Car reviews - Volkswagen - Amarok - V6
Silky V6 drivetrain, excellent refinement, superb dynamics, seemingly unstoppable off-road, new interior
Room for improvement
Class-leading safety tech and curtain airbags still absent, steering a bit light
24 Nov 2016
SPOILER alert. Volkswagen has done it again. On first impressions, the new V6 Amarok is another game changer.
With the original Amarok, VW moved the goalposts so far that more than five years later we still rate it among the top two 4x4 dual-cab utes on the market.
Competitors are catching up when it comes to blending traditional load-lugging, towing and off-roading ability with family-friendly features and cultured road manners that are more Prahran than paddock.
But now the Amarok is offered with a 165kW/550Nm V6 turbo-diesel engine that trounces its nearest competitor by 18kW and 50Nm. 33kW if you include the overboost function available for 10 seconds when mashing the accelerator for overtaking.
How does 7.9 seconds to 100km/h sound? Or 80-120km/h in 5.5s?Not only that, but it is the third most fuel-efficient in its segment, beaten by only the smallest-capacity competitors. Its official combined cycle figure of 7.8L/100km is lower than the four-cylinder it replaces, such is the progress of technology.
Then there’s the interior. The Amarok always had a pretty smart cabin for a ute, but newcomers have since raised the bar and Volkswagen has responded with a much more inviting environment than before.
Just as well, because the Amarok V6 range is priced right up there, with the Highline at $59,990 plus on-road costs and the Ultimate at $67,990. For comparison, the next most expensive ute is Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak at $61,790 for the automatic.
Although the Amarok is expensive, the new engine fills a gap in the market and provides Volkswagen with a unique and compelling point of difference that will probably remain until Mercedes launches the X-Class in 2018.
It all sounds wonderful on paper and far from being crushed by the weight of expectation, the Amarok V6 put in an admirable performance during the media launch drive programme from our nation’s capital to the Snowy Mountains.
The journey took in gnarly off-road driving and plenty of gravel tracks, interspersed with twisty blacktop of varying surface quality through weather that changed almost as rapidly as the landscape.
Starting the engine from cold on a crisp Canberra morning there was a little noise and vibration to remind us this is a commercial vehicle at heart, but there was none of the typical diesel clatter. It is more like the distant throb from the engine room of an ocean liner.
As we prepared to leave, there was time to consider the updated cabin, which is much better presented than before.
The original Amarok’s van-like basic round air vents, blanking plugs and cheap looking light grey plastic are gone. Soft-touch surfaces are still few and far between but the hard stuff is inoffensive with well-chosen textures.
It feels more like an SUV in here now, with the excellent car-like multi-function steering wheel, instruments, vents and silver trim highlights lifting the ambience significantly. Although the multimedia touchscreen is a bit small, we could not fault its function or usability.
The flagship Ultimate variants we drove come with ergonomically certified, plush Nappa leather seats that provide heaps of electrical adjustment that made us wonder what weird and wonderful shapes of human would occupy its extremes of reach and height.
We initially thought there was a lack of thigh support for taller occupants, but soon discovered the cushions can extend forward. Long distance comfort was excellent, even when the going underfoot was tough.
Reach and height steering adjustment is still a novelty in this segment, so top marks to VW for including it. The rest of the cabin was typically Amarok spacious.
Anyway, you are here to read about the engine. To describe such a smooth, refined unit as grunty seems crass. There is certainly an ever-present surge of urge and superb throttle response.
Foot down, the power delivery feels relentless but we’d hesitate to call it punchy. That is not the V6 Amarok’s style.
In fact, flooring it to experience overboost was less gratifying than keeping it in a higher gear and riding the deep reserves of torque.
No matter how we drove it, the V6 never made the characteristic diesel sounds.
On the move, intake rush and turbo whistle are the most prominent noises while accelerating, with a hard-edged growl from the exhaust as revs rise under full throttle.
At a cruise it is barely audible and the eight-speed automatic transmission gets on with the job so seamlessly we had to really think about it to notice what it was doing.
With the selector in Drive, seventh and eighth gears come up remarkably soon – we’re talking suburban speeds – but the engine never feels as though it is lugging. All 550Nm are available from just 1500rpm, and it shows.
Paddle-shifters are handy for off-roading but we soon instinctively trusted the transmission’s quick wits and the engine’s torque to handle everything else.
It pays to take notice of the speedometer – luckily the Amarok has clear dials and a big digital speedo – for the sensation of speed with this driveline is so muted that we regularly found ourselves having to slow down and recalibrate our senses.
Before doing so, we would momentarily marvel at how miraculously confident and planted this truck feels at unlikely velocities.
This feel also translated into almost all dynamic driving scenarios. Although we felt the Amarok’s steering was a little over-assisted, it turns in beautifully and requires surprisingly little lock to get it biting rewardingly into a curve.
Whether unladen or with around 300kg in the tray – although it is a bit better with some weight onboard – the Amarok V6 proved it has lost nothing over the original in not only being car-like to drive on bendy bitumen, but better than a number of cars and SUVs.
Body control and composure is exceptional. The suspension recovers with staggering speed from big hits. Passengers are not thrown around when a keen driver is stringing together a set of fun corners.
We did notice a little additional squat under hard acceleration with a laden Amarok compared with an empty tray and on really poor surfaces, particularly lateral ridges, the Amarok revealed its separate chassis construction by shuddering. But it is still up there with the very best in this regard.
Due to the off-road element of our test route, VW had fitted all Amaroks with 17-inch alloy wheels so assessing the real-world ride quality of the 18- and 19-inch items (20s can also be specified) fitted to V6 variants will have to wait for GoAuto’s upcoming week-with road test.
Needless to say, the Amarok has never been cause for concern in terms of comfort. We noticed impressively low levels of road noise on coarse-chip bitumen during the launch drive, but the acid test will be the bigger alloys.
Even on the smaller rims and taller tyres, there was plenty of grip for fast corners and the big, powerful all-round disc brakes scrubbed speed with exceptional efficiency for slow corners. However, we found that about a third through the brake pedal travel they would get a bit grabby.
And unlike its main dynamic competitor, the Ford Ranger, the Amarok feels less unwieldy and large on the road. It shrinks around the driver and the big engine has done nothing to diminish that.
This was useful during the off-road section early in our drive. As ever, we found the Amarok’s bluff bonnet necessitated cranking the driver’s seat to the highest setting to provide an adequate breakover view. Happily there is plenty of headroom to make this possible.
VW has engineered just enough slack around the straight-ahead to prevent unwanted steering inputs when off-road driving, without compromising the on-road experience.
Likewise, the off-road mode alters the accelerator pedal sensitivity to prevent jolts from causing unintended hard acceleration. Our only criticism in this regard is that it introduces a disconnect between the control weights of steering and throttle that takes a little acclimatisation after driving on road.
Intimidating looking steep rocky slopes were zero issue for the Amarok and we never reached for the diff lock button. A sketchy, chewed up exit from a river crossing also appeared more difficult than it was because the Amarok sailed up it.
During these conditions the engine never felt as though it raised a sweat. Dare we say there was a hint of Range Rover about the comfortable, confident way the Amarok tackled terrain?VW has calibrated the V6 with relatively low outputs for its size – Audi and Porsche do much more with it for example – and has also engineered in additional toughness to make it withstand slow, hot off-road work.
The one thing we questioned about the original Amarok was the highly-strung twin-turbo four-cylinder displacing just 2.0 litres. Its blend of road manners, long-distance comfort and formidable off-road skills were the makings of a brilliant overlander and remote area tourer. But could we trust such a small engine to haul the gear required for this application, possibly towing a trailer, in Australia’s harsh conditions?With the V6 there is just one turbo and the work is spread across an extra litre and two more cylinders. We’d be much happier in the middle of the Simpson knowing that.
And when we got home, we would have all the pleasures of a V6-powered ute to enjoy.
The main, and only sticking point is the lack of blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.
Oh, and there are still no curtain airbags to protect rear passengers. A couple of competitors provide these features, for less money.
It was also a bit weird to be twisting the key in the ignition of a $70,000 German car rather than hitting a starter button after stepping inside to automatically unlocking doors.
Some may question the 3000kg towing capacity when competitors can legally haul half a tonne more with much less powerful engines.
But these factors are horses for courses. If they don’t matter to you but having a sweet-steering, powerful, comfortable 4x4 dual-cab ute does, then you’d be backing a winner with the Amarok V6.
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