Going the distance
I’m on the road a lot. Much of the time it is on long stretches of tar to destinations where I often drive on gravel for days on end. My chariot on these journeys is usually our long term 8-speed automatic Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 BiTDI Highline 4MOTION.
Initially, the size of the bakkie was somewhat intimidating, especially in a parking lot, but I got used to it and was pleasantly surprised at the agility of the vehicle. The load bin is the largest on the market and space is never a problem. The parking sensor (which you can’t turn off on this model) can get irritating in the bush when it beeps for every blade of grass. However, in the city it’s come in handy numerous times when trying to gauge distance at the back of the bakkie when I park. On the open road the Amarok is the most comfortable bakkie I have ever driven, and is also relatively economic at around 9 litres per 100 km on average. The 8-speed gear box is lightning quick at changing gears and the software is programmed so it always changes at just the right moment. ( If you’ve ever driven vehicles that struggle with this – and there are a lot – you’ll understand what we mean – Jaco.) If you have to overtake a truck on a long uphill, you simply put your foot down and the power is there. This bakkie doesn’t have low range in the traditional sense, but rather an intelligent off-road system that activates at the push of a button situated next to the gear lever. And I must say, the change that little button makes to the attitude of the bakkie on gravel or through an obstacle is impressive. It immediately changes a few things, like more sensitive traction control and ABS brakes that don’t kick in as early as they do on tar.
Beauty in simplicity
A lot has been written about the neat interior of the Amarok. It can be described as minimalistic – and even elegant – the seats are as comfortable as it gets, the dash is made of durable plastic without any coloured inlays and there is the minimum amount of buttons. Just like the average modern overland traveller, I take a bunch of gadgets with me, and keeping all these things charged is always a problem. The Amarok has four 12V sockets: two by the gear lever, one on top of the dash and another one in the load bin. The one on top of the dash is particularly handy because you can plug your GPS in here, out of the way, rather than having the plug’s wire hanging across the dashboard. The storage compartment next to the other sockets is equally handy to simultaneously charge a cell phone and a camera out of the way. The socket in the load bin is practical for keeping a fridge running or to plug in a light at a camp site Something I noticed immediately is the control panel of the sound system and the display screen on the gauge console. It is a bit disappointing, especially when you compare it to the systems of the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Hilux. The graphics of the display screen in the Amarok remind me of those old Nokia 3310 cellphones. It’s also not a touch screen, so to access certain functions in the menu means pushing way too many buttons. In some situations you’d have to stop by the side of the road to do something simple like connecting a phone via Bluetooth. But until the Germans manage to solve this problem, I can live with the slight discomfort.