Smooth in the rough
Hailed for its carlike driving traits, the Amarok takes work and family duties in its stride
UTE action in Australia is relentless. All sorts of new utes are coming from challenger brands, from Hyundai to Renault and Mercedes-Benz, as the work-and-play pick-up becomes the norm.
The Great Wall Steed, the first model from a new factorybacked Chinese importer, will begin deliveries next month. There is no pricing yet but there’s the promise of classleading value and a threemodel line-up.
Volkswagen also says the first V6 turbo diesel Amaroks, with the 500Nm powerplant from the Touareg and a 0100km/h time of 7.9 seconds, are on the water with customer deliveries predicted to start in October.
So it’s a good time for a revision drive in the Amarok and my first real run with the four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, eight-speed automatic and permanent all-wheel drive that Australians have wanted from the start.
There are no low-range crawler gears for weekends and worksites but VW says the spread of ratios in the auto means it covers all possibilities.
I’ve already run through most of the new Japanese contenders this year, as well as the classy Ford Ranger which has transformed the blue oval from the Falcon car company into the Ranger brand. My personal pick is the latest Toyota HiLux, which I put narrowly ahead of the Ranger thanks to a little extra refinement.
I’m surprised the Amarok Highline nudges $60,000 as a dual-cab but then I recheck the stickers for contenders such as Ford’s sellout Ranger Wildtrak. Obviously buyers are keen, as the Amarok is currently the second-favourite VW in Australia, after the Golf.
In TDI420 guise (the number indicating its torque output) it gets rear-view camera and all the usual gear you need in a five-seater ute. One glaring omission in a family car: there are no curtain airbags to protect rear occupants. It was hailed as the most car-like drive in the ute class, before the latest round of Japanese renewals.
ON THE ROAD
The Amarok feels good from the start. There is decent shove from the turbo diesel, the auto is smooth and fuss-free and the cabin is comfortable.
The whole family fits easily and the tray can easily handle our weekend toys.
But there’s a caveat — highriding utes can be tough to load. My own HiLux, an old-timer and only rear-wheel drive, has a tray that’s easy to load and unload.
At times, when a ute has four-wheel drive and big wheels, you have to reach high. Some people might even need a stepladder for the job.
But the tray in the Amarok is big. VW makes much of the ability to fit a full-size pallet between the internal wheel arches, so bicycles and camping gear go in comfortably.
The Amarok rides very smoothly for a ute — and not badly compared to some basemodel cars these days — and the steering is excellent.
The ute copes easily with lumps and bumps, is solid in curves and corners, and never feels as unruly as some others I’ve driven.
It’s a similar story for the driveline and, although I don’t take it seriously off the blacktop, I know the likes of the hilldescent control will be welcomed by owners keen on bush-track action.
It’s quiet, too, and I like the shape and support of the front bucket seats, as well as the space in the back.
But the cabin is flawed, and I’m reminded that the Amarok is built in South America and not Europe. How? Because the cabin plastics are all slightly mismatched, and the assembly work is nowhere near the standard of a Golf, highlighting the shortcomings of the suppliers who produce individual bits for the Amarok. The plastic parts probably look fine on their own, but don’t click completely as a completed kit.
The infotainment screen is also tiny, even if it’s linked to a rear-view camera. It shows the car is getting old and there is already talk of a much bigger screen when the Amarok is eventually renewed.
For now, it’s not good enough although there is compensation in its full-size alloy spare and 3000kg tow rating. Those are both becoming big things with Carsguide readers (especially the spare) who drive any kind of vehicle outside the city and suburbs.
I would also like paddleshifters for the auto, to give some extra control for overtaking work and tight roads with a load.
I’m still weighing up the price, though VW reminds me Amarok prices start below $40,000 drive away, with such items as body-coloured bumpers on the dual-cab body and excellent Pirelli tyres.
I like the Amarok, even with its little flaws and the chunky price. It’s one of the smoothest driving utes available today and that’s important to me, as well as people who will use the truck as a family car.
It’s quiet, gets along well and corners well for a ute. Even before the punchy new V6 arrives for the heaviest work, it’s a good combination.
The Amarok definitely gets the thumbs up but it’s no rival for the HiLux and Ranger at the top of my ute rankings. Maybe next time, with the V6.