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VW Amarok 2020 review: Core V6 manual


Daily driver score

4.3/5

Tradies score

4.3/5

Hardcore Aussie off-roaders love manual transmissions for their mechanical simplicity, ability to bump-start an engine with a flat battery and a more direct connection between man and machine when tackling the toughest terrain.

In fact, according to VW Commercial Vehicles Australia, it was constant local requests for a manual transmission option in the Amarok Core V6 by current owners (and potential new customers) that prompted VW’s local arm to present such a business case to head office in Germany. Perhaps the fact Australia is also the Amarok’s largest global export market had some sway at VW HQ.

As a result, Aussie off-roaders should feel privileged, not only because their persistence resulted in a  six-speed manual being given the green light, but also because Australia (according to VW) is the only market in the world where this drivetrain option is available.

In fact, none of the Amarok’s mainstream dual cab 4x4 competitors can match this drivetrain combination either, nor its low-range crawler ratio for the really rough stuff. We recently spent a week behind the wheel to see how this ‘old school’ off-roader measures up.

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

Our test vehicle is the MY20 Amarok Core V6, which with TDI500 V6 turbo-diesel engine, six-speed manual transmission and dual-range part-time 4x4 transmission has a list price of $49,590 plus ORCs.

Our example includes the Enduro accessories pack comprises black side body decals, black sports bar and black bonnet protector. With a $1200 retail value, VW is absorbing the extra cost of these accessories by keeping the Core Enduro at the same price as the base Core model.

With its work-focused fabric seat trim and rubber floor covering, the Core is the most affordable (sub-$50K) entry point to Amarok V6 ownership, but that doesn’t mean it’s stripped to the core in terms of desirable features.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 245/65 R17 tyres. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 245/65 R17 tyres.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 245/65 R17 tyres and full-size steel spare plus front fog lights, chrome radiator grille highlights, matt black rear-step bumper, wheel arch flares, leather-covered steering wheel with height/reach adjustment and infotainment controls, leather-covered gearshift knob, aluminium-finish accelerator and brake pedals and heated door mirrors among the highlights.

There’s also a multi-function driver’s info display and a six-speaker infotainment system with 6.3-inch colour touchscreen and multiple connectivity including voice control function, CD player, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth. By contrast, there’s only one 12-volt accessory plug, which is located in the centre console.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

It’s an enduring credit to VW designers and engineers that a vehicle launched in 2011, which has remained fundamentally the same apart from more recent engine and transmission options, can still generate relatively robust sales and customer loyalties.

The fully galvanised body is mounted on a robust steel ladder-frame chassis. The fully galvanised body is mounted on a robust steel ladder-frame chassis.

The fully galvanised body with its six-year anti-corrosion perforation warranty is about as rust-prone as a plastic bucket, mounted on a robust steel ladder-frame chassis with double-wishbone front suspension, leaf-spring live rear axle, power-assisted rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes.

With a 3095mm wheelbase, 5254mm length and 1954mm width, it’s relatively wide for its length which gives it a chunky, broad-shouldered stance. Key off-road stats include 28-degree approach, 23-degree ramp-over and 23.6-degree departure angles, 192mm of ground clearance and a relatively shallow 500mm wading depth.

There’s ample head room but knee room is in short supply. There’s ample head room but knee room is in short supply.

Being the entry-level model and primarily designed with off-roading in mind, the cabin is pretty basic. There are several conspicuous plastic caps blanking holes where buttons or switches are found in more upmarket grades and only the odd splash of satin chrome.

The rear doors are also noticeable shorter than the fronts, which highlight the Amarok dual cab’s notoriously cramped rear seating, particularly for tall adults. There’s ample head room but the entry pathway between the B-pillar and rear seat base cushion is narrow for large feet and, despite the front seat backrests being slightly concave in shape, knee room is in short supply. Centre seat passengers also have to straddle the intrusive transmission tunnel with one foot on either side and the fixed backrest angle is noticeably upright.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

There’s some Porsche and Audi heritage in this cracking 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 turbo-diesel which is still one of the best in the business. Although this engine boasts benchmark outputs of 190kW/580Nm in premium TDI580 auto-equipped Amaroks, in this unique manual application the power output is a typically more moderate 165kW with torque capped at 500Nm.

There’s some Porsche and Audi heritage in this cracking 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 turbo-diesel. There’s some Porsche and Audi heritage in this cracking 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 turbo-diesel.

Even so, the V6’s over-boost function remains, providing a 15kW increase in output to 180kW for up to 10 seconds at a time, at throttle openings of more than 70 per cent and speeds above 50km/h. This is obviously ideal for overtaking quickly and safely on two-lane highways.

The 4x4 transfer case features a 2.7:1 low-range reduction, which when combined with the 5.07:1 first gear and 3.7:1 final drive result in a 51:1 crawl ratio. This is the lowest of all mainstream manual-equipped ute rivals and tailor-made for tackling the toughest terrain, assisted by an off-road mode with optimised ABS, ESP, transmission and hill descent controls. There’s also a rear diff lock.

How much fuel does it consume?

VW claims a combined average of 9.7L/100km which was almost line-ball with the dash instrument readout of 9.5 after 336km of testing, which included more than a third at near-maximum GVM loading.  However, our own figure based on fuel bowser and tripmeter readings was a slightly higher 10.4, which is still frugal for a 3.0 litre V6 in a vehicle weighing more than two tonnes. So, based on our own figures, you could expect a realistic driving range of around 770km from its 80-litre fuel tank.

How practical is the space inside?

The Core V6 manual’s 2076kg kerb weight makes it the lightest in the Amarok V6 model range. As a result, although it shares the same 3080kg GVM as its higher-priced siblings, it boasts the highest payload rating of 1004kg which makes it the only genuine ‘one tonner’ in the line-up.

However, it also has the lowest braked tow rating of 3000kg. And given its 5550kg GCM (or how much weight it can legally carry and tow at the same time), that meaty 1004kg payload would have to be reduced by 530kg if you wanted to tow 3000kg without exceeding the GCM. Better to drop your towing limit by the same amount (from 3000kg to 2470kg) and keep your full payload.

The cargo tub’s load floor is 1555mm long and 1620mm wide with 1222mm between the wheel housings, which makes it rare in the local ute class in being able to carry a standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallet or (with the tailgate lowered) two 1200-800mm Euro pallets. There’s four sturdy load anchorage points.

The cargo tub’s load floor is 1555mm long and 1620mm wide with 1222mm between the wheel housings. The cargo tub’s load floor is 1555mm long and 1620mm wide with 1222mm between the wheel housings.

Cabin storage options included a large bottle holder and small storage bin in each front door, plus an open storage tray in the centre dash-pad, an overhead glasses holder and a single glovebox. The centre console has another open storage bin at the front, two small (500ml) bottle holders or cup holders in the centre and a storage box at the back with a padded lid that doubles as an elbow rest.

Each rear door has a combination bottle holder and storage bin, but there’s no pull-down centre armrest with cup holders or flexible storage pockets on the front seat backrests, so storage options for rear seat passengers are limited at best. The 60/40-split rear seat base cushions can swing up through 90 degrees and be stored vertically if more internal cargo-carrying space is required.

There's no shortage of bottle holders. There's no shortage of bottle holders.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

The manual gearbox’s shift action is smooth and light with a well-defined gate, although it can feel a bit notchy when cold like most manual gearboxes before the oil warms up.

Acceleration from standing starts and through six hand-shifted gears is pretty lively, as you would expect. There’s ample torque with 500Nm on tap and given that it’s served at full strength between 1250-3000rpm, there’s no need to rev the V6 any harder than 3000rpm in each gear (4600rpm redline) in reaching triple-digit speeds in quick time.

Given that there’s overdrive on fifth and sixth to optimise economy at highway speeds, you tend to drive it around town like a four-speeder as this quartet of lower ratios is ideally suited to city and suburban 40-80km/h speeds.

Even so, the V6 also pulls cleanly from as low as 800rpm in sixth gear and on the highway barely raises a sweat with only 1600rpm at 100km/h and 1800rpm at 110km/h, which is again where torque is at its strongest. By contrast, in low-range 4x4 the 51:1 crawler gear does what it says, so its off-road capabilities should also not disappoint.

The driving position is comfortable with a leather-wrapped wheel that’s adjustable for height and reach. The driving position is comfortable with a leather-wrapped wheel that’s adjustable for height and reach.

The driving position is comfortable with a leather-wrapped wheel that’s adjustable for height and reach, a big left footrest, light clutch pedal weight and engaging steering feel that’s always been an Amarok strength. All-round vision is good with large door mirrors and ample glass area and internal noise levels are pleasantly low at highway speeds.

The ride quality when empty is quite firm and can be jiggly over bumps. It feels firmer than the last Amarok we drove (TDI550 auto); this one’s more like a HiLux than a Ranger. We suspect this might have something to do with its lower kerb weight and therefore lighter sprung weight, given that they all have the same 3080kg GVM. However, that also means it has the highest payload rating, so there are trade-offs here.

What’s it like for tradie use?

We took it to the max on payload by stuffing 890kg into the unlined cargo tub which with driver equalled a genuine one-tonne payload of 1000kg. The rear suspension compressed 75mm, yet the big leaf spring packs maintained 40mm of static bump-stop clearance.

We took it to the max on payload by stuffing 890kg into the unlined cargo tub which with driver equalled a genuine one-tonne payload of 1000kg. We took it to the max on payload by stuffing 890kg into the unlined cargo tub which with driver equalled a genuine one-tonne payload of 1000kg.

As a result, there was never a hint of bottoming-out on a variety of bitumen and unsealed roads and the V6’s torquey nature made light work of hauling this maximum payload anywhere we wanted to go. That included some light off-road work and our 2.0km-long 13 per cent gradient set climb at 60km/h, which it easily cleared in fourth gear at 1600rpm on a light throttle.

Engine braking too was outstanding on the way down. In second gear, it spun to just over 4000rpm on overrun (4600rpm redline), without exceeding the sign-posted 60km/h speed limit and without once needing a brush of the brake pedal. Most impressive and confirmation that the larger the cubic displacement, the stronger the engine braking.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

There’s currently no ANCAP rating for the Amarok V6 and none of the latest developments like AEB, lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring or adaptive cruise control. And although there’s driver and front passenger front and side (head and thorax) airbags, there’s no side-curtain airbag protection for rear seat passengers.

The electronic stability program has numerous active safety features including trailer sway control (when equipped with a genuine accessory tow-bar wiring kit), plus there’s a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and three top-tether and two ISOFIX child seat anchorage points in the rear seat.

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

The Amarok comes with a five year/unlimited km, plus 12 months roadside assist. Scheduled servicing every 12 months/15,000km whichever occurs first. Capped-price scheduled servicing cost of $3045 during the first five years of ownership.

For less than $50K, there’s lots to like about an Amarok Core with a unique manual V6 drivetrain, particularly if you prioritise off-road performance over best-in-class safety and rear seat comfort. For drivers who prefer to shift their own gears, this combo packs a punch both on and off-road.
 

$40,590

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.3/5

Tradies score

4.3/5