Volkswagen Amarok 2019 review: Ultimate 580
The Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate 580 is the new flagship version of the German brand's dual-cab ute, with more grunt, more gear - but it crucially still misses out on safety stuff.
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The Mercedes-Benz X-Class fell short of high expectations when launched in 2018 as it was perceived to have relied too heavily on Nissan’s Navara in appearance, design and chassis/mechanical hardware.
The German manufacturer has come out swinging in 2019 with a new flagship - the X350d - which not only addresses authenticity concerns but also delivers a big performance boost with a new ‘Mercedes-Benz’ V6 turbo-diesel and drivetrain. We recently put the top-shelf model through its paces to see how it measures up in Australia’s premium ute battle.
|Mercedes-Benz X350d 2019: X-Class X-Class|
The X350d is available only in the X-Class’ existing mid-spec Progressive and top-spec Power model grades. Both are equipped with the new 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine, 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic full-time 4x4 system.
Our Power test vehicle has a list price of $72,195. However, it was also fitted with several factory options including the $2090 Style Pack, which includes privacy glass on rear windows, electric sliding rear window, side-steps, roof rails and alternative 19-inch multi-spoke alloys with road-biased 255/55R19 tyres and full-size spare. Other options were black leather seats ($1750) and Diamond Silver metallic paint ($950).
It was also equipped with some genuine M-B accessories including a protective bed-liner for the load tub ($899), chrome sports bar ($1551) and full towing kit ($2063). So by the time you add that lot together, plus dealer margins, GSTs and ORCs, the total retail price or ‘drive-away’ (depending on dealer) is $88,718.
That’s firmly in prestige car territory; a price for a dual cab ute that was unimaginable not so long ago. Beyond the new engine and drivetrain, standard equipment revisions for the X350d Power include brushed aluminium dashboard trim, black roof liner and new 19-inch ‘six-twin-spoke’ alloy wheels.
Apart from the X350d’s new V6 engine and drivetrain, Progressive and Power specifications are unchanged. Unfortunately, this includes the cramped rear seating for adults - particularly tall ones - which is a major shortcoming in X-Class design and not consistent with the flagship Power’s premium pricing and luxury image.
Tall passengers sit with the tops of their heads touching the roof lining.
Although its two-tiered or ‘grandstand’ seating is designed to give rear passengers a clearer view of the road ahead, the rear seat’s base cushion is too high relative to the roof. This results in tall passengers sitting with the tops of their heads touching the roof lining in the two outer positions and firmly pressing into it in the higher central position.
Combined with tight knee room and entry/exit pathways, the X-Class rear stalls are strictly for smaller adults and kids.
The big news here is the X-Class’s first six-cylinder. And this time it’s a genuine Mercedes-Benz engine in preference to the re-badged Nissan units which power the four-cylinder models. The OM642 is an all-aluminium DOHC 24-valve 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel with common rail fuel injection, variable geometry turbocharger and a counter-rotating balance shaft between its 72-degree cylinder banks to eliminate inherent vibrations.
This refined and powerful engine produces 190kW at 3400rpm and 550Nm across a broad 1800rpm torque band between 1400-3200rpm. The X350d and VW’s Amarok Ultimate 580 V6 are now the class-leading performance giants of Aussie dual cab utes, equal on power output and almost equal on torque.
The X350d’s seven-speed torque converter automatic is also a Mercedes-Benz unit offering a choice of automatic mode or manual operation, using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It also offers a choice of five distinct driving modes (Comfort, Eco, Sport, Manual and Off Road) using a console switch that alters engine response and shifting protocols to suit.
The permanent all-wheel drive system was jointly developed with Austrian product partner Steyr-Daimler-Puch which manufacturers M-B’s legendary G-Class off-roaders. It features a centre differential which varies torque between front and rear axles according to three switchable modes – 4MAT, 4H and 4L.
4MAT gives a 40:60 torque split front to rear which is ideal for normal road driving conditions. 4H gives 30:70 for optimum traction on rocky, sandy and snow-covered terrain and 4L engages a low-range reduction gear and a 50:50 torque split, which with the rear differential lock is designed to conquer the toughest terrain at low to crawling speeds.
The dash readout was showing 10.8 when we stopped to refuel, but our figure calculated from fuel bowser and odometer readings was only 9.6. We’ve always been impressed by the fuel efficiency of Mercedes-Benz engines and the X350d continues that trend, with outstanding economy for a vehicle of this size and weight.
With its 80-litre fuel tank you can expect an excellent driving range of more than 800km.
With a 2190kg kerb weight and 3250kg GVM, the X350d’s payload rating is just over a tonne at 1010kg. However, if you add together the kerb weight and payload, that still leaves a 50kg safety margin before you reach the 3250kg GVM. Not a bad idea given that LCV payload ratings are regularly exceeded, often unknowingly.
It’s also rated to tow up to the class-benchmark 3500kg of braked trailer, with a maximum tow-ball download of 350kg. However, if you deduct 3500kg from the X350d’s 6180kg GCM the payload capacity drops to 490kg, which is a substantial 520kg reduction, or more than half a tonne. So if you’re planning on towing this heavy (we doubt many owners would), make sure you do your sums.
The lack of a fold-down centre arm rest in the rear is a glaring omission at this price.
The load tub is 1581mm long, 1560mm wide and 475mm deep, with 1215mm between the wheel arches allowing it to carry a standard 1160mm-square Aussie pallet. The adjustable load-securing rail system mounted near the top edges of the tub works well for securing loads of matching height or more, but there also needs to be a tie-down point in each corner at floor level to secure lower loads.
Another shortcoming is the lack of cabin storage options. There’s a small glove box, overhead glasses holder and each front door has a bottle holder and storage bin. The centre console has a single cup holder and shallow oddments tray, plus a tiny lidded box which doubles as an arm rest.
Rear passengers get a bottle holder and smaller bin in each door plus flexible pockets on the rear of the front seats, but the lack of a fold-down centre arm rest with cup holders is a glaring omission at this price. The bench seat base can swing up through 90 degrees and be stowed in a vertical position if more internal load space is required.
Let’s face it. The X-Class already had benchmark steering, braking and handling before the X350d arrived, so for us it was all about the new engine and drivetrain. Mercedes-Benz claims it can complete the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in a scant 7.9 secs, which is as quick as many spirited sedans and gives an insight into the tremendous performance of its 3.0-litre V6.
With 550Nm on tap from 1400-3200rpm, it provides a real shove in the back from low speeds and offers excellent response in the 60-80km/h range often experienced in city and suburban traffic. And if you floor the accelerator, particularly in Sport mode, it leaps away and keeps accelerating hard beyond its 3400rpm power peak, with the sweet-shifting intelligent seven-speed auto providing crisp, smooth up-shifts that keep the engine right on its sweet spot.
The rear suspension squat and nose lift measurements were line-ball with the 'Pure' variant.
We also appreciated the full-time all-wheel drive on wet bitumen roads we encountered, which were quite mossy and slimy in places shaded by thick tree canopies. The all-paw traction was noticeable and reassuring in less than ideal conditions.
We were also keen to see how it coped with maximum payload, particularly the coil-spring rear suspension which groaned when we tested a base model Pure X-Class in 2018. We loaded 830kg into the load tub which combined with our two-man crew was right on the X350d’s payload limit of 1010kg. The rear suspension squat and nose lift measurements were line-ball with the Pure, with the rising-rate rear coils almost at full compression and the rubber bump-stop cones kissing the chassis rails.
This tail-down-nose-up stance was familiar, particularly over large bumps and dips when there was a distinct riding-on-rubber-cones feeling through the chassis at times. Admittedly, most X350d owners would never need to carry maximum payloads, but it does highlight the shortcomings of a coil-spring rear suspension compared a traditional leaf-spring design for heavy load-hauling.
The X350d performed superbly on our 2.0km 13 per cent gradient set climb, showing great flexibility.
On the highway the big V6 cruised effortlessly, with only 1650rpm at 100km/h and 1800rpm at 110km/h. The X350d was impressively quiet at these speeds.
It also performed superbly on our 2.0km 13 per cent gradient set climb with this load on board, showing great flexibility by dropping as low as 1200rpm in fifth gear before unleashing its maximum torque which easily pulled this tall ratio all the way to the top. Engine braking in a manually-selected second gear was just as impressive on the way down, competently restraining its one tonne payload on over-run and maintaining the 60km/h speed limit without once having to touch the brakes.
Maximum five-star ANCAP rating and AEB headline a faultless approach to safety. There’s a total of seven airbags, plus top tether child restraints with iSize and ISOFIX anchorages on outer rear seat positions, 360-degree camera and a packed menu of standard active safety features that make the X-Class the safety benchmark in dual cab utes.
Warranty of three years/200,000km including 24/7 roadside assist. Service intervals of 12 months/20,000km with a variety of capped-price servicing packages available to cover the warranty period, starting with BestBasic at $2,555 pay-as-you-go or $1950 pre-paid.
The X350d’s new V6, seven-speed auto and permanent all-wheel drive result in outstanding performance and driver engagement.
The X-Class now has a distinct sporting edge that makes it shrink around you and feel more like a big rally car than a dual cab ute. However, it falls short in other areas including cramped rear seating for large adults, lack of cabin storage options and compromised maximum payload haulage due to the coil-spring rear suspension.
So, you have to ask yourself, what do you want a ute for? If the main focus is hard work lugging lots of passengers and heavy payloads, there are clearly better leaf-sprung alternatives.
However, if you only need to carry lighter loads and value the class-leading power and prestige of a premium ute wearing a three-pointed star, then the X350d presents a compelling argument.
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