are getting more new customers in particular, then they experience our whole model range," she says.
"With the auto the mix is quite significant, in business, private and tradies, the auto gives us more sales opportunities," Ms Koeckler says. The ZF-sourced eight-speed auto - that in differing incarnations has already done some time in BMW, Land Rover and Audi products - is now hooked up to an upgraded twin-turbo diesel all-wheel drivetrain.
The Argentinian-built Amarok (it means The Wolf to the Indians in northern Canada) uses the traditional torque-converter-equipped auto teamed with a Torsen centre differential - the company has conceded the tougher duties beneath an LCV meant a DSG wasn't going to cut it, particularly in low-speed manoevering.
The single cab range kicks off from $24,490 for the two-litre petrol turbo 118kW/300Nm four-cylinder TSI300 RWD Cab Chassis six-speed manual (the only gearbox on offer) cab-chassis, jumping to $27,490 for the 90kW/340Nm TDI340 variant.
The features list includes two, four or six speaker sound systems (the top models get Bluetooth streaming), wheel sizes from 16in steel through to 19in alloys on the Ultimate (with full size spares), cloth trim is fitted to all bar the leather-clad Ultimate, power windows, air conditioing (dual zone climate control on the Highline and Ultimate)
The 4WD 120kW/400Nm TDI400 is priced from $35,490 for the cab chassis; all models can be had in ute form for an extra $1500. Conversely, the diesel starts the dual-cab range off - the TDI340 rear-drive six-speed manual is priced from $30,490, just squeaking in beneath the TSI300 rear-drive cab-chassis manual from $31,090.
The TDI400 rear-drive model starts from $32,490 or the TDI400 4WD six-speed manual jumps to $41,490. The cheapest eight-speed auto is the 132kW/420Nm TDI420 4WD dual-cab from $44,490, or for the same asking price you can have the Trendline six-speed manual.
The eight-speed auto is a $3000 hike that's only available on the dual-cab 4WD models (the first eight speed ute in Australia, says VW), which are also increased by $1500 for the ute variant. The top two models are available in TDI400 and 420 but go for the latter and it's eight-speed auto only, but only in ute bodystyle.
The TDI400 Highline 4WD dual-cab ute is priced from $50,990 for the six-speed manual, or the TDI420 Highline eight-speed auto starts from $53,990; the TDI400 Ultimate 4WD dual-cab manual is priced from $58,490 or the TDI420 Ultimate eight-speed auto starts from $61,490.
The eight-speed ZF auto is a conventional transmission that is teamed to the latest incarnation of the two-litre intercooled twin-turbo diesel - the TDI420, which produces 132kW and 420Nm, the latter from 1750rpm, says VW. The TDI420 - which has a cast-iron block and an alloy head, 16 valves, common-rail direct-injection and a particle filter - lays claim to 8.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
The permanent 4WD "4Motion" system has a Torsen centre differential that runs 40 per cent front, 60 per cent rear, but varies according to driving conditions. There's no low range transfer case for the 4WD traditionalists (you'll need to go lower-spec manual model to get that) but first gear in the eight-speed auto is a low ratio for tougher conditions.
Off-roaders will also benefit from the electronic diff lock traction control system and even more useful, a mechanical rear diff lock is standard on all bar the single cab and base dual cab models. The updated Amarok range comes fitted standard with a heavy-duty suspension, or a comfort suspension tunes that lowers the carrying capacity by about 220kg is a no-cost option.
There's not much in the way of serious change to the look of Amarok dual cab with which the market is now familiar - it's got VW styling cues to make sure no one mistakes it for another brand. It's squared-off front and rear and subscribes to the same LCV styling theories as Ford's Ranger and the Toyota HiLux.
Sports steps, roll bars and alloys on the up-spec models give it some presence, but in standard base-model form minus wheelarch flares and on 16in steel wheels it looks a little under-tyred and drab, but the arrival of the single cab might get tradies sniffing around the VW light-commercial, given the payloads and towing capacities are in the ballpark, if not class-leading.
Volkswagen says the Amarok Single Cab has the same overall length and wheelbase of the dual-cab but has a 65cm longer tray - the cargo bed that is 2.2 metres long, enough for two pallets says the VW crew.
The Amarok has five-star ANCAP cred and it's due to the standard fitment of traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes - all of which have an off-road mode that includes a hill-holder and hill descent control.
The permanent all-wheel drive models also have a little extra in terms of active safety; there are also height-adjustable front lap-sash seat belts with pre-tensioners, dual front and front-side airbags (but no curtain airbags, not even on the options list).
The German marque intent on taking a chunk of Toyota's mining business - as well as more of the burgeoning private market - unleashed the upgraded Amarok range in terrain familiar to the mining brigade, central SA. The eight-speed auto quickly endeared itself on the long transport stage, with smooth shifts and a feeling of being well-teamed to the torque delivery of the uprated 2.2-litre twin turbo diesel's 420Nm.
While perhaps not quite as well insulated from noise as the Ranger, the Amarok is a quiet open-road cruiser that rode reasonably well (it sat better with some VW-inserted ballast in the tray) on the cattle grids and bumps. Getting off the beaten track, we sampled the new single cab Amarok, which has good storage behind the rear seats but is not yet available in the auto.
The neat and slick manual gearshift makes that a little less of a handicap in outright driving terms but the mobile office tradie brigade will be looking for an auto and Bluetooth; there's no satnav or side curtain airbags mentioned anywhere either, which might be a sticking point for some. It does have low range and it performed well on the rugged, rutted, rocky trails of the Flinders Ranges, even with several hundred kilos of hay in the tray.
The range is not overly endowed with ground clearance - a minium 203mm according to the specs - and that meant the underbody protection was sounded out more than a few times in the sand, mud and rocks we threw the utes at. The eight-speed auto boasts a low first gear that the transmission only uses when required - combined with a rear diff lock and an off-road map to the electronic assistance systems, it completed all tasks without real issue.
If you were intent on regular and rigorous off-road jaunts the absence of low-range might be an issue, but for playing in the mud and sand, the smart tranmission did the job.
Price: single cab from $24,490; dual cab from $30,490.
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: five-star
Engine: 2-litre 118kW/300Nm turbo petrol; 2-litre twin-turbodiesel four-cylinder 90kW/340Nm, 120kW/400Nm or 132kW/420Nm (4WD); RWD and 4WD
Body: 5.2m (L); 1.9m (w); 1.8m (h)
Thirst: 7.3-9.6 1/100km, tank 80 litres; 194-226g/km CO2
Ford Ranger - compare this car
Price: single cab from $19,740; dual cab from $30,240
Engine: 2.5-litre 122kW/226Nm 4-cyl petrol, 110kW/375Nm 2.2 four-cylinder and 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesels
Transmission: 5 or 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, rear and four-wheel drive
Body: 2 and 4-door utility
Nissan Navara - compare this car
Price: single-cab from $23,690; dual cab from $30,600
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel, 106kW/356Nm, 126kW/403Nm or 140kW/450Nm; 170kW/550Nm three-litre V6 turbodiesel (7-spd auto)
Transmission: 5 or 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic, rear or four-wheel drive
Body: 2 and 4-door utility
Toyota HiLux - compare this car
Price: single cab from $18,990; dual cab from $26,990
Engine: 116kW/240Nm 2.7 four-cylinder and 175kW/376Nm four-litre V6 petrol; 126kW/343Nm three-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, rear or four-wheel drive
Body: 2 or 4-door utility