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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Amarok - TDI580 Ultimate

Our Opinion

We like
Stronger V6 performance, passenger car-like ride and handling, well-weighted steering, ultimate bragging rights in its segment
Room for improvement
Even more expensive, cabin doesn’t justify premium positioning, no second-row curtain airbags or advanced driver-assist systems

Volkswagen resets pick-up performance benchmark with 200kW Amarok TDI580 Ultimate

Volkswagen logo27 Sep 2018

Overview
 
VOLKSWAGEN has not wasted its time. While the world was busy talking about Ford’s Ranger Raptor and the Mercedes-Benz X350d Power, it was busy preparing a new flagship dual-cab pick-up of its own – the Amarok TDI580 Ultimate.
 
In particular, Stuttgart’s first ute was in the firing line after its 190kW/550Nm V6 engine eclipsed the performance benchmark set by the preceding Amarok TDI550 Ultimate. Of course, this did not sit well with Volkswagen, so it quickly responded.
 
With a return to class-leading power and torque, does the Amarok have what it takes to steal back the attention lost to its rivals? More importantly, does the TDI580 Ultimate represent enough of an improvement to justify its premium pricetag? Read on to find out.
 
Drive impressions
 
The ‘Big Bad Wolf’. While it might seem silly for Volkswagen to nickname one of its models after an ominous fairy tale character, it chose to do so for good reason. Amarok, of course, is the Native American word for ‘arctic wolf’, while the TDI580 Ultimate is the biggest and baddest of them all.
 
Mercedes-Benz may have rattled some cages when it rolled out the aptly named X350d Power, but it has quickly lost bragging rights in the pick-up segment to the Amarok TDI580 Ultimate. A simple recipe has seen Volkswagen tweak its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 to return a more powerful punch.
 
Thanks to new pistons and injectors, and an Engine Control Unit (ECU) retune, the tried-and-true diesel engine now produces 190kW of power from 3250 to 4500rpm and 580Nm of torque from 1400 to 3000rpm – a very handy improvement of 25kW and 30Nm over its predecessor.
 
However, apply more than 70 per cent throttle in third or fourth gear and the TDI580 Ultimate can increase its maximum power to 200kW from 3500 to 4000rpm via an overboost. Available for up to 10 seconds at speeds between 50 and 120km/h, this function also stretches peak torque to 3250rpm.
 
With Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and supplier ZF’s eight-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission as dancing partners, the TDI580 Ultimate sprints from standstill to 100km/h in just 7.3 seconds – a mark that was, only until recently, the performance standard for hot hatches.
 
What’s the best way to test out the Amarok’s stronger heart? A high-speed climb up Lake Mountain in Victoria, of course. After a fleeting moment of turbo lag, the TDI580 Ultimate tears off the line and charges towards the winding road ahead with unashamed confidence in its abilities.
 
Powering through its eight gears at considerable pace, it’s immediately apparent how much torque the TDI580 Ultimate has to work with. It pulls and pulls and pulls, not intimidated by the rapidly increasing altitude. If hill climbs are you’re thing, it will make for a rewarding choice of vehicle.
 
Shift into third gear and bury the accelerator and it seems like the TDI580 Ultimate just won’t run out of puff … you know, just like the ‘Big Bad Wolf’. Without driving it and its preceding model back to back, it’ll be hard to assess how much more performance is on offer, but it feels damn good.
 
Conversely, if tackling the urban commute is more of your thing, then the TDI580 Ultimate is up to the task. Its automatic transmission is just as happy being in Drive as it is in Sport. With maximum torque available just above idle, commuting to and from work will be a breeze.
 
More importantly, the Amarok is the exception to the rule. It does not feel like a dual-cab pick-up to drive. While a number of its rivals have heavy, slow steering and an uncomfortable unladen ride, it bucks the trends with on-road mannerisms befitting that of a traditional passenger car.
 
While it doesn’t have the most communicative setup, the TDI580 Ultimate’s steering excels with its directness, while the suspension absorbs most contact with low-quality country roads. Potholes and speed humps are felt, but the leaf-sprung rear end rebounds quickly and doesn’t keep bouncing.
 
We’re not going to suggest for a second that the TDI580 Ultimate is some sort of sportscar wolf in pick-up sheep’s clothing (see what we did there), but it handles really well, too. The idea of doing a hill climb in a light-commercial vehicle should sound absurd, but the Amarok rises to the challenge.
 
The TDI580 Ultimate is naturally prone to bodyroll through the tighter corners, but it is remarkably planted when things get less twisty. The full-time 4Motion system provides plenty of grip, with the rear end occasionally slipping ever so slightly when accelerating hard out of hairpin bends.
 
Remarkably, the TDI580 Ultimate can do all of this while offering a braked towing capacity of 3500kg and a gross combination mass (GCM) of 6000kg – the same marks its predecessor could muster. Meanwhile, exterior dimensions and the 1555mm-long, 1620mm-wide tub also carry over.
 
You’re probably wondering by now ‘how much does this thing cost?’. Well, it’s not cheap. Starting from $71,990 before on-road costs, the TDI580 Ultimate is $3500 dearer than its forebear. As such, the Amarok’s flagship is now even more of a premium proposition – but that is a segment trend.
 
So, what do you get – other than the obvious – for the extra spend? Not much, actually. A skid plate is now under the front bumper and a 580 badge adorns the tailgate, while previously optional 20-inch alloy wheels replace 19-inch rims. Inside, a black roofliner has been added … and that’s it.
 
Needless to say, the TDI580 Ultimate’s value proposition isn’t its strong point. A quick sit inside its cabin reveals a utilitarian setup that stays true to its pick-up roots but falls short of what a premium product should be. Hard, shiny plastics dominate, and the 6.5-inch touchscreen already looks dated.
 
Being a dual-cab pick-up, there are some occupational hazards, too. Namely, the second row is probably best for shorter journeys, with adults afforded adequate leg- and toe-room, and generous headroom. Moreover, sitting three occupants abreast on the flat, upright rear bench isn’t advised.
 
Having been on the market since 2011, the Amarok is now nearing replacement. This means it does find itself behind the eight-ball in terms of some safety features. Curtain airbags aren’t available in the second row, while advanced driver-assist systems are not offered. Basic cruise control is all you get here.
 
Pushing these concerns to the side, there is no doubting that the Amarok TDI580 Ultimate positions itself at the top of its segment, performance-wise. If you’re after ultimate bragging rights, then this dual-cab pick-up can torque the torque (we couldn’t resist), but it’ll cost you quite a bit.

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