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Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Volkswagen Amarok V6 TDI 550 Highline with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Since it arrived in 2011 Volkswagen’s Amarok has been the posh ute, not the popular one. Wait, that didn’t come out right. See, VW’s ute is a big seller - last year 8261 Amaroks were sold in Australia.
That’s an impressive figure in car industry terms, and more than full-on posh brands Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz were able to sell of any of their individual models. But when you compare the Amarok’s sales with its mainstream ute rivals, it’s not as impressive.
But that probably suits Volkswagen just fine, because while the other utes battle each other for buyers trying to out-tough and undercut each other, the Amarok is really the only one of them with a point of difference – it’s a premium alternative.
Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s German with European styling. Still want the Japanese ute? Most would say yes, but a few – 8261 people to be exact - actually wanted something a bit special.
And in November last year the Amarok became more special with a new V6 added to the line-up. Not only does this make the Amarok the most powerful and fastest accelerating ute on the market, but the V6 has been taken from the Porsche Cayenne SUV.
We recently test drove the Amarok TDI550 4Motion in the Highline grade. There are only two specs, Highline and the Ultimate above it, both permanent four-wheel drive (4WD). So does it live up to it special reputation, and why are its days as the only premium ute numbered? And does it keep up with the newer utes in terms of tech?
New engine aside, under the skin the Amarok TDI550 is the same ute which came out in 2011, and since then several other brands have launched next generation versions of their utes.
The on-road handling, despite a ladder frame chassis, is impressive – in fact, better than any ute I’ve driven in Australia
This update brought more than just that V6 though. It was the first major revamp in five years and saw new styling inside and out, plus some new technology. In 2017 Volkswagen’s four cylinder Amarok variants received the styling and tech update, too.
You can spot the updated Amarok TDI550 by its face. It has a new upper and lower grille, while the headlights and fog lights have been restyled to look sleeker. There are also new wheel designs.
To tell the difference between a Highline and the Ultimate, look at the sports bar. No, not a footy lover's watering hole, rather the alloy tube structure at the cabin end of the load bed.
The Ultimate has a longer, lower, more horizontal bar which houses an integrated LED brake light and extends further toward the tailgate. The Highline has a shortened version without the brake light. Check out the wheels, too. The Highline gets 18-inch alloys, while the Ultimate rolls on 19-inch rims.
The side step in the Ultimate is illuminated, while the Highline’s isn’t. That’s it for the external differences.
If you peer through the window and don’t see leather seats or alloy pedals, you'll know you’re looking at a Highline.
The Amarok pulls off a prestigious but tough appearance. It may be a ute, but it’s instantly recognizable as a Volkswagen family member, and only the Ford Ranger comes close to matching it for good looks.
The TDI550 is available as a dual cab only, and a look at its dimension shows it to be 5254mm long, 1954mm wide (2228mm with mirrors) and 1878mm tall. Compared to the HiLux Dual Cab ute it’s 76mm shorter, 99mm wider and 63mm taller.
The 2169kg TDI550 Highline is 89kg heavier than the chunkiest HiLux.
Dual cab utes double as work truck and family car so they’ll visit shopping centre carparks as well as building sites, and they need to be comfortable and easy to live with. But practicality is king.
The TDI550 is spacious, offering excellent headroom, but rear legroom for this 191cm tester is a bit tight, with knees against the driver's seat backrest (with it set to my position).
Those rear doors are narrower than a car’s but they open wide and tall, making it easy to slip in and out. The tall entrance, along with the elevated ride height, makes putting kids into their car seats easier, too.
There’s theatre style seating in the rear row which improves visibility, and having spent the last two months in an SUV with high window sills my toddler looks happy to be able to see the world going by again.
Storage inside the cabin is good with 1.5-litre bottle holders in the front doors and 1.0-litre bottle holders in the back. There are two cup holders in the back (on the floor) and two in the front. The bin under the centre console armrest does sacrifice space to the mechanical handbrake, though.
The tray is 1555mm long, 1620mm wide, and tailgate height is 508mm. The critical measure between the wheel arches is 1222mm, comfortably wider than an Australian Standard pallet (1165mm), and the claimed load area is 2.52 cubic metres. The 780mm load height is the lowest you’ll find in the Amarok's competitive set.
The Amarok TDI 550 Highline lists for $59,990, the Ultimate is $7000 more.
Standard features include: 6.3-inch touchscreen with a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a six-speaker sound system with CD player and digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and voice control, dual zone climate control; auto-levelling bi-xenon cornering headlights with LED running lights, front and rear parking sensors, and four 12V power outlets.
This being the one of the higher-end variants means it comes with commercial vehicle luxuries such as a carpet floor, leather wrapped steering wheel and flashes of chrome interior trim here and there.
Cloth seats are also standard on the Highline, ours was optioned with the $1890 Alcantara upholstery with heated seats up front. The metallic paint is another option fitted, and that's $590.
Our ute had a five-piece tub liner which is a dealer fitted accessory for $599. Otherwise it doesn't come standard with any tray protection.
The Highline is pricey for a dual cab ute, but not outrageously so compared to its top-of-the-range rivals: Toyota’s HiLux SR5 is $55,990 and Ford’s Ranger Wildtrack is $60,090.
Okay, if you only take away one thing from this Amarok review, it should be that Volkswagen has added a V6 diesel, but it’s not just any V6 – it’s a VW Group engine which has also been placed under the bonnet of the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, and VW Touareg, and frankly, it's beautiful.
Not only does this 3.0-litre turbo-diesel make the Amarok TDI550 the most powerful ute on the market, with 165kW (at 2500rpm) and 550Nm (at 1500rpm), it's also the fastest, running 0-100km/h in 7.8s. And when combined with a liquid smooth eight-speed automatic the result suits the refined nature of the Amarok perfectly.
This is ZF's eight-speed – the pin-up of the torque converter world. It’s the engine and transmission combo the Amarok should have always had. Now the bark and bite match the dog.
Volkswagen says the TDI550 should consume an average 7.8L/100km in combined driving conditions.
After 150-odd kays of country and highway driving our TDI550 was sucking diesel down at an average of 9.6L/100km, and after a 10km peak hour, rat run commute from the 'burbs to the city the trip computer was reporting 18.1L/100km. I was late that morning and made very good time.
Some 4WD utes can be less than comfortable over long distances for a squillion reasons – the engine is loud, the seats can feel like wooden planks, the transmission may have less gears than is ideal, the unladen ride can be shocking. The Amarok is none of these things – it’s selling point in the past was that it felt more like a car to drive and that’s been improved even more so with the arrival of this V6 diesel.
I’ve loved this smooth and torquey engine since I first met it in a Volkswagen Touareg about five years ago – the way it delivers sledgehammer grunt from just above idle made me grin.
In the Amarok, the V6 makes a civilised ute even more so – it’s strong and remarkably quiet.
Overboost kicks in with the throttle above 75 per cent in third and four gear, adding 15kW just when you need it for overtaking.
The eight-speed transmission is a perfect match for that V6 – some shifts are almost imperceptible while in Sport mode it’ll shift down hard and fast through twisty roads.
That’s the thing about the Amarok – it does feel like a car. I took it on the 150km test route of sealed roads and yup, you’re sitting high like you do in any ute, but the ride, even with leaf springs in the back, is the best I’ve ever experienced in a ute. The on-road handling, despite a ladder frame chassis, is impressive – in fact, better than any ute I’ve driven in Australia.
The Amarok Highline doesn’t get the new seats which are in the Ultimate grade, but I found the standard ones to be excellent. The driving position is good, and there’s decent lumbar support. I was still comfortable in them after two hours straight.
There are some small niggles. The reversing camera view is not the greatest, and the distorted image can make it hard to know just how much space there is between you and the Rolls Royce you’re about to back in to. The camera is located under the tailgate and there were times rain on the lens obscured the view.
I also found the steering at lower speeds a tad too heavy. You’ll forget you’re in a ute when you’re driving the Amarok, but definitely remember when you park it. And it’s a big truck too. Yup, a lot of these will live in the city where the streets aren’t friendly to long and wide vehicles.
During this test we didn’t take the TDI550 off-road, but we know from previous excursions that with its ladder frame chassis and 4WD system it’s highly competent over rough terrain. Its entry angle of 28.0 and departure angle of 23.6 degrees, with a ramp over angle of 23.0 aren’t bad.
That said, 192mm of ground clearance is far less than the HiLux’s 279mm, and its 500mm wading depth is 200mm less than the Toyota’s as well. It also doesn’t have high- and low-range 4WD settings.
Braked towing capacity for the Amarok is 3000kg. The Highline's payload capacity is 911kg, which is 47kg more than what the Ultimate can carry.
The Amarok was given the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was tested in 2011. Safety standards have moved on from then and there are places where the Amarok could do better. AEB, for example, is now becoming standard on small budget hatchbacks - why isn't it on a $60K ute? There are no airbags for rear passengers either..
That didn’t stop me from picking my toddler up from daycare in it. Our own family cars don’t have side airbags (front or rear), but they’re older (2008 Ford Focus and 1951 Ford Custom) and the Amarok has a higher ANCAP rating. But it’s expected a new vehicle such as the Amarok should have them.
Across the back row there are three top tethers and two ISOFIX points. Parents should know that to gain access to the top tethers you’ll need to lift the toggles on either side of the seatback and pull it forward. It can be a difficult manoeuvre and requires a bit of strength.
The Amarok TDI550 Highline is covered by Volkswagen’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or 12 months and is capped at $470 for the first service, $663 for the second, $557 for the third, $824 for the fourth, and $470 for the fifth.
Since it arrived in Australia in 2011 the Amarok has always the most refined 4WD ute on sale here, and this new V6 diesel has made the package even more civilised while adding muscle.
The Amarok scores full marks for that new V6 engine, the on-road composure is excellent, and its looks as great as it is practical. This would be a 4.5 star ute if it was also fitted with advanced safety equipment and rear airbags - particularly as many Australians would pick this as a family car.
With Mercedes-Benz’s ute looming on the horizon the Amarok could find itself with a real rival ready to poach its comfort seeking buyers unless it ups it’s game. We have no doubt it will, albeit when the new generation arrives in a couple of years’ time.
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