When the Volkswagen Amarok first launched back in 2011, a lot of the other utes in the market pointed and laughed at its downsized, twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine.
Competitors and consumers alike were dubious about a 2.0-litre engine powering a big, off-road capable ute. It was considered pretty darn refined for the class, and is still sold by VW in lower-grade models.
But over time, things have changed - and at the upper end of the Amarok range you will now find the most powerful diesel engine in the pick-up segment.
The Ford Ranger, on the other hand. has been known for ages as having a burly five-cylinder engine - and that’s one of the reasons it has leapt to the top of the 4x4 ute sales charts.
But now it has adopted an optional downsized 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, which it offers in the higher-grade models - optionally in the XLT and Wildtrak, but as standard in the flagship Raptor model.
Hmmm. Seems VW was onto something when it launched the original Amarok, eh? We figured it was time we got these two together to settle the score - so here we’re pitting the Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate 580 against the Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-Turbo.
These two rock quite different exterior design aesthetics - the VW is clearly more squared off and muscular, with the Ford having more rounded edges and prominent branding design lines.
The angular edges off the Amarok are, I think, a lot more attractive, but on test there was some conjecture as to which has the most kerb appeal. There’s no denying that in V6 Ultimate 580 spec, the Amarok’s huge 20-inch alloy wheels give it some extra bling over the Ranger, which sits on 18s in Wildtrak guise.
Further, the Amarok gets bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and halogen fog lamps, where the Ford has HID halogen headlights with LED DRLs and LED foglights. Both have halogen tail-lights. Sadly, you can’t get LED headlights on either, but I guess you could fit a set of driving lights or a light bar if you needed it. The VW had better illumination during night driving, though.
These two rock quite different exterior design aesthetics.
Both have side steps to help you in and out, but the Ranger’s ones can cop a beating if you head off-road, and the plastic bits easily pop out. Neither has proper, serious underbody protection like, say, a HiLux Rugged X - so maybe consider that if you plan to go bush bashing - but each has a protection plate that should stop any low-hanging items from copping it.
Yes, you can find a body kit with a front spoiler and side skirts for each of these models if that’s what you want, but I think the handy extras like a rear step bumper suit the utility body style much more than any plasticky add-ons. The Ranger’s Wildtrak stickers don’t extend to bonnet stripes, thankfully.
The Ford has more rounded edges and prominent branding design lines.
The Ranger’s dual cab tub dimensions aren’t as commodious as the Amarok’s.
In the Ranger, the tub is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (and 1139mm between the wheel-arches), and 511mm deep. That space is impinged by the standard-fit metal roller hard top fitted to the Wildtrak. I’d personally much prefer a soft-top tonneau, or a ute canopy.
The VW is clearly more squared off and muscular.
If you were to fit a canopy, though, you’d struggle with large loads. And if you’re considering the Amarok, tray size is probably important to you because it has a huge tub: 1555mm long, 1620mm wide (and 1222mm between the arches, making it broad enough to fit a pallet), although it is just a touch shallower than the Ranger at 508mm. The Amarok Ultimate has a chrome sports bar that runs across the back of the cab and down the length of the tray, which could prove handy for tying things to, but gets in the way when you’re trying to reach in there.
The Ranger's dual cab tub dimensions aren't as commodious as the Amarok's.
The Amarok has a huge tub: 1555mm long, 1620mm wide (and 1222mm between the arches, making it broad enough to fit a pallet).
In the Ranger, the tub is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (and 1139mm between the wheel-arches), and 511mm deep.
Check out the interior images in the next section if you want to see the differences for interior dimensions and the quality of the leather used… yes, the Wildtrak now gets leather!
There are two vastly different ambiences on offer in the cabins of these two utes.
The Amarok is posher, less fussy and seemingly more focused on space and comfort than being flashy. With its grey-flecked headliner and flocked bottle holders in the doors, you can tell there’s been some real attention to detail put into the cab of this ute.
The Ranger is arguably more special feeling, with the orange stitching through the cabin and sportier elements giving it a more youthful character. It’s more likeable, but not necessarily plush. It has the technical edge over the VW, with a colourful twin-screen instrument cluster and a bigger media screen. There’s one monochrome driver-info screen for the Amarok, and both have digital speedometers and trip-computer displays.
The Ranger is arguably more special feeling, with the orange stitching through the cabin and sportier elements giving it a more youthful character. It’s more likeable.
It's more likeable, but not necessarily plush.
The Ranger's 8.0-inch touchscreen is crisper and offers a higher-resolution display than the VW.
In the back of the Ranger there is about an inch of extra legroom, which makes a difference if you're hauling around tall teens or workmates.
Both have flexible rear seats that allow you to raise/lower the backrest and also the seat base.
With the Ranger featuring handy little hidey holes under there, too. It's the Ranger that wins the back-seat battle.
The Ranger’s 8.0-inch touchscreen is crisper and offers a higher-resolution display than the VW, which, at just 6.3-inches in size, is starting to look dated. We had a few issues connecting (or staying connected) with an iPhone in the Amarok, too, but the Bluetooth wireless connectivity was better in the VW than the Ford.
Both get the benchmark Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity via USB, but the Ranger gets a second USB for charging additional devices, and there’s a 230-volt power point in the second row to keep those in the back happy, too. If you’ve got a 12-volt charge cable, there are three places in the cabin of the Amarok to plug in, while the Ranger has two. Both have an additional 12V plug in their tubs.
The space in the Amarok feels more generous, with its much wider cabin providing a feeling of airiness to occupants. Its simpler dash design helps out in that regard, too.
Both have a pair of cupholders between the seats, and there are bottle holders in all four doors (the Amarok’s are bigger, and lined to stop things rattling around), plus there’s a dash-top cubby in the VW. It wins on storage up front.
In the back of the Ranger there is about an inch of extra legroom, which makes a difference if you’re hauling around tall teens or workmates. The Amarok will better fit three across in terms of width, but those passengers would want to be built like teapots - short and stout - because the legroom isn’t great. The outward vision is excellent, though.
The Amarok is posher, less fussy and seemingly more focused on space and comfort than being flashy.
The Bluetooth wireless connectivity was better in the VW than the Ford.
Both have digital speedometers and trip-computer displays.
The space in the Amarok feels more generous, with its much wider cabin providing a feeling of airiness to occupants.
Both have a pair of cupholders between the seats, and there are bottle holders in all four doors (the Amarok's are bigger, and lined to stop things rattling around).
Both have flexible rear seats that allow you to raise/lower the backrest and also the seat base.
The Ranger also gets a flip-down armrest with cup holders, which is a much tidier implementation of beverage containment than the VW’s floor-mounted cup holder duo, which eats into footroom if you’re trying to go three-abreast.
Both have flexible rear seats that allow you to raise/lower the backrest and also the seat base, with the Ranger featuring handy little hidey holes under there, too. It’s the Ranger that wins the back-seat battle.
You might be able to get a single cab or extra cab/spacecab Ranger in lower grades, but the only option you’ve got for any Amarok is a dual cab. But in these specs, both are dual cab, and both come with a style-side tub.
There is no denying that some buyers will prefer a steel tray, aluminium tray or flat tray, especially if the plan is to make an adventure truck. But you can’t order these as a cab chassis, so you’ll have to remove the existing tub and sell it online (or turn it into a trailer - in either case it could make a cool sleepr cab with a canvas top to take camping…).
Now, there’s no real way for us to talk about the boot space or cargo capacity of a ute, because you can stack things up pretty high if you keep it covered. And that only gets better if you fit a roof-rack system to the roof rails (standard on Ranger, not on Amarok).
How much? What do each of these utes cost? Both are at the upper end of the dual cab ute price range, although you could go a step further if you wanted the most expensive Ranger - the Raptor - but we decided to get the top-spec standard versions of each of these utes for this test.
The Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate 580 is overpriced for what you get, at $71,990 plus on-road costs (RRP), making it about the third-most-expensive on the price list of all utes in this size bracket (vs the Mercedes-Benz X-Class and Ranger Raptor).
Compare that to the Ranger Wildtrak you see here, which is eight grand less at $63,990 plus on-road costs. And that price is for the new bi-turbo engine version - if you want to save even more, you could go for the five-cylinder model, at $62,790.
You may find a better deal with a strong drive-away price or a second-hand steal - allow us to guide you to CarsGuide and Autotrader to search!
Okay, so there are bits that make the VW feel worth the cash, like the sparkly 20-inch alloy wheels, the big chrome sports bar with LED tub lighting, plus the nappa leather seats feel a lot more convincing than Ford’s new part-leather finish, and the fact you get electric seat adjustment for the driver and the passenger does add something to the equation. How many seats? Both of these utes have five.
And while the Amarok’s Durabed spray-on tub and tailgate liner is good, you don’t get any form of tray cover as standard. The Ranger gets the roll-top and a plastic tub liner included, plus it comes with a standard-fit tow bar and wiring (but not a trailer-brake controller). Each has a full-size spare wheel / spare tyre under the tub.
The Ranger has 18-inch rims, which are comparatively tiny, but it gets keyless entry and push-button start - in the VW you still have to unlock the doors using the keyfob, and turn the key in the ignition, like some kind of licensed neanderthal.
Both utes have tyre-pressure monitoring, side steps, a rear diff lock, cruise control, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, heated front seats, rear-window tint, auto headlights and wipers, and power mirrors - the VW’s even fold up electronically.
Other commonalities include a touchscreen multimedia system (discussed in the interior section) with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus if you don’t want to use your phone data for sat nav, each has a GPS navigation system. Neither has a Wi-Fi hotspot or DVD player, but you get DAB radio in the Ranger, and there’s a radio CD player in both, too. The sound-system specs are six speakers for both utes - neither has a subwoofer.
The Ford gets things like puddle lamps and central locking, which includes the tailgate on the Wildtrak; very handy if you’ve got your tool kit in the tub. Then again, it lacks auto up/down power window controls for all four doors - only the driver’s door gets that in the Ranger. The VW has all four windows covered.
In some ways it’s almost like the Ranger has a tech pack with extra gadgets added, like adaptive cruise control and more - see the safety section below, because that’s where the Ranger creams the Amarok most.
There are much better value models in the Amarok V6 range, admittedly with a little less grunt and goodies - if you’re sold on the Amarok, make sure you do a model comparison to see which fits your needs most. The Sportline model is particularly impressive in terms of value.
Floor mats are standard in both of the trim levels tested here, and you’ll need to shop in the accessories catalogue of each brand if you want things like a bull bar, nudge bar, snorkel or ladder rack. You can’t get a sunroof in either of these utes.
And because these are 4WD utes, you get things like hill-start assist, hill-descent control, a rear diff lock (Ford labels its version as ‘e-Locking’, for electronic differential lock), and an electronic stability program (ESP) system with off-road sensitivity. Really, there’s not much need for a limited slip differential.
There’s no option for two-tone paint on either of these utes, and while we managed to get (boring) white and silver, you can get the Ranger in the signature orange hue, while the VW comes in a stunning blue and an eye-catching green, specific to the Ultimate model. Other choices include black and grey. No yellow or red on these specs, though.
Premium paint for the Amarok will cost you $610 for metallic paint and a huge $4040 for matte paint. Metallic will cost you $500 at Ford.
The big difference between these two is in engine specs.
The Ranger’s much smaller 2.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine produces 157kW of power (at 3750rpm) and 500Nm of torque (at 1750-2000rpm) - which, it has to be said, is a higher power and torque rating more than any four-cylinder Amarok we’ve seen. It can only be had with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The Ranger’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel four-cylinder produces 157kW/500Nm.
The specifications of the Amarok V6 are impressive. It has the engine size advantage with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel motor, and it’s a horsepower hero, too, capable of 190kW of power (at 3250-4500rpm) and 580Nm of torque (from 1400-3000rpm).
In fact, it can get to 200kW in short bursts. You don’t need a masters in statistics to see the spread of grunt across the rev range is better in the Amarok, and that, in part, comes down to its standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The Amarok's V6 makes 190kW/580Nm.
There’s no point taking sides in the manual vs automatic argument - there is no manual transmission option for the engines represented here.
The Ranger still has a regular 4WD system, with a switch between the seats that allows you to move from 4x2 (rear wheel drive) to 4x4 (adding front wheel drive to the equation in either 4H high and 4L low range). The Amarok? It doesn’t have a transfer case, and uses a permanent all-wheel-drive system instead. There is an offroad mode, which helps control the transmission using the car’s electronics.
The Ranger is Euro 5 compliant, with a diesel particulate filter fitted, and engine stop-start technology. The Amarok 580 goes further, with Euro 6 emissions compliance and AdBlue (urea solution) fitted.
Both of these utes have the benchmark level of towing capacity, with the hauling ability pegged at 750kg for an unbraked trailer and pulling possible for trailers with brakes up to 3500kg. The tow bar down weight for the Amarok is capped at 300kg, where the Ranger is 350kg.
While we would have really liked to do a towing review, it wasn’t possible with the vehicles provided - the Amarok doesn’t come with a tow bar, and VW didn’t fit one. The Ranger comes standard with a towbar.
But we did get to explore the load capacity of these two, with a carrying test where we loaded up 500kg in the tray of each, an indicative amount of weight for an average ute driver. Read how that went in the driving section below.
On the topic of weight, the GVM (gross vehicle mass) of our Ranger Wildtrak bi-turbo is 3200kg, meaning a payload of 954kg and kerb weight of 2246kg. The Amarok Ultimate’s GVM is 3080kg, with a payload of 836kg and kerb weight of 2244kg. Pretty close, really.
The gross combined mass (GCM) for both is 6000kg.
While the new engine in the Ranger may seem high-tech, it’s a matter of time (probably five years or so) before we see an EV version of a ute of this size, and petrol powertrains seem to have done their dash in this part of the market, as has LPG.
We get a lot of people asking “timing belt or chain” for utes. You might be surprised to know that the new Ranger engine is a belt-driven unit, which the company says is just as robust as a timing chain. The Amarok uses a chain.
Check your owner's manual for oil capacity and type, and ask the dealership if you can fit a dual-battery setup (it should be possible).
If you’ve looked at the forums you may be worried about diesel engine problems, blowing black smoke, driveshaft vibration, oil change frequency, auto gearbox problems, intercooler, injector, suspension, turbo, clutch, oil pump, cruise control and transmission issues (even transmission failure) - just be sure to read up on each of these utes in our VW Amarok problems page and our Ford Ranger problems page.
For what it's worth, we ended up near a mechanic’s workshop on test, and everyone there said the Ranger was more prone to problems than the Amarok…
Fuel consumption could be the reason why you’d choose the bi-turbo Ranger over its five-cylinder counterpart. The fuel economy L/100km figures show quite a gap, with the four-cylinder Ranger claiming 7.4L/100km, where the five-pot drinks 8.9L/100km.
The Amarok V6 offers a similar situation: it has claimed fuel use of 8.9L/100km, while the four-cylinder bi-turbo automatic 4x4 models in that lineup use 8.5L/100km. Not quite as big of a gap, then.
On test the Amarok V6 used only about five per cent more fuel than the Ranger bi-turbo: measured at the bowser we saw 9.5L/100km for the Amarok, which is about seven per cent over the claimed usage, while the 9.0L/100km usage for the Ranger is 19 per cent over its claim.
Fuel-tank capacity for both models is 80 litres, so there’s going to be very little in it in terms of mileage capability. There is no long-range fuel tank available for either.
The aim of this test wasn’t to try and break these utes by exploring their hardcore off-road capability, nor could we push the limits with a towing review (as the VW didn’t have a tow bar).
Instead, we melded our testing to suit what most people will encounter regularly - a mix of highway, urban and inter-urban driving, and some high-speed gravel driving - the sort of off-road review that actually matters to the majority of buyers, especially at this end of the market.
And while it wasn’t high on our list of priorities to run a 0-100 acceleration test, by the seat of the pants it was closer than you might think when it came to hitting highway speed from a standstill. VW claims an amazing 7.3 seconds 0-100km/h time; Ford doesn’t state performance figures for its model.
It's pretty much all in favour of the Ford if you plan to take on serious terrain.
The Amarok was faster from 40km/h onwards, but suffered more lag from a standstill. That’s the point of the twin-turbo engine in the Ranger - the first turbocharger helps negate lag, before it passes proceedings on to a bigger turbo to huff at speed.
The refinement of the Ranger’s engine is impressive, and there’s undoubtedly a lot less noise in the cabin than you find the in 3.2-litre version. But the Amarok was quieter again, and when you could hear the engine, it was a more pleasant noise.
Now, the transmissions. The 10-speed auto in the Ford can be confused at times, as it gets a little busy shuffling between cogs. And yes, it uses all those gears, engaging 10th at highway speed, which certainly helped it save some fuel. But at lower speeds, in first and second gear in particular, we noted some unlikeable vibration through the cabin.
Our gravel-road test highlighted the advantages of VW's all-wheel-drive system, which doesn't require you to press any buttons or even think about traction.
The Amarok’s eight-speed auto was superb - it was smoother and smarter than the Ford’s ‘box, always finding the right gear no matter the situation. It doesn’t jump between gears as much as the Ford, and allows you to use the engine’s torque more readily.
While it’s not a ‘real’ exhaust brake system, the Ranger does offer better grade-logic braking when you’re descending steep hills. It will hold its speed better, meaning you won’t need to get on the brakes as much.
But on the topic of brakes, the Amarok gets discs front and rear, where the Ranger has drums at the back. The plus side is better performance in regular use in the VW, but it’s an additional cost consumable - pads and discs wear quicker than drums, and cost more to replace. Of course, both have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and while both weigh almost the same (there’s only 2kg in the kerb-weight difference), the Amarok was definitely quicker to pull up.
Both of these utes have ladder-frame chassis set-ups with leaf rear suspension, and they're designed for heavy-duty performance rather than sport.
Now, what about comfort?
Both of these utes have ladder-frame chassis set-ups with leaf rear suspension, and they’re designed for heavy-duty performance rather than sport. We loaded in a typical amount of weight for a truck like this to run with - 500kg, consisting of sandbags (with thanks to our mates at Lower Mountains Landscape Supplies), and there was a bit of a difference in the way these two drove.
The Ranger felt slightly less at ease, rebounding and wobbling about more at the rear over speedhumps and other bumps - both with a load and without. The Amarok’s rear suspension did a much better job of settling itself after a bump, and its extra track width (1654mm front/1658mm rear for the Amarok vs 1560mm all around for the Ranger) offered more assuredness in its handling.
The Ranger, though, had better steering - it was less prone to understeer, and the electric power steering system is fingertip light at parking speeds, where the Amarok requires more heft and effort to turn. The turning circles of both are pretty rubbish, though: 12.4m for the VW and 12.7m for the Ford.
The Amarok's rear suspension did a much better job of settling itself after a bump, and its extra track width offered more assuredness in its handling.
So, it’s pretty much all in favour of the Ford if you plan to take on serious terrain - but I’ve tested both over the same challenging tracks before, and it wasn’t as black-and-white as it appears. The AWD system of the VW is truly impressive, but so is the Ranger’s off-road hardware.
Our gravel-road test highlighted the advantages of VW’s all-wheel-drive system, which doesn’t require you to press any buttons or even think about traction. This time around we were running without weight in the tray, and the Amarok was more civilised and better hooked into the terrain below than the Ranger, which was a touch more skittish over bumps and more willing to step its rear end out in corners.
If you're considering the Amarok, tray size is probably important to you because it has a huge tub.
Although it is just a touch shallower than the Ranger at 508mm.
In the Ranger, the tub is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (and 1139mm between the wheel-arches), and 511mm deep.
That space is impinged by the standard-fit metal roller hard top fitted to the Wildtrak.
The VW’s AWD system means there’s no chirping of tyres (on tarmac) and no rear-end slipping (on dirt), and you have a more assured drive experience as a result. Yes, you can put the Ranger in 4H on dirt, but that’s not advisable on wet roads, where the back end can screech and squeal at times.
If you want more of a desert-dune truck, consider the off-road killer that is the Ranger Raptor - it’s more than just a set of wheel-arch extensions and all-terrain tyres: with Fox Shocks that offer a ride similar to air suspension.
At the end of the day, the Amarok was slightly better at everything apart from low-speed steering, but the Ranger was still really good for its class in terms of dynamics and driving.
This is where it gets nasty for the VW. It falls well short when it comes to safety features compared to other utes in the segment, and possibly the most misleading thing for consumers is that both utes still have a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The Amarok was tested way back in 2011 (in four-cylinder guise - no V6 model has been crash tested), and there’s no way known it would score five stars today. The Ranger was tested in 2015, when things were a little stricter - but, importantly for consumers, it actually has the tech and safety features to score a five-star rating under today’s criteria in this spec.
The Amarok? It doesn’t get any of that. Like, none of it.
And the Amarok also misses out on potentially life-saving rear curtain airbag protection - only the driver and front passenger have airbags (front and side), where the Ranger has six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain).
Where is the Ford Ranger built? Like the vast majority of utes, it’s made in Thailand. You should probably also ask “where is the Volkswagen Amarok built?” The answer is actually Germany for the 580 Ultimate, while most other Amaroks come from Argentina.
Both utes have a five year warranty plan, and both have unlimited kilometre cover for that period. Think you need an extended warranty? Ask at the dealership.
There’s a bit of separation between the two when it comes to capped-price-servicing plans.
The VW plan runs up to 60 months/75,000km, with intervals every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. Service cost levels are higher at VW, working out at $610 per service over the five year plan.
The Ford plan covers the life of the Ranger, and has the same 12 month/15,000km intervals. The cost over five years - for comparison’s sake - works out at an average of $460.
Look, we only test the utes for a week at a time, so we can’t speak to the entire ownership process and nor can we really comment on potential quibbles with long-term ownership of these vehicles. We test new cars, which limits that intel somewhat.
But we can understand that if you’re going to spend this much on a ute, you could be concerned about things that will affect your resale value, including reliability issues, problems, common faults, complaints, defects, and durability. Rest assured, you can check our VW Amarok problems page or our Ford Ranger problems page for everything we know.
Personally, I’d take the VW Amarok Ultimate. Its lack of safety gear is a real letdown, and on top of that it’s generally too expensive for what you get. It is, however, inherently more enjoyable to drive and easier to live with. If it were me, I’d just buy the Amarok Sportline V6, which is about 20 grand cheaper and makes the lack of safety stuff an easier pill to swallow.
But on the balance of all the elements of this particular comparison test, the Ranger Wildtrak Bi-Turbo offered the best all-round competence. Sure, its engine isn’t as good as the VW’s, but that’s just part of the equation, because it is more comfortable in the back row for adults, feels more special inside, offers excellent safety for occupants and other road users, and, crucially, offers significantly better value.
Which of these utes would you park inside your garage? Tell us in the comments.