The priciest mid-size truck around packs in luxury, power and comfort — but not enough safety kit
ALMOST seventy thousand bucks for a ute! Has the world gone troppo, or is VW’s new Amarok TDi550 V6 Ultimate really what it says on the box?
Double-cab 4WD one-tonners with all the bling and widgets are highly desirable status symbols among cashedup tradies, who have the car companies’ hands deep in their pockets because these vehicles are cheap to make and return very fat profits. At $67,990 plus on-roads the Amarok Ultimate is the priciest mid-size truck on the market. Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak is a distant second at $61,790 with a six-speed automatic. In this company, Toyota’s top-selling HiLux SR5 looks like a steal at $56,390.
So, what’s the VW got that the others haven’t?
Amarok’s first major overhaul since its 2010 launch is timely because new versions of its major competitors have arrived in the interim.
Sales haven’t exactly been spectacular, either, despite aggressive pricing. VW’s reputation for questionable reliability may have hurt it. A working truck off the road is costing its owner a lot more than just the price of the fix, and a VW out of warranty can be a rather perilous proposition.
The Ultimate’s driveline — 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel turning an eight-speed auto — is also found up front in a few well-todo family members, including the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. It was pinged in the Dieselgate conspiracy, too, but the bespoke version in the Amarok complies with current emissions standards, including Euro6, so it has a separate AdBlue additive tank.
It’s matched with VW’s 4Motion high-range only permanent all-wheel drive, supplemented by a push-button off-road drivetrain mode and mechanical rear differential lock, the get-out-of-jail card for more rugged excursions.
Seventy grand should buy you the class’s most luxurious, comfortable cabin. You get that but your passengers don’t.
The Ultimate’s sumptuous, supportive GT-style front seats wouldn’t be out of place in an AMG or BMW M. They complement an SUV-like driving position without the usual one-tonner ergonomic compromises. Steering wheel
reach adjustment, for example, means you can use as much front seat travel as you require, rather than having to sit kneesup, elbows tucked in and faceplanting the wheel, like a lawn bowler in his Kingswood.
Generous front seat travel impinges upon rear legroom, which is tight for tall adults. The lack of curtain airbags and rear air vents also makes Amarok’s back seat a place where you may not want to put your kids.
Clear, informative, monochrome instruments and a small infotainment touchscreen feature on the 2017 dash, which looks cool and classy until you tap the plastic and discover it’s the same hard, cheap, nasty stuff used in poverty-pack models.
Automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert really should be standard with the $70,000 price tag; they are in many SUVs for similar money. The Ranger is available with radar cruise control and lane-keeping assistance.
Earlier versions of the Amarok had a five-star safety rating, based on the rules at the time. But ANCAP has since strengthened its requirements for a five-star rating and the V6 doesn’t cut it, not least due to the lack of rear airbags. Instead it is currently “unrated”.
ON THE ROAD
The Amarok’s V6 is so far ahead of the others, with unrivalled smoothness, quietness, fuel efficiency, responsiveness and performance, it’s akin to an A380 in a squadron of DC3s.
Lean on the accelerator and you get 15kW of overboost for 10 seconds. With 180kW/ 550Nm underfoot, no other one-tonner will see which way it went. This applies to dynamics as well. Its suspension sets new class standards for control, compliance and secure, confident handling.
OK, so it’s a big, tall, fat one-tonner with the usual primitive underpinnings and lumpy ride but the Amarok’s dynamics are as good as it gets while still being able to meet its load carrying and towing brief.
Light, precise hydraulic
steering is complemented by decent brakes (with rear discs rather than the class standard drums) and a flat attitude in corners. Low-profile bitumen-treaded Continental tyres on 19-inch alloys grip well and are quiet at highway speeds.
I averaged 7.0L/100km on the highway and got almost 1200km from a tank. Around town, auto stop-start can get single-figure returns too, though 11L-12L is more realistic.
I didn’t test the V6’s extreme off-road ability because its road tyres wouldn’t last five minutes on a gnarly track.
If you want the top one-tonner, your choice is between the Amarok V6 Ultimate and Ranger Wildtrak. The Ford is a fully loaded and formidable truck. The VW is the most luxurious, refined, powerful and enjoyable drive in the class.