I’ve always thought the boxy, muscled look of the Amarok did it plenty of favours, and even after eight years on sale it still looks more appealing than many of its contemporaries.
You can differentiate the new flagship Amarok Ultimate V6 580 model a few ways - the simplest of which being the red 580 badge on the tailgate.
The new model gets more luxury items, more power and torque, and a price bump to boot. But still no advanced safety gear.
I’ve always thought the boxy, muscled look of the Amarok did it plenty of favours, and even after eight years on sale.
There are other means, of course; the 20-inch wheels are new (up from 19s), and there’s a new silver bashplate at the front end that helps give the vehicle a bit more stance, and presumably has the added benefit of protecting the underbody a bit, too.
Ultimate models also brandish a larger chrome sports bar in the tub, plus they come with a tub-liner as standard.
And for this updated version, there’s a new hero colour, known as ‘Peacock’… well, it is a bit of a show-off.
The dimensions haven’t changed: it’s still 5254mm long (on a 3095mm wheelbase), 1954mm wide and 1834mm tall. And, you guessed it, the interior hasn’t seen any changes to the physical use of space, but it has stepped up a tad in terms of style - check out the interior pictures below to see what I’m talking about.
Inside, the updated Amarok Ultimate V6 580 model gets a new black headlining and pillar trims to accompany the already standard 14-way-adjustable electric front seats with heating and Nappa leather trim.
I reckon the cabin feels pretty good for the sort of money being asked. Admittedly it isn’t super plush, but the supportive seats offer excellent comfort and bolstering, plus the leather trim on the steering wheel feels properly luxurious.
The cabin is well laid out, and there are plenty of loose item storage spots including a dash-top box, a space in front of the gear shifter, decent centre console, and there is a pair of cupholders between the seats, plus all four doors have decent bottle holders and pockets. There's no flip-down rear armrest, but there are two cupholders on the floor.
It isn’t super plush, but the supportive seats offer excellent comfort and bolstering.
The rear seat of the Amarok falls a bit short on knee room.
The media system once set the standard in the class, but is starting to show its age - not just because of its graphics, but also the physical size of the screen (6.33-inch). But it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and of course there’s also Bluetooth, and you get built-in sat nav, too.
The rear seat of the Amarok falls a bit short on knee room - with the driver’s seat set in my position, my knees were hard up against the seat when sitting tandem (I’m 182cm tall).
It makes up for it with great width, allowing excellent shoulder room - it’s probably the broadest cabin in the class, so fitting three across isn’t too massive an issue, so long as they’re not long in the legs. There is a flip-down armrest with cupholders and you get dual map pockets, too.
The cargo hold measures 1555mm long, 1620mm wide, and 1222mm between the arches - wide enough for a standard Aussie pallet.
And of course there are ISOFIX child seat anchors, which is good news for parents. But there are no rear seat air-vents, and while there’s a 12-volt outlet in the back there are no USB charge points.
It is missing a couple of other vital things from the rear seats - see the safety section for more.
If you want to use the tray as a boot, you’ll be happy to learn that it is huge. The cargo hold measures 1555mm long, 1620mm wide (and 1222mm between the arches - wide enough for a standard Aussie pallet), and 508mm deep.
But for that money you get quite a bit of standard equipment, including 20-inch 'Tacla' alloy wheels with tyre pressure monitoring, a stainless steel styling bar and stainless steel side steps with LED lighting, Durabed cargo area coating, bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, and front fog lights with cornering function.
Inside there’s a 6.33-inch media screen with sat nav, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Inside there’s dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a 6.33-inch media screen with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, Nappa leather trim, 14-way electrically adjustable front seats with heating, a leather-lined steering wheel, stainless steel pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a colour info display with digital speedometer.
You won’t need to go to the accessories catalog to choose floor mats (tailored carpet mats are included), but you might want to have a look there for items like a bull bar, nudge bar, light bar, hard tonneau, soft tonneau, tow bar or different rims.
As for colours, there are two solid options at no extra cost ('Candy White' and 'Tornado Red'), while 'Indium Grey Metallic', 'Ravenna Blue Metallic', 'Reflex Silver Metallic', 'Peacock Green Metallic', 'Deep Black Pearl Effect', 'Ravenna Blue Matte' and 'Indium Grey Matte' all attract an additional $610.
Things that are missing from the Amarok Ultimate? There’s no push button start or keyless entry.
Things that are missing from the Amarok Ultimate? There’s no push button start or keyless entry, there are no lights for the sunvisor mirrors, there’s no other interior trim colour option (white leather? nope!), and no grade gets rear seat air vents.
But if you love 12-volt outlets, this is your guy. There are three inside - one up front on the dash top, one between the front seats, and a third in the back row - plus there’s a fourth weatherproof one in the tray.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The new engine remains a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, but this time around the maximum horsepower specifications have been bumped up to 190kW (200kW on overboost) and 580Nm of torque. According to VW, overboost is accessible for 10 seconds, in third or fourth gear, when applying more than 70 per cent throttle.
Towing capacity is rated at 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 3500kg for a braked trailer.
If you’re into the idea of a proper manual V6 turbo-diesel Amarok with a low-range transfer case, one is coming soon. The six-speed manual V6 Amarok will not be offered in Ultimate guise, though - you’ll have to forego some of the niceties, and it won’t have the full max power outputs, either: the existing TDI550 engine (with 165kW - 180kW on overboost - and 550Nm) will persist in lower grades for the time being.
Towing capacity is rated at 750kg for an unbraked trailer, and 3500kg for a braked trailer, but the maximum ball down-weight is 300kg - keep that in mind.
I honestly couldn’t think of a nicer ute to live with on a daily basis. The Amarok has a precision to the way it drives, a German-ness that makes it feel more stable, more comfortable and more refined than many of its competitors.
The drivetrain has a lot to do with that.
The updated V6 not only has more power and torque than the existing model, it is considerably more usable, too. Because the 190kW comes in from 3250-4500rpm, at the end of the torque sweet spot (broadly usable from 1400-3000rpm), there’s a consistency to the way the engine revs, without the peak-then-trough feel that many turbo-diesel engines can offer up when they run out of puff.
It’s still a ladder frame ute with a leaf spring rear suspension, and even riding on 20-inch wheels it deals with lumps and bumps nicely.
For context, the TDI550 drivetrain previously offered in the Ultimate (and still sold in the lower-grade V6 diesel utes) has 165kW from 2500-4500rpm and 550Nm of torque from 1500-2500rpm - note, the new diesel engine accounts for some turbo lag by lowering the torque band a little.
And it isn’t just a software tweak for this new version of the V6 - the engine has new pistons to deal with the enhanced load. It still makes use of the same eight-speed automatic transmission, and still has an unchanged '4Motion' permanent all-wheel drive system. Both are very, very good.
Now while utes are hardly performance vehicles, VW claims the 0-100km/h sprint time for this updated Ultimate model is just 7.3 seconds.
VW claims that figure is down more than half a second, and that it’s considerably quicker than most competitor utes which have “acceleration in the 10s”.
Perhaps more importantly the overtaking performance, or 80-120km/h acceleration, drops for 6.0sec to 5.5. That’s where you feel the grunt, too.
It’s still a ladder frame ute with a leaf spring rear suspension and double wishbone front suspension, and even riding on 20-inch wheels it deals with lumps and bumps nicely. There’s some slight sharpness over hard edges, but dips and potholes are done away with pretty darn well, and the rear never feels as skittish as some of the other utes out there.
The power assisted rack and pinion set-up offers more feel than some of the other vehicles in the class.
The steering is direct and weighty, with the power assisted rack and pinion set-up offering more feel than some of the other vehicles in the class that run electric steering systems. It can be a bit heavy at low speeds and the turning circle isn’t great (12.9m), but that’s a common complaint across this segment.
While there wasn’t an off road review component, I can assure you from previous dirty sessions that the 'Off Road' mode works a treat, and you can forget about concerns over the lack of a low-range transfer case. You get a rear differential lock, and that combined with the car’s clever electronics is more than enough to do what most people will need. Plus you don’t need to worry about shifting between 2H, 4H and 4L.
If you want to know the off-road specs, here they are: ground clearance mm - 192; approach angle deg - 28.0; departure angle deg - 23.6; ramp-over angle deg - 23.0; wading depth mm - 500.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
ANCAP safety rating
The Volkswagen Amarok range was crash tested way back in 2011, and it scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating then. But the world has kept turning since, and it’s falling well behind in terms of equipment.
First off - no rear airbags. The back seat isn’t covered by curtain airbags, because the Amarok doesn’t have them. Instead, there are dual front airbags and front-side airbags only.
Suddenly the class-leading safety offered in trucks like the rival Mercedes X-Class and (soon to be added to the) Ford Ranger starts to stack up. Hell, you can even get AEB and further advanced safety kit on the SsangYong Musso, at less than half the price of this Amarok Ultimate model.
It should be noted, though, that the Amarok gets a reversing camera as standard, plus this spec gets front and rear parking sensors, plus a very good stability control system with hill descent and trailer sway systems.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
3 years / unlimited km warranty
The Amarok range can’t match the best utes in the class in terms of warranty cover - at the time of writing VW is persisting with a three-year/unlimited kilometre plan for all of its models. Plenty of competitors are now offering five year warranty plans. At the very least you get three years’ roadside cover included.
The reputation of the German brand for being costly in terms of ownership isn’t unfounded, with service costs for the Amarok considerably higher than most of its competitors.
Maintenance intervals are every 12 months/15,000km, with a capped price plan spanning five years/75,000km, whichever occurs first. The average cost per visit over that period is $610 - very high for a mainstream ute.
The question is, would you consider this a mainstream ute? I would - VW is pitching it as such, and the segment as a whole is rapidly moving upmarket.
So the updated and powered up Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate is great to drive, has heaps of power, and lots of appeal - both aesthetically and practically.
But it falls short in a few key areas including the safety situation, and frankly is too expensive considering where its rivals are playing and what you can get there. Whether you’re willing to make the sacrifice is a personal decision, but in all likelihood, we won’t see any of the advanced safety gear until the next-generation Amarok arrives, probably in 2020.
Until then, I’d say it’s not so much the Ultimate - more like the Almost.
Are safety systems as important to you as they are to us? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.