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VW continues Amarok countdown

On track: VW's Amarok ute is set for Australian launch late this year or early 2011.

Volkswagen’s first one-tonne ute to be phased in, with crew-cab Amarok first

Volkswagen logo15 Jul 2010

By JAMES STANFORD

VOLKSWAGEN Australia is in the final stages of preparing its assault on the workhorse champion, the Toyota HiLux, with its all-new Amarok one-tonner developed with a clean slate.

The ute market is an attractive segment in Australia, peaking at 257,828 units in 2008 despite an end-of-year dip as the global financial crisis hit. Toyota sold a whopping 40,722 HiLux models that year.

Volkswagen Australia is yet to lock in the arrival date of its new model, but will show the Amarok at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney this October.

Sales will start late this year or early 2011, depending on production availability.

Unlike most of the Thai-built one-tonne utes on sale in Australia, the Amarok is built in Argentina, where demand for the product is strong.

At launch, the Amarok will be available only in one body style, a five-seater four-door crew cab, but a single-cab with a considerably longer tray will be made available, most likely around six months after launch.

3 center imageThe entry level model will be rear-drive, but Volkswagen Australia also has the option of bringing in two other drivetrain options, but it is not ready to disclose plans.

These are a constant all-wheel drive version with a Torsen centre differential, and a more off-road focussed model that runs in rear-drive mode until the driver engages the locking centre differential. This model is also available with a locking rear differential to help in extremely slippery situationsTwo diesel engines are available from the factory, with a petrol unit to follow next year.

Both diesels are 2.0-litre common-rail turbo four cylinders. One has a single turbo and generates 90kW and 340Nm and manages an impressive average fuel consumption figure of 7.5 litres per 100km with the rear drive variant.

The premium unit uses two turbochargers to generate 120kW and a healthy 400Nm.

Its fuel consumption figure starts at 7.6 litres for the rear-drive version.

There is no certainty that Volkswagen Australia will take both of these engines and may choose to take the more potent one.

Volkswagen also recently revealed the details of the upcoming petrol engine, a single-turbo 118kW/300Nm four-cylinder with an average fuel consumption of 9.9 litres per 100km.

Initially, only mated with a six-speed manual gearbox, Amarok will get an automatic transmission, although there is no word on when.

The diesel-engined Amaroks will have a towing capacity of 2800kg, with the payload varying between 663kg and 1047kg.

They are not car-based utes, but proper body built on ladder-frame chassis for tough treatment.

The Amarok runs front disc brakes and drums on the rear.

Volkswagen has designed the Amarok to have the widest tub in the class, measuring 1555mm long, 1620mm across the back and 1222mm between the wheel arches.

The company says there is enough space to fit a Euro pallet (1200mm x 800mm) sideways , while also taking two pallets with the tailgate down. It adds that the single cab will be able to fit three with tailgate down.

Ground clearance is a healthy 249mm, and the Amarok has a wading depth of 500mm. A newly developed hill-descent control can also work when the gearbox is in neutral.

Volkswagen has taken the opportunity to load its new one-tonner with a swag of safety gear, including electronic stability control, which might be standard in Australia, and front and side airbags.

With a push of an ‘Off Road’ button near the gear shift, the Amarok’s anti-skid brakes and electronic stability control systems allow for significantly more slip on loose surfaces to prevent the systems from kicking in too often.

It also allows for more wheel lock under braking to reduce the stopping distance on gravel and dirt.

The ESC can also be linked to trailers, using an approved connection, enabling the vehicle’s electronic system to also operate the trailer’s brakes to keep everything under control.

Volkswagen is keen to lift the interior quality in the workhorse class and says its cabins have a more refined interior than any of its rivals.

Equipment levels will be confirmed at launch, but expect a reasonable amount of standard gear.

Overseas, there is a three grade line-up including the base model, the mid-range Trendline model and the range-topping Highline which comes with lots of chrome, premium sound system, upgraded seats (with optional leather) and a range of luxurious comfort features.

Drive impressions:THE Toyota Hilux is set to face a big challenge from the Volkswagen Amarok.

GoAuto was impressed by a left-hand drive pre-production model we sampled in Argentina last year.

Now we have tested a right-hand drive production version of the Amarok in South Africa.

While it didn’t feel quite as good as the pre-production model in terms of body rigidity, the Amarok is still a competent workhorse ute with several attributes that could see it become the one-tonner of choice i as long as the pricing is, as Volkswagen Australia promises, competitive.

We tested the Amarok on a range of public roads as well as the unique conditions of an open range game park an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, an industrial centre (VW, Ford and General Motors all make cars there) on the south coast of South Africa.

The Amarok is likely to win over many customers as soon as they slide into the spacious cabin.

It looks considerably better than any other one-tonner on the market, with an interior quality pleasantly at odds with its hard working nature.

The plastic surfaces are not soft like those of most passenger cars, but look every bit as good.

There isn’t much flair in the design of the dashboard and instruments, but the look is crisp and clean and the controls are logical and easy to use.

VW has included a handy digital centre display, in between the tacho and speedo, which looks good and contains much useful trip information. It also has an attractive sound system head unit straight from a car rather than a truck.

It is easy to get comfortable in the driver or passenger seat and there is more than enough space, front or rear. Legroom and headroom is plentiful and the rear seats are comfortable – not always the case in these vehicles – meaning this could easily carry four burly adults with no complaints.

Heading off along the surf coast just out of Port Elizabeth, the serenity of the cabin was immediately noticeable. While the cabin noise of most one-tonners has been significantly reduced in the past few years, most are still quite noisy. Not the Amarok.

It is as quiet as most passenger cars and quieter than a few we know. It is possible to have a conversation with anyone in the car without raised voices.

The production Amarok didn’t ride as well as the pre-production version we drove in Argentina. That vehicle seemed to have a body carved from granite and you could detect virtually no flex in the ladder frame chassis.

That was not the case with the production model. It is still one of the better one-tonners in terms of body flex, but the body does still wiggle and jiggle like other ladder frame vehicles on uneven surfaces.

Volkswagen has done a good job with the Amarok suspension. It has a lot of travel, which it uses when encountering the most severe bumps, but doesn’t seem to wallow around too much. It is a generally comfortable set-up.

Our Amarok was fitted with the twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine (120kW and 400Nm) which is a strong.

We are yet to test this unit with a heavy load, but unladen, it performs admirably.

It has a lovely abundance of torque at low speed, delivering maximum twisting force at 1500rpm to 2000rpm. At 100km/h in sixth gear the engine calmly ticks away at just above 1600rpm.

It is smooth and relatively quiet for a diesel engine although your ear can occasionally pick up an odd high pitched rattle, perhaps because the cabin is so quiet.

We also put the Amarok to the test on some severe terrain at the Pumpa game park, tackling a hillside that you wouldn’t dream of ascending unless encouraged by an expert.

After selecting 4WD and low range, the Amarok crawled up the hill without much effort, pulling away happily with the 4WD system generating all the traction required.

It wasn’t all roses, though. The Amarok is easy to stall when the engine drops off boost.

And no, it isn’t just us – several others had the same problem. You are also required to slip the clutch slightly and apply more throttle when turning at low speeds when 4WD is engaged. Failure to do so can result in more stalls.

There is some driveline shunt detectable when engaging and disengaging the clutch, but it is not terminal.

The manual gearbox is best in the class, and the clutch is light and easy under the foot. That said, the lack of an automatic transmission is a massive blow and will cost Volkswagen Australia many sales until one finally arrives.

The Amarok has good ground clearance, and rocks and ruts provide no concerns.

In the tub, four tie-down points are located down low. An optional tie-down kit, mounted high in the tub, will be optional.

A light mounted on the back of the cab to illuminate the tub – handy in many situations. A 12-volt power outlet in the tub is also useful.

These features, as well as the generous storage compartments in the cabin, show VW thought of everything when developing the Amarok.

It will of course take time in the field, and lots of hard work, to see if the Amarok is sufficiently tough for Australian customers.

The initial impression is that it is a comfortable workhorse that is extremely capable in tough terrain.

As long as the price is right, it will be a formidable opponent for the existing workhorse utes, including the almighty HiLux.

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GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.