Volkswagen Amarok VS Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
- Great V6-manual combo
- Superb ride and handling
- Genuine off-road chops
- Short on key safety gear
- Old multimedia set-up
- Expensive to service
- Smooth diesel power
- Comfy, practical cabin
- Passenger-car tech
- Loud with windows down
- 360-degree camera would need to land as standard
- Much hyped new voice control can be... patchy
They say good things come to those who wait, and perhaps this is the best demonstration of that truism… in the automotive world, that is.
Aussies have asked for it for years, and Volkswagen has finally delivered. Yep, the Amarok is available with a V6 engine and a manual gearbox!
Now, we all know the Amarok has made waves since it became available with a bent six, but that didn’t stop some people from asking, ‘What if it came with a clutch pedal?’
Years later, they don’t need to wonder anymore. Let’s get shifting.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
On the commercial side of the Mercedes-Benz business, a new Sprinter van is talked about in the same revered tone as a new S-Class. Seriously; the company's best-selling van has the same flagship aura about it as the uber-luxe limousine.
Even in Australia - where it wears a price premium over most competitors - Mercedes says it has managed to cling to the top sales spot in the large-van segment for more than two decades. But in Europe (and especially Germany) it's even more ubiquitous - they are absolutely everywhere.
This 2019 update is kind of a big deal, then. And with a new (and cheaper) FWD variant, overhauled cabin technology that now mirrors the best of the passenger-car range, and new safety offerings like AEB, active cruise and a 360-degree camera, Benz reckons this new model will bite off an even bigger share of the market.
And so we took the Sprinter for a quick spin ahead of its Q4 Australian launch to see if they're right.
|Engine Type||2.1L turbo|
Can you believe Australia is the only market in the world that gets access to the manual Amarok V6? Given how good the automatic version is, it should come as no surprise that the manual adheres to the same high standard.
Yes, the Amarok V6 is getting a little long in the tooth, and that means it falls well short on the safety and multimedia fronts, but it’s still the best drive in the ute segment. Needless to say, those Aussies that cried out for a manual version have been rewarded for their patience.
Is the manual Amarok V6 the best dual-cab pick-up on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
If it was any more practical it would do the loading and unloading for you, but there's also no obvious penalty for driving a commercial vehicle here. It's comfortable, quiet and now offers better interior technology than even most Benz passenger cars.
And with a cheaper entry point now on offer, the Sprinter should have absolutely no problem holding onto its top sales spot.
Would you buy any van other than a Sprinter? Tell us in the comments.
The Amarok might be nudging its 10th year in market, but it’s still a boxy but muscular looker, which is something you can’t say about many dual-cab pick-ups.
Picking the manual out from the Amarok V6 crowd is a little tough, though. Trainspotters will notice its 17-inch 'Posadas' alloy wheels, and let’s not forget its rims are shared with its automatic entry-level counterpart. Either way, that’s it.
Okay, there is more to it than just that. Buyers can add the no-cost 'Enduro' options package, which bundles in a bonnet protector, black side decals and a black sports bar. And why wouldn’t you tick that box? We would, if signwriting wasn't on the agenda.
Despite the drivetrain change, dimensions are the same as any Amarok V6, measuring 5254mm long (with a 3095mm wheelbase), 1954mm wide and 1834mm tall.
Inside, heavy-duty rubber floor coverings and hard-wearing cloth upholstery are giveaways you’re dealing with an entry-level Amarok V6, ready to work hard.
It's a vast and slab-sided thing, of course, and practicality takes priority over design, but in the world of full-size vans, the Sprinter is a rather handsome beast.
Up front, the optional three-column LED headlights separate the massive horizontal slats of the grille, while sharp contours running the edge of the bonnet create a kind of power dome in the centre. It's a pretty dominant design, and it definitely lends the Sprinter a strong road presence.
But there's only so much crayon work you can do with a commercial vehicle, so, unsurprisingly, the Sprinter looks... a lot like a van. Lighter colours - and grey especially - look best, highlighting the subtle contours and making it look a little less blocky and heavy.
The cabin, though, looks properly great; a customisable blend of form and function (exactly how much of either is up to you) that - thanks to Mercedes' cool MBUX system and Touch steering wheel - feels like it could belong in a passenger car rather than a workaday van.
The materials are geared toward wear and tear, though, with fabric seats and hard plastics liberally splashed about the cabin.
Indeed, the manual Amarok V6 is a rough and tough ute, so you won’t find much in the way of luxurious finishes. Granted, its steering wheel, gearshift and central armrest are trimmed in leather, but hard plastics abound for most other major touchpoints.
The cabin is well-designed, with plenty of space for loose items (see the cut-out in the middle of the dashboard and the cubby hole in front of the gearshift), and then there’s the more secure glove box and central storage bin, both of which are decently sized.
A pair of cupholders is predictably located between the front seats, while all four door bins are large enough to house drink bottles. There isn’t a flip-down rear armrest with cupholders in the second row, though.
Once a class leader, the multimedia system looks and feels old in 2020. It doesn’t help that it powers a 6.33-inch touchscreen, which is very small these days.
The first row features a 12-volt power outlet, a USB port and an auxiliary input, while the second row misses out on all three.
Don’t expect a lot of legroom in the rear. Behind my 184cm driving position, my knees brush up against the front backrests (which have map pockets). That said, the Amarok V6’s width means there’s more than enough shoulder room, even with three adults abreast.
Three top tether and two ISOFIX anchorage points are on hand for installing child seats, making the Amarok V6 a viable option for parents, although the lack of rear air vents might prompt complaints from the smaller members of he family.
And being a dual cab pick-up, you can expect a large tub. In this instance, it measures 1555mm long, 1620mm wide (including 1222mm between the wheelarches, which is enough width to accommodate a standard Australian pallet) and 508mm tall.
It's available in in four sizes (five if you include cab chassis) and with three roof heights, so just how practical your Sprinter arrives is going to be up to you.
Benz reports total storage space can be up to 17 cubic metres, depending on configuration. The front-wheel-drive version is now eight centimetres lower at the back, too, making it a little easier to load.
Mercedes is yet to confirm the full load-carrying spec for Australian cars, but consider this; even the smallest and most underpowered model in the outgoing range could carry more than a tonne and tow in excess of 2000kg (braked), and those numbers are unlikely to have gone backwards. But then, that the big and cavernous Sprinter can carry stuff will surprise absolutely no-one.
The cabin is a super-clever mix of storage spots and hidey-holes, but special mention must go to the phone-sized slots in the dash for both passenger and driver, as well as the extra storage at head height, dash height and in the centre console.
Price and features
Priced from $49,590, before on-road costs, the manual Amarok V6 appears pricey. But when you consider it’s the most affordable way into a V6 dual cab pick-up in this market, it starts to make a lot more sense.
In fact, all of its rivals in the same price range (Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, et al) make do with four-cylinder engines that fall well short of it in the power and torque stakes, but more on that in the next section of this review.
The manual Amarok is only offered in one entry-level specification, dubbed Core. For the spend you get a part-time transfer case with low range, a rear mechanical differential lock, underbody protection, fender flares, ventilated disc brakes, mud flaps, power-adjustable side mirrors (with heating), power-operated windows, a full-size steel spare wheel and a matt-black rear step bumper.
Inside, a six-speaker sound system, a monochrome multi-function display and single-zone air-conditioning feature.
Auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers are extra-cost options alongside the six paintwork options: 'Candy White', 'Mojave Beige', 'Indium Grey', 'Reflex Silver', 'Starlight Blue' and 'Deep Black').
As you’d expect, there’s also a plethora of dealer-fit accessories available.
The big news here is the introduction of a new entry point to the Sprinter range, a (first for this van) FWD model that is also offered with a new, nine-speed gearbox.
Mercedes is yet to confirm pricing or full specification for the updated Sprinter, but it reckons we can expect to see the FWD model lop about $5k off the starting price, lowering the entry point for an automatic SWB vehicle to around $42k (and about $39k for a manual).
That would bring it much closer to the heart of its segment - the Renault Master, for example, will set you back about $35k for a SWB with a manual gearbox.
The Sprinter will arrive in a standard specification across the range (SWB, MWB, LWB and XLWB) with plenty of personalisation options from there. And we do mean plenty; Benz reckons there are about 1700 possible variations.
New for this update is Benz's very cool 'MBUX' multimedia system (the one in the spanking new A-Class), which will be operated via a 7.0-inch screen as standard, with a 10.25-inch screen a cost option. The MBUX setup uses the same AI-enabled voice recognition system as the A-Class - meaning you can talk to it without using pre-defined key words, although it's still far from flawless - and it pairs with a six-speaker stereo.
The system joins Merc's heavily redesigned 'Touch' steering wheel as the standout new features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are yet to appear, but Benz tells us it's coming post launch, and will likely be rolled out as a no-cost option.
Engine & trans
That said, the three-pedal set-up does have one key downside: a 50Nm loss in maximum torque. Indeed, the manual version produces 500Nm from 1250-3000rpm, instead of its automatic counterpart’s 550Nm from 1500-2500rpm.
And while peak power is shared, at 165kW, the manual develops it over a narrower band (3250-4500rpm versus 2500-4500rpm in the automatic), so there’s also that.
Either way, you get up to 180kW on overboost, which is available for 10 seconds when the accelerator is depressed beyond 70 per cent in third or fourth gear, making it ideal for highway overtaking.
So, when it comes to outright grunt, the manual Amarok V6 still blows the competition away, so there’s not much to be upset about here.
Maximum braked towing capacity is also down in the manual, at 3000kg, instead of the automatic’s 3500kg. That said, the former does have the biggest maximum payload of any Amarok V6, at 1004kg, which makes it a genuine one-tonner.
For reference, the manual Amarok V6’s maximum unbraked towing capacity is 750kg, while its towbar load limit is 300kg.
Aside from the new nine-speed automatic offered in the FWD version, the engines and transmission options are carried over from the current models, although they do now offer a little more oomph.
That means a 2.1-litre diesel good for 84kW and 250Nm, 105kW and 330Nm, or 120kW and 360Nm, as well as the diesel V6 that produces 140kW and 440Nm. They're paired with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic in RWD versions, while the FWD can now choose the new gearbox.
The manual Amarok V6’s claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is 0.7L/100km more than its automatic counterpart drinks.
During our launch drive, consisting mainly of highway driving and off-roading, we averaged a little less, at 9.4L/100km, but expect that figure to climb above 10.0L/100km in mixed usage.
For reference, fuel tank capacity is 80 litres. There’s also a second tank that stores up to 13.0L of the required AdBlue.
Carbon dioxide emissions are claimed to be 254 grams per kilometre, meaning the manual chugs out 18g/km more CO2 than the auto.
Mercedes is yet to confirm fuel use for the 84KW engine, but the mid-spec diesel will use 8.0L/100km - the very same as the most powerful 120kW option in the four-cylinder range. Updated numbers for the big 3.0-litre V6 haven't been revealed yet, either.
All those numbers are calculated on the claimed combined cycle.
When it comes to sheer driving pleasure, the Amarok V6 sets the standard for utes.
Part of that success is thanks to its previously exclusive automatic transmission, and at long last we’re happy to report its manual counterpart is just as good.
Sure, first gear is short, but the engine produces peak torque just above idle, so it’s easy to come off the line in second if you want/need to, especially when low-range is engaged. But more on off-roading in a moment.
Conversely, the throw is relatively short, which is nice, while the gate is surprisingly smooth – two key characteristics of a good manual transmission.
Even better, though, is the clutch, which is well-weighted. Indeed, in a world where most manual utes feel suitably agricultural, the Amarok V6 does its best impression of a sports car.
Naturally, the V6 helps matters by being the perfect dancing partner. You hardly notice the manual’s aforementioned torque deficit because there’s still so much to play with.
And a brief moment after maximum torque departs, peak power arrives and pushes you towards the redline. Yep, this is an engine that doesn’t really run out of puff.
Now, there’s much more to this Amarok V6’s story than just its manual gearbox. As mentioned, it also ushers in a transfer case that plays a key role in its part-time four-wheel drive system with low-range – a first for Volkswagen’s hardest-hitting ute.
Yep, if you want rear-wheel drive antics (and better fuel efficiency), they’re possible by leaving the manual in 2H. If you want unflappable AWD grip, switch it over to 4H by engaging neutral and pressing one button.
But if you need the capability of low-range to get you out of a sticky situation, press that button one more time and 4L arrives to save the day. And if that’s not enough, there’s still a rear mechanical differential lock on hand, as in the automatic.
Needless to say, our off-road expedition proved this set-up works really well. Again, a lot of this Amarok’s success can be put down to its mighty V6 engine, which serves up more than enough torque to get the job done. Capable, indeed.
But credit should also be sent the way of the 'Off Road' drive mode, which slackens off the ABS and ESP to make braking and accelerating more off-road-friendly, but only in 2H and 4H, of course.
The version of hill-descent control employed here is also brilliant, automatically engaging when tackling a steep decline, with its speed adjusted by the accelerator and brake pedals, instead of buttons on the steering wheel, which can feel unnatural.
Off- and on-road performance is helped by the Amarok V6’s hydraulic power steering, which is a brilliant throwback to the time before the electric revolution. As such, feel is one of its strong points.
The steering is weighty but not heavy, making it great in hand. That said, it is a tad hefty at low speed, and a 12.9m turning circle isn’t exactly tight, but we’re talking about a ute after all.
Suspension-wise, the Amarok V6 and its ladder-frame chassis have double wishbones up front and leaf springs at the rear, the latter dealing with an unladen tub better than you might think. Yep, there’s very little skittishness going on here.
Generally speaking, lumps and bumps are dealt with well on road, while the ride is just as settled off-road. This is a ute that doesn’t feel like a ute – and that’s a good thing.
Speaking of which, the way in which the manual Amarok V6 shifts its 2076kg frame is remarkable. Sure, it can’t defy physics, but it exudes relative composure when being pushed around a corner with intent.
It's utterly car-like. There's really no other way to describe it. Despite the fact you're dragging a cargo area big enough to swallow an Ikea showroom, the mass is largely unnoticeable from the driver's seat. In fact, if it wasn't for the way the sky-high driving position perches you above the steering wheel, it would be very easy to forget you're driving a van at all.
We only sampled one drivetrain combination - the 2.1-litre diesel paired with the seven-speed transmission, both of which carry over from the outgoing model, housed in a mid-wheelbase version - and the engine proved smooth and refined, gathering speed with nary a clatter or rattle in the cabin. It's not overly quick, but the low-down urge of the 360Nm (it appears at 1400rpm) is plenty willing to drag the Sprinter away from the lights.
With the window down, the diesel noise is far more noticeable, but the sound insulation does a great job of locking the noise outside when the cabin is sealed.
Even the steering feels surprisingly responsive, but with a reassuring lack of sharpness that mirth otherwise have you feeling like you're about to topple over. In a moment of pure madness, we pointed the Sprinter's massive nose at a climbing, twisting road, and while you're unlikely to win any hillclimb challenges,it doesn't feel overly top-heavy, either, and it will happily rumble to the top of most any mountain you should encounter.
Most importantly, though, the cabin is comfortable, mostly quiet, and feels less jittery or bouncy than plenty of dual-cab utes. With about 350 kilogram load on board, the ride was firm but not uncomfortable - exactly what we'd want from a van of this size.
And now, a small caveat. We were treated to a fairly limited test-drive on European roads that were ridiculously smooth, so we'll reserve full judgement on how the Sprinter responds to Australian conditions until it arrives locally in Q4 this year.
The Amarok range was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating way back in 2011, but a lot has changed in the nine years since.
For example, while you get dual front and front-side airbags, you don’t get curtain airbags for the second row, making rear occupants more vulnerable in crashes.
These active safety features can be had in many of the Amarok’s rivals, albeit to varying degrees.
You do, however, get cruise control (not adaptive), a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, hill-start assist and hill-descent control as well as the usual electronic stability and traction control systems, with the former even accounting for trailer sway.
Benz should be commended for rolling out AEB as standard across the range for this 2019 update, which also includes new side airbags for the front seats, joining the dual-front bags from the outgoing model.
Active lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise and a 360-degree camera have also become available, but if and where they arrive as standard is yet to be confirmed. Expect cross-wind control to reappear, too.
The Sprinter has not undergone ANCAP crash testing.
The Amarok range comes with Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is on par with most of the mainstream brands. Some (we’re looking at you, Kia and SsangYong) up the ante to seven years.
One year of roadside assistance is also included with the ute.
Also on par are the service intervals, which are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. What isn’t, though, is their cost.
Even with a five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing plan, the average charge per visit is $609. Needless to say, that’s pretty pricey.