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Volkswagen Amarok 2018 review: Core Plus

The Amarok is still one of the best 4x4 dual cabs in terms of off-road performance. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Daily driver score

4.2/5

Tradies score

4.2/5

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then VW should be blushing bright-red following Ford’s recent decision to specify a twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine for its incoming Ranger Raptor ute.

Let’s not forget that, back in 2010, VW chose the very same engine size for its then-new Amarok, which was criticised over perceptions it was too small in capacity for a hard-working Aussie ute. In Tradie Land, the Amarok didn’t pass the pub test, which is why VW soon added a bigger 3.0-litre V6 option.

However, given Ford’s decision to copy the Amarok’s original engine choice some eight years later,  it now looks like VW was just ahead of its time.

In fact, that applies to the design of the whole vehicle. Even though it’s now the oldest of the current major players, the multi-award-winning German pick-up is still one of the most technically advanced and competent all-rounders on the market.

And to prove it, we've put VW's (four-cylinder) Amarok Core Plus through its paces. 

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Amarok Core Plus is available with a TDI400 (400Nm) engine with a six-speed manual and part-time selectable 4x4, or as a TDI420 (20Nm more torque) with an eight-speed automatic and full-time 4x4 - like our test vehicle.

The TDI420 Core Plus ($50,990) is based on the TDI420 Core Edition ($46,990). The extra $4000 buys you the Driver’s Pack comprising front-seat lumbar support, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and an extra 12-volt socket (four in total). 

There’s also carpet, suede-look ‘Kemisu’ cloth trim, 17-inch alloys with 245/65 R17 tyres and a full-size steel spare, a black steel sports bar, extended wheel arch flares, front and rear parking sensors, front fog lights and follow-me-home lighting, lockable tailgate with 'comfort' closing, privacy-tint rear glass, chrome and colour-coded body highlights and more.

  • The Core Plus comes with 17-inch alloys wheels. (image credit: Mark Oaslter) The Core Plus comes with 17-inch alloys wheels. (image credit: Mark Oaslter)
  • The Amarok comes with a full-size steel spare. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The Amarok comes with a full-size steel spare. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The TDI420 Core Plus’ kerb weight is 30kg more than the Core equivalent. Otherwise, it’s the same old Amarok with its 3095mm wheelbase and broad-shouldered 1954mm width - which is still the widest of all mainstream utes. 

The fully galvanised steel body is about as rust-prone as a plastic bucket, mounted on a separate steel ladder-frame chassis with double wishbone front suspension, leaf-spring live rear axle, superb power-assisted rack and pinion steering and front disc/rear drum brakes.

The fully galvanised steel body is about as rust-prone as a plastic bucket. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The fully galvanised steel body is about as rust-prone as a plastic bucket. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Driver and passenger comfort and space are still benchmarks. Those in the rear seat don’t enjoy the same comfort levels, though, as evidenced by the noticeably shorter rear doors which result in tighter entry and exit, limited leg room and a very upright seating position.

  • Driver and passenger comfort and space are still benchmarks. (image credit: Mark Oastler) Driver and passenger comfort and space are still benchmarks. (image credit: Mark Oastler)
  • Anyone in the rear seats don’t enjoy the same comfort levels as those in the front. (image credit: Mark Oastler) Anyone in the rear seats don’t enjoy the same comfort levels as those in the front. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

The Amarok is still one of the best 4x4 dual cabs in terms of off-road performance. Its proven cross-country credentials include a 28-degree approach angle, 23.6 -degree departure angle, 23-degree ramp-over angle and 226mm of ground clearance. The least impressive figure is its relatively low 500mm wading depth (Ford's Ranger offers 800mm), so fitting a snorkel would be wise if you encounter frequent river crossings.

The Amarok’s distinctive nose-down/tail-up stance when empty displays excellent rear wheel travel. This is not only a key factor in its outstanding off-road performance, but also in its ability to carry or tow big loads at a near-level ride height once the rear leaf springs have compressed.

How practical is the space inside?

Its 2052kg kerb weight is comparatively light when measured against industry heavyweights like the Ford Ranger. The Core Plus’s 3040kg GVM also allows for a hefty payload of 988kg - which is close enough to being a genuine ‘one-tonner’ as far as we’re concerned.

It’s also rated to tow up to 3000kg of braked trailer, but that would require a sizeable 490kg reduction in peak payload to avoid exceeding its 5550kg GCM. That would also leave a legal payload limit of just under 500kg. In the real world, it would be more practical to base your towing limit on the Amarok’s 3040kg GVM to give you back that 490kg (almost half a tonne) of lost payload capacity. In other words, simply deduct the 3040kg GVM from the 5550kg GCM and you can tow up to 2510kg of braked trailer.

The Amarok’s generous width allows more than 1200mm between the load tub’s rear wheel arches, which means it’s unique in being able to carry a standard 1160mm-square Aussie pallet. The tub is also equipped with four sturdy tie-down points at floor level, which is the best place to secure loads. However, the rear tie-down points would be better placed at the rear of the floor rather than their current position closer to the wheel arches, which is not ideal for some loads.

The Amarok’s generous width allows more than 1200mm between the load tub’s rear wheel arches. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The Amarok’s generous width allows more than 1200mm between the load tub’s rear wheel arches. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Cabin storage includes a bottle holder and storage pocket in the base of each front door, plus a shallow storage tray in the centre dash-pad, a single glovebox and a sunglasses holder overhead. The centre console has an open cubby at the front, two cupholders in the centre and a lidded box at the rear with doubles as an armrest.

There’s also a bottle holder and storage pocket in each rear door, and if larger items need to be carried in the cabin, the 60/40-split rear seat base cushion can be swung up and secured in a vertical position to give access to the floor.

There are bottle holders and storage pockets in each rear door. (image credit: Mark Oastler) There are bottle holders and storage pockets in each rear door. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Even though Ford’s new twin-turbo 2.0-litre engine has considerably more power (157kW) and torque (500Nm), the Amarok’s TDI420 version is still competitive in this market, with its 132kW at 4000rpm and (with auto transmission) 420Nm at 1750rpm. The sequential turbocharging provides great flexibility either side of the peak torque figure, which makes the Core Plus such a competent load lugger and off-roader.

The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, produces 132kW/420Nm. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, produces 132kW/420Nm. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Likewise, its eight-speed torque converter automatic is only now surpassed (in number of gears at least) by the new 10-speeder Ford is bolting behind its new twin-turbo four. Such a close set of ratios has always served the Amarok well, with fast yet silky-smooth changes and ‘intelligent’ shift protocols which ensure it’s always in the right cog for best performance. Its over-driven seventh and eighth ratios ensure economical highway cruising and there’s also a sequential manual shift mode if required.

The Amarok TDI420 is an accomplished off-roader with its unique single-range full-time 4x4 system, which allows you to go from bitumen to bush track without having to change a thing. The 4Motion set-up provides a constant 40/60 torque split between front and rear axles via a torque-sensing centre diff. There’s also electronic traction control plus a console switch to lock the rear diff, without cancelling the traction control on the front wheels. It was clever technology in 2010, and we’re still singing its praises eight years later.

How much fuel does it consume?

VW claims a combined figure of 8.5L/100km in the lab. Impressively, that wasn’t far from our own figures, based on fuel bowser and trip meter readings, after more than 1800km of testing on a mix of roads with different loads including maximum GVM. Our worst figure was 10.25 and our best was 9.62, so based on the latter you could expect a driving range of more than 800km from the 80-litre tank.

What's it like to drive?

As always, we tested with a heavy payload; in this case 770kg in the load tub, which, with a 100kg driver, was about 120kg short of its 3040kg GVM rating. With the tyres inflated to the maximum pressures shown on the placard (32psi front/44psi rear) the rear suspension displayed its big wheel travel by compressing a full 80mm - yet with plenty of bump-stop clearance - while the front rose 15mm.

Although you could feel the extra weight, the TDI420’s acceleration, steering and braking response remained largely unaffected, while the suspension soaked up bumps with ease over a variety of sealed and unsealed roads.

It easily coped with our 2.0km, 13-per-cent gradient set climb at 60km/h in fourth gear at 2500rpm. It also displayed impressive engine braking on the way down, restraining its big payload at 60km/h in a manually selected second gear at 4000rpm on over-run, with no use of the brake pedal. That was impressive retardation, given the engine’s small capacity.

The Amarok is still the most car-like of all the dual-cab utes, with performance, handling, ride composure and comfort in TDI420 form that belies its considerable bulk and height, whether it’s empty or heavily loaded. The rear leaf springs provide an excellent compromise between supple ride quality when empty and robust load support when full.

The twin-turbo engine and eight-speed auto work well together in city and suburban traffic, providing spirited acceleration from standing starts and good mid-range punch. On the highway, the engine ticks over at a leisurely 1750rpm at 100km/h in top gear. Those revs only increase to 1900rpm at 110km/h, providing good economy and relaxed cruising. Cabin noise levels are impressively low at these speeds, too.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Amarok Core Plus gets the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, even though there’s still no curtain airbag protection for rear seat passengers or AEB.

Passive safety includes front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, while the rear seat has three lap-sash seatbelts, head restraints and top tethers for child restraints, plus ISOFIX mountings on the two outer seating positions. The solid active safety list includes brake force distribution and trailer sway control (important in this role), plus hill descent control and more.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

A three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty is on offer here, with an extended warranty option also available. There’s also a three-year paintwork warranty, and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty covering the galvanised body.

Complimentary 24/7 roadside assistance applies for the duration of the original warranty period. Scheduled servicing is due every 15,000km or 12 months, with capped pricing for the first five services ranging from $469 to $781 per visit.

We're halfway through 2018, and the Amarok’s share of Australia’s highly competitive 4x4 ute segment is running at less than 5.0 per cent, compared to Ranger and HiLux, which (combined) hog a whopping 44 per cent of sales.

We’re sure practical considerations like the lack of VW dealers in remote areas and negative perceptions of European complexity/service costs have something to do with that, but we’re only guessing.

Fact is, if we had $50K to spend on a new dual-cab ute, the Amarok Core Plus TDI420 would still be near the top of our shopping list. Why? Because after all these years, it’s still an excellent performer with outstanding technology. Just ask Ford.

The Amarok has been around since 2010, but are rivals still playing catch-up?

$33,990 - $46,980

Based on 150 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.2/5

Tradies score

4.2/5
Price Guide

$33,990 - $46,980

Based on 150 car listings in the last 6 months