The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test -

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 one­ton­ners 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 VW AMAROK TDi550 V6 UL­TI­MATE PRICE $67,990 WAR­RANTY 3 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING $2984 over 75,000km SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 4 airbags, not rated EN­GINE 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 165kW/550Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 8-speed auto; AWD THIRST 7.8L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 5254mm (L), 1954mm (W), 1878mm (H), 3095mm (WB) WEIGHT 2216kg SPARE Full size al­loy TOW­ING 3000kg 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”. 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 one­ton­ner 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 bi­tu­men­treaded 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.

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