Car reviews - Volkswagen - Amarok - TDI420 Core 4x4 Dual Cab Ute
Refined cabin environment, car-like road manners, infotainment system, rear vision
Room for improvement
Active safety features, light steering, rear leg room, USB difficult to access
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28 Sep 2017
A V6 powerplant was the headline act when Volkswagen launched its updated Amarok earlier this year and with good reason.
It’s a crackerjack powerplant that also sits under the bonnet of other VW Group offerings including the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, but the update didn’t dismiss the twin-turbo four-cylinder variants that populate the bulk of the Argentinian-built load-lugger’s range.
Priced in the mid-$40,000 bracket, the Core dual-cab remains one of the most refined and capable utes in the market.
Competitive pricing, a good-sized tray and the suspension muscle to take its payload, it’s only the rear legroom and the absence of any rear airbag coverage that will detract from its appeal.
Price and equipment
In dual-cab Core TDI420 guise with permanent 4WD and the eight-speed auto, VW’s Amarok is priced from $46,490 plus on-road costs, which buys 16-inch alloy wheels with 245/70 rubber and a full size spare.
It also gets a leather-wrapped reach and rake adjustable steering wheel with cruise, audio and trip computer controls, as well as heated power-adjustable mirrors, power windows, pseudo-climate-control air-conditioning, a flip-up rear bench seat with three child seat anchor points in the backrest, mud-flaps front and rear and rubber flooring.
A clear and informative instrument panel has the two traditional dials flanking a trip computer with a function menu display offering a digital speed readout among its myriad displays.
The infotainment system is touchscreen-controlled and has full smartphone integration via either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, with voice control directing the noise from the decent six-speaker sound system there’s also Bluetooth and a USB, with the former easy to use and the latter somewhat difficult to access.
Only the absence of an external aerial detracts from the sound system’s potential in rural areas.
Access to one of the larger rear trays available – which gets four tie-down loops and some lighting operated from the cabin – is via a useful rear step bumper, or a dropdown tailgate that is rated to 200kg.
The Core doesn’t get the external 12-volt in the tray (a Core Plus feature) but the lined rear tub is still the only one capable of holding a standard pallet between the wheelarches.
The as-tested price rose to $47,570 with the optional front foglights, and the addition of the driver’s pack that includes front lumbar support, automatic (but only halogen) headlights, rain sensing wipers and an additional 12-volt socket.
It sits at a price level similar to that of the Ford Ranger XLS at $48,890, as well as Toyota’s HiLux SR from $46,490 and the Holden Colorado LT in six-speed manual form is $46,990.
Nissan’s Navara and the Mitsubishi Triton also hover in the same ballpark – the former’s ST model asks for $46,990 and the latter in top-spec Exceed guise starts from $48,000.
Its dimensions put among the biggest of the pack – it measures 5254mm long (3095mm of that is in the wheelbase), but at 1954mm wide (include the mirrors and it increases to 2228mm) it’s a very broad beast overall height is 1878mm.
The Amarok still makes use of some hard plastics – it is a workhorse ute after all – but the cabin is for the most part a comfortable place in which to spend time.
The updated dashboard gets a touchscreen and easily-deciphered air-conditioning controls, but its the infotainment system with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that dominates the centre console.
Flanked by the shortcut buttons, the system doesn’t default to the full smartphone integration unless demanded, which offers a flexibility that some brands don’t allow.
Front seat occupants get a commanding view from comfortable – if not expansive – cloth-trimmed seats, as well as access to 12-volt and USB points for device charging or music input, but the USB is harder to access than it perhaps needs to be.
The driver gets the benefit or reach and rake steering adjustment but some things – the conventional handbrake lever among them – haven’t made the journey across to the right-hand-drive position on the console.
Storage within the centre console and glovebox is useful (the centre console is more so) and there’s room in the door pockets for most paraphernalia a dash top tray is also useful for things that aren’t going to detrimentally heat up in direct sunlight.
The rear window is considerable in its dimensions and offers better rear vision than most – if not all – in the segment, but rear legroom is below par when compared to the competition, as is the absence of a 12-volt outlet and rear vents.
Three child seat anchor points are fitted to the backrest and the rear seat base will fold up if the cargo bay isn’t enough for the full load, but there’s no in-floor storage there.
The rear tray would need a lot of gear to warrant using the flip-up back seats – it’s 508mm deep, 1555mm long, a low loading height of 780mm and 1620mm at its widest the width between the wheelarches is listed at 1222mm.
With a tray liner that width between the wheelarches drops to just a little under 1200mm, but with 1165mm the width of a standard Australian pallet, it’s still a more-than-useful tray.
Engine and transmission
While much attention has been focused on the new V6, the four-cylinder side of the drivetrain continues to serve dutifully in the Amarok.
The Core gets the 2.0-litre bi-turbo double-overhead-cam 16-valve diesel, offering 132kW at 4000rpm (a level to which it is not averse) and 420Nm of torque, which makes its presence felt from 1750rpm.
The small powerplant lays claim to a combined cycle fuel use figure – when teamed with the eight-speed ZF auto – of 8.5 litres per 100km.
Our time in the Amarok added 730km to its odometer, performing duties that ranged from school runs to shifting all manner of loads in the tray.
The result on the trip computer showed 10.6L/100km being drained from the 80-litre tank for every 100km covered, at an average speed of 34km/h, a thirst closer to the urban cycle figure of the ADR laboratory test of 10.1L, but by no means gluttonous given the workload.
The eight-speed transmission feels smooth in shifting and for the most part able to pick the right gear, although on occasion when departing a T-junction with a small amount of momentum it was unsure about using first or second and took its time deciding.
The Sport mode took away some of that indecision but didn’t allow its legs to be stretched to eighth (both it and 7th gear are overdrives) when it would normally, but the option of a manual change mode (through the lever only) also helps.
The engine is ticking over at the 1750rpm torque peak in eighth gear at 100km/h, allowing a potential long-distance cruising range of just over 1000km.
Fast dirt road work in the Amarok is easily achieved, with the all-wheel-drive system splitting drive with a slight rear bias (40/60 front/rear) with the ability of the Torsen centre differential to direct it fore and aft according to traction levels.
The absence of low range – offset, VW says, by a very low first gear – limits the Amarok’s ability in more extreme 4WD terrain but engine protection, a rear diff lock, hill ascent and descent control, and off-road mapping for the electronic driver aids all work to offset the automatic’s single-range 4WD system.
Ride and handling
A claim to fame of the Amarok is refinement and it has that in ample quantities – the cabin is quiet and well-insulated from the engine bay and the outside world, making it one if the nicer LCVs to commute in on a regular basis.
The ride quality from the double wishbone front and leaf sprung rear is at the better end of the segment, although it (like many) prefers a load on board to give the rear suspension some more room to move with road ruts and bumps.
When unladen it can become a little jumpy – but again at the better end of the large field of dual-cab utes – while adding half a tonne of material (half its listed payload of 1018kg) to the rear tray calmed the ride down nicely.
Over-assisted steering is a joy when maneuvering around a tight carpark or positioning the large vehicle to hook up for towing (where the standard camera is very useful), but its level of assistance needs to subside more as speeds rise.
An expectation of razor-sharp response from the helm is unreasonable in this segment, granted, but the top performers have much-improved steering and it’s an area in which the Amarok could build on.
But for the most part the Volkswagen workhorse shoulders a solid load without complaint from the vehicle or the driver.
While the single-range 4WD system precludes it from heavy-duty off-road work, the Amarok can easily cope with the more mainstream terrain it’s likely to encounter – ground clearance is listed at a reasonable 226mm.
A 28-degree approach angle, a departure angle of 23.6 (although the tow bar erodes that), a 23-degree ramp-over angle and a claimed wading depth at 500mm all suggests it won’t shy away from getting dirty.
There is a solid engine-protecting plate to cover the vitals but some fears were held for the low-slung plastic bits beneath the front bumper.
Safety and servicing
The load-lugging Argentinian-built two-tonne Amarok has the benefit of permanent 4WD, back by an electronic suite that includes stability (with an off-road mode), roll-over and traction control with a trailer sway control function within it when equipped with the factory tow package that allows a braked towing capacity of 3000kg (unbraked is the de riguer 750kg), with a 300kg ball download, a GVM of 3040kg and a GCM of 5550kg, which is just short of the segment leaders.
Emergency flashing brake lights alert following drivers in a panic stop, which is completed using front discs but the rear drums have been retained the V6 however gets rear discs.
Also appearing on the safety features list is anti-lock (calibrated with an off-road function) and brake force distribution systems, hill hold and descent system and the staple multi-collision brake function, but none of the automatic emergency braking systems, despite the presence of such systems on much of the VW passenger car range.
Volkswagen has come under fire for the absence of any airbag coverage for the rear seat occupants, leaving the dual front and front side head and thorax airbags as the only ones on offer in the Amarok range.
All occupants get three-point seatbelts but front occupant get height adjustment, pre-tensioners and belt force limiters the outboard rear occupants wear seat belts pre-tensioners, which is also the same seating positions for the Isofix child seat anchor points.
There are also three top tether anchor points in the backrest, which comes forward for installation.
The standard fare also includes a high-set rear brake light (that also works as a light for the rear tray), rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, which is low-set but works well for hooking up trailers as well as avoiding pedestrians and obstacles.
A three-year unlimited kilometre warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance for the duration of the vehicle’s manufacturer’s warranty period, with capped-price servicing forewarning an owner about the impending bill.
But in the Amarok’s case it’s still a solid ask – $459 for the first service at 12 months or 15,000km, with $763 the asking price (at the time of writing) for the scheduled maintenance at 48 months or 60,000km – by comparison the Ford Ranger asks a little less at the start – $400 – and doesn’t get beyond $700.
Volkswagen’s broad-shouldered load-lugger is one of the nicer conveyances of the workhorse segment, presenting car-like quietness within its well laid out cabin.
Safety gear oversights may cost it customers looking for the best possible protection for rear occupants if the dual-cab does what more and more of them are doing – doubling as the family car.
A big tray delivers useful cargo space (sometimes a compromise in this body style) and the squared off looks will appeal to many looking for masculine lines.
Ford Ranger XLS from $48,890 plus on-road costs
The thorn in Toyota’s side might not be as quiet as the Amarok but it has good road manners, easier rear seat access, more rear legroom and top-class capacities for towing (3500kg) as well as 147kW and 470Nm with a six-speed auto, numbers from the engine which have stood the test of time against the improving competition. Not cheap but stacks up well against the VW and pips it with low range, full-length side curtain airbags and the emergency assistance call system.
Toyota’s HiLux SR from $48,490 plus on-road costs
The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder has the Amarok covered with 130kW and 450Nm in auto guise, as well an extra 200kg over the VW, but it falls short of the Ranger’s braked towing capacity by 300kg. Now also packing a six-speed auto, the HiLux falls short of the VW on service intervals (six months or 10,000km), cabin refinement and features (although not airbags, of which it has seven like the Holden), sitting on steel wheels with the part-time 4WD with low range for the off-road brigade, as well as an enviable reputation and resale.
Holden Colorado LT from $49,190 plus on-road costs
Winner of the most-improved badge in the segment, it is wearing a solid styling update to match much-improved road manners and like the VW now has Apple CarPlay/Android Auto among its features list, even if its six-speed auto isn’t quite as smart as the ZF gearboxes seen elsewhere here. Holden installs seven airbags (front, side, curtain and a driver’s knee airbag) and opts for 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as delivering low range, 500Nm of torque when bolted to the auto (although it’s a narrow rev range).
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