BORN TO BE WILD
NEW VW AMAROK PUT TO THE TEST
SOMETIMES you just have to give way to other traffic. When that traffic is a fully grown rhinoceros stomping across your path, it’s a total no-brainer. So where do you run into – or not – a rhino?
In my case, it’s the Pumba Game Park near Port Elizabeth in South Africa, during a test in the first righthand-drive Volkswagen Amarok ute.
The one-tonne HiLux rival is coming to Australia, either late this year or early next year.
We ran the Amarok to ground in South Africa while the World Cup is on and, thanks to a bit of patience on the game-park trail, make it through the exercise without testing how the ute would survive a collision with 3000kg of charging rhino.
The rhinos are not alone and we also bump into – not literally – other African exotics as we get close-andpersonal with a European workhorse which could lift the bar in the onetonner class.
The Amarok tour actually begins with a passenger ride in a modified Land Rover.
A park guide explains what to do if we are charged by one of the many deadly animals in the park. I expect some heavy-calibre protection but it turns out that guides respond to any threat of an attack by simply honking an air horn which will (hopefully) repel the hungriest and meanest carnivores on the reserve.
The Land Rover takes us within a few metres of two big lions, giraffes and elephants as well as impalas that look very nervous about being in a game park with those lions.
After the tour, we take the Amaroks to a less-dangerous area of the park where it is less likely we will be torn limb-from-limb if we make a mistake and are forced to abandon the vehicles.
Still, when we change drivers we sprint around the Amarok faster than any Bathurst driver pairing in a V8 Supercar pitstop, just in case. As it turns out, the most dangerous animals we see from the Amarok, apart from the rhino, are monkeys and those horrendously ugly little warthogs with big fangs and mullet hair. After negotiating a trail we arrive at a steep hillside. Our guide points up and says simply: ‘‘Go on then.’’ At first I think he is joking, because there is no track and it looks daunting. But we engage low-range in the Amarok’s 4x4 transmission and drive up over rocks and shrubs and mounds in first gear.
There is no sign of struggle beneath the Volkswagen badge.
We are driving the twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder version and, although it is only 2.0-litres, it has plenty of pull - 120kW and 400Nm of torque. The engine really heaves when the turbochargers are spinning, happily lugging away at 1500 revs. It is a sweet engine, though it is very easy to stall when it drops off boost.
Turning at low speed with fourwheel-drive engaged also requires more revs and slipping of the clutch or the engine will stall. There is no such problem on the hill and the Amarok makes its way over several rocks and branches, barely threatening its 249mm ground clearance.
The Amarok is a seriously capable ute with rear and constant all-wheel drive but we are in the full-on locking four-wheel-drive model with low-range gears. The ute manages everything we can throw at it, but we will really need to do some similar work with a full load at home before passing final judgment.
The new ute is rated to lug between 663kg and 1137kg in the back and tow up to 2800kg. It is not known if Volkswagen will bring a single-turbo 2.0 diesel (90kW and 340Nm) to Australia but it is almost certain to introduce a 2.0-litre turbo fourcylinder petrol next year to suit people who just don’t like diesels.
The fuel consumption of the diesels should be good, with an official number starting at 7.5 litres every 100km, which seriously undercuts its rivals, and the petrol model is expected to use 9.9 litres for every 100km.