Car reviews - Volkswagen - Amarok - Single cab
Slick automatic, spacious single-cab, refined and surefooted on and off road, improved spec
Room for improvement
Tiny glovebox, Bluetooth still not standard on 4x2, no aux/USB input, tight rear legroom in dual-cab
11 Jul 2012
HOW dare Volkswagen, with no long history or background in rugged one-tonne utes, enter the market with the Amarok and show everybody else how it’s done.
Wolfsburg’s engineers managed to pack the Amarok with class-leading safety, class-leading dynamics, class-leading interior design, class-leading fuel consumption and class-leading tray capacity.
Major complaints we had at the time of launch were the lack of an automatic transmission or single-cab variant and that Bluetooth connectivity remained on the options list.
The time has come for VW to pull an eight-speed transmission option out of the bag – you guessed it, class-leading – and a single-cab with class-leading (again) cabin space, an even more capacious tray and a payload of up to 1311kg.
Addressing the third concern is a running change to specification that has made Bluetooth and cruise control standard on all 4x4 models, but 4x2 buyers still have to fork out extra.
Volkswagen also increased standard kit on Highline variants and lowered the price of some dual-cabs to improve the Amarok’s value-for-money proposition.
We took the keys to a single-cab first, which had a couple of hundred kilos of hay in the tray, and were instantly impressed by the space behind the rear seats, which swallowed our luggage with ease and is easily big enough for decent-sized toolboxes and Eskys if the driver and passenger are not abnormally tall.
The cabin is wide and comfortable, too, even though single-cabs are only sold in base spec with rubber floor coverings and minimal upholstery, giving a hard-wearing and functional ambience.
After being impressed by the storage space behind the seats, we were disappointed by the tiny glove compartment.
On the drive out of Port Augusta we also found the six-speed manual shifter better than in many passenger cars and a world away from the awful unit in the Ranger and BT-50 twins.
Cabin noise is not as low as in a Holden Colorado and, while audible in a way passenger car drivers are no longer accustomed to, the TDI400 engine we tested (the most powerful option on a single-cab) sounds less truck-like than the competition.
Single-cabs are manual only and upgrading a dual-cab to automatic transmission also brings permanent (rather than selectable) 4x4 and an engine boosted to 132kW and 420Nm (up 12kW and 20Nm on the manual TD400) in return for the $3000 premium.
Progress is effortless and gearshifts seamless, with the overdriven eighth ratio allowing the engine to settle at around 1800rpm – lower than the manual’s sixth gear – for a quiet 110kmh cruise, and first gear almost doing the job of low-range while off-road.
With the transmission set to Drive, more than just a gentle increase in throttle pressure is required for the automatic to kick down when powering through bends, which occasionally frustrated us, but switching to Sport or making manual shifts was the simple solution.
Driving through a series of sweeping turns in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, we were able to forget we were at the wheel of a truck – especially with the plusher interiors of up-spec dual-cab variants – as the surefooted Amarok steered precisely and resisted body-roll with a composure that shames many SUVs.
Yet this is a body-on-frame, utilitarian workhorse that also happens to be mighty handy off-road as a 4x4, as revealed by a drive program that took in rocky creek beds, sand dunes and deep, liquefied mud.
With permanent all-wheel-drive and a low first ratio supplanting the manual’s selectable system with low range mode, the automatic Amaroks we drove had no trouble negotiating the tough terrain thrown at it – even on standard road tyres – and went everywhere the manuals went while enabling drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.
A lack of proper low range was no problem on steep descents, either, due to the standard hill-descent control function automatically activated by selecting off-road mode, which also recalibrates the electronic safety systems.
On bitumen the Amarok’s compliant ride is miraculously free of the bump-shudder typical of these vehicles and progress is comfortable, with high levels of drivetrain refinement and cabin ergonomics familiar to anybody who has driven a VW Group product.
The Amarok takes gravel and corrugated dirt roads in its stride, too, isolating the driver from all but the worst surfaces and providing huge levels of confidence, even at triple-digit speeds.
Our single-cab was fitted with the standard heavy-duty suspension and we had no complaints about ride quality with a load in the back, and an almost luxurious experience was had from variants featuring the no-cost optional ‘comfort’ suspension that reduces payload capacity by 220kg.
A fleet manager specifying Amaroks would be extremely kind to workers who ply dirt roads on a daily basis, for those employees will arrive at their destination feeling far more refreshed than if travelling in, for example, a Toyota HiLux.
The Ford Ranger and closely-related Mazda BT-50 run the Amarok close in this department but feel too big in an urban environment and, while better than most, still suffer from a body that shudders over potholes and bumps.
After being bashed about for two days by a bunch of eager journalists, some Amaroks developed interior rattles or squeaks and a couple flashed up an oil warning light that had nothing to do with oil loss and was remedied by turning the engine off and on again.
Quality and longevity are vital on vehicles like this, especially when trying to convince fleet managers of far-flung mine sites, and the Amarok is still too young to prove itself.
Amaroks require servicing every 15,000 kilometres and VW executives attempted to allay concerns about costs by providing average figures of $420 for a minor scheduled service and $790 for a 60,000km major service on an automatic TDI420.
The Amarok is full of complex electronics, and a twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine displacing just two litres is bound to be highly strung, so only time will tell how it fares when subjected to punishment on a daily basis. Until then, fleet managers will have to take a leap of faith.
Apart from a too-upright backrest and tight legroom in the back, for tradies or weekend warriors the Amarok presents the most compelling case yet for a dual-cab ute that can also be used as family transport, especially with the new addition of such an effective automatic transmission.
For getting it so right first time, VW deserves high praise and plenty of success with the Amarok.
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