A V6 heart transplant gives the VW Amarok a newfound sense of driving enjoyment, but is it enough to move it to the top of the heap?
When it arrived in 2011, the Volkswagen Amarok redefined what was capable for a double-cab ute. A car-like cabin, and car-like ride made the VW pickup feel different to the trucks we were used to. It felt, well… car-like.
But time moved on, and competitors caught up to the Amarok. Plenty of pickups now offer levels of refinement that almost put them into an 'SUV with a big boot' category, so how can VW possibly counter?
With the one thing that has been eluding pickup drivers since the dawn of time.
The 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6 packs a 3.0-litre, 24-valve, turbocharged diesel V6 that churns out 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque. You can hear Holden Colorado sales material being shredded, as we have a new class leader.
That power number, too, is what the big ‘Roc can pull at any time. Find yourself in third or fourth gear, mash the throttle beyond 70 per cent at over 50km/h, and you engage an overboost function that raises the stakes to 180kW, and extends torque to 580Nm.
You get ten seconds of all this bonus oomph, perfect for overtaking a road train, or even an actual train, should the opportunity arise.
The grille and front fascia have been refreshed, giving the already handsome Amarok a bolder new face. The V6 models bring three new colours to the table, too: Iridium Grey, Starlight Blue and Ravenna Blue (exclusive to the Ultimate and a $590 option).
We think the Ravenna Blue in particular (the hero colour), suits the straight up-and-down sides of the VW pickup, and gives it real road presence. It is after all, pretty jolly big.
Footprint area is a sizable 5.25 metres long by 2.23 metres wide. The tub still holds the claim of being the only pickup in its class that can fit a pallete, any pallete, between the arches.
The tub itself is 1.55 meters long by 1.62 meters wide, but has a load lip of 780mm, which is the lowest in its class. You get four tie-down points, a 12-volt outlet and, on the Ultimate, a spray-on bedliner and that cool full-length alloy sports bar, that includes an LED light.
Alloy side rails are also included (removed from our car for off-road work) and even feature LED puddle lamps (on the Ultimate).
Wheels are standard at 18-inch on the Highline and 19-inch on the Ultimate. With 20-inch ‘Talca’ rims available as an option ($990).
Prices start from $59,990 for the Highline and $67,990 for the Ultimate, before options and on-road costs of course. You can read our full pricing and specification details here.
Inside, the dashboard has been revised, as have interior materials. It feels much more up market than before, like a chunky Passat.
The cabin itself is wide and tall, and offers excellent room in the front.
Storage is good, but not great. The central cubby lid looks big but it mainly covers the handbrake, and the glovebox isn’t what you’d call cavernous. We did like the dash-top tray, big door bins and area in front of the gear shifter to store things though.
The new 6.3-inch colour touch screen now supports DAB digital radio as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay device projections.
It’s a nice unit, albeit maybe a touch small, and offers the latest VW native software and predictive touch features. And just like every other VW, the Traffic info doesn’t work!
There are new front seats that VW call ‘ErgoComfort’ and they are excellent. With two-stage heating and 12-points of power adjustment (plus two manual adjustment), the seats offer terrific comfort and support and make long-distance touring a breeze. You can specify Alcantara ($1,890 option) or even soft Nappa ‘Vienna’ leather trim ($2,690 option) as well.
On the Ultimate, there is a colour LCD multi-function display which offers trip, audio, navigation and even tyre pressure data. The rest of the instruments and core switchgear are pure Volkswagen, so work well in that ergonomic yet clinical way.
Front occupants receive both front and side airbags, but there is no curtain system for either passenger row, leaving anyone sitting in the back without any airbag protection at all.
Arguably, rear airbags aren’t the natural high point on any pickup-buyer’s shopping list, but considering the V6 Highline and Ultimate models are geared more to the multi-role lifestyle segment, this is something that family buyers do need to think about.
For 2017 though, the Amarok now has a multi-collision braking system that stops it from rolling forward after an impact. It’s good, but we’d rather have seen some more modern driver assistance and safety inclusions like AEB, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, to help prevent the accident in the first place.
Accommodation in the back is quite tight for taller passengers, and there are no vents or even a center arm rest. The flip-out twin cup-holder on the floor of the rear compartment looks highly susceptible to spilt coffee and damage too.
You can fold up the rear seat base in a 60:40 split but there is no storage under the floor.
There is a 12-volt outlet back there though, one of five in the car. There’s the one in the tub, one in the dash-top tray and two in front of the gear shifter on the center console. There’s only one USB point though.
To get a real feel for the 2107 changes though, turn the key (yes, still) and kick the big V6 into life.
At a top level, the 3-litre V6 is the same engine that features in the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. Volkswagen have made some important changes, specific to the Amarok, to better manage the demands put on it by the more ‘hard working’ pickup platform.
It has a revised sump, a steel vibration damper (more robust) and adapted cylinders and sleeve linings. The power outputs have been essentially ‘de-tuned’ to better manage cooling and other higher stresses seen in an off-road environment.
None of that matters though, when you start to wind the V6 out. It pulls solidly off the line then gets a real boost in the middle rev-range as you accelerate ahead.
Volkswagen claim a 0-100km/h sprint of 7.9-seconds, which is just half a second shy of the Porsche Cayenne Diesel. And it’s a ute.
Nail the throttle and you can see the tacho needle flicking back and forth as the car shifts up a gear then quickly builds rev again. It’s just the right amount of power too, it feels smooth and confident.
The only downside, is the lack of a hearty exhaust note, and I’d say if the car makes you feel that it needs one, then VW has done a good job!
Peak power is available at 3000rpm with all 550Nm of torque on board from just 1500rpm. The car feels flexible and potent enough, but perhaps the best example to use is the 80 to 100km/h overtaking performance, which is, quite simply, effortless.
Even up hill, squeeze the throttle and the V6 responds with the required muscle.
It tours brilliantly and you get used to the urge and flexibility of the V6 very quickly. For pick-up drivers, this is one of those ‘where have you been all my life’ moments.
Volkswagen claim a combined fuel consumption cycle of 7.8L/100km. We averaged about double that for our video shoot and assessment drive, more a story of a heavy foot and repeated high-rev manoeuvres than an ambitious target though.
A short highway tour saw instantaneous consumption drop down to the mid sixes.
It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which works well with the extra power. The gearbox itself is rated to 700Nm loads, and uses first gear as a pseudo low-range, and eighth as an overdrive to help manage touring fuel use and vibration.
On the move, it shifts smoothly both up and down the ratios. High-rev changes are quick, and the Amarok feels quite entertaining to drive because of it.
You can tip the main shifter into a sports-manual mode and change gears with the paddles on the wheel too.
We did find the transition from drive to reverse, and back again (lots of three-point turns while filming) a bit sluggish, but not critically so.
Speaking of reverse, both V6 Amarok models are fitted with a standard reverse camera and front and rear sensors. The camera is situated under the tray door, and above the bumper so you get a very narrow view of actual ‘stuff’.
Despite its size, the Amarok still feels more like an SUV than a truck to drive. The ride is comfortable and compliant even over poorly surfaced roads without a load in the back. The rear leaf suspension feels taut but doesn’t exhibit the busy jittering of some other pickups.
Steering too is light and easy to manage, especially at highway speeds. Around town you feel there is a lot of steering angle needed (just under three turns lock-to-lock) to negotiate roundabouts and the like, but this translates to more accuracy off-road.
Another key update of the V6 Amarok are the inclusion of rear disc brakes, a first for the class. The rotors are 332mm at the front and 300mm at the rear. It’s almost amazing that calling out four-wheel discs is still a thing for a 2017 model car, but drums have traditionally been ‘enough’ for the pick-up segment, giving their hard-working nature.
The added oomph of the Amarok V6, though - and the skew toward more ‘leisure’ oriented buyers - means the brake upgrade is particularly warranted. We didn’t perform any specific emergency stops, but noted that you could wash off speed, on tarmac and gravel, very efficiently.
For unsealed surfaces, too, there is an off-road driving mode that adjusts throttle sensitivity, AWD setting, ABS and traction control calibration, plus prepares the hill-descent control system. Stamping on the brakes with this activated gives a longer gap between ABS pulses, meaning that the car is much more controllable, and stoppable on low-friction surfaces.
The 4Motion all-wheel drive system offers a standard 60 per cent rear drive bias, and can adjust anywhere from 80 percent under high acceleration loads to 40 percent for off-road work.
You can engage the standard rear differential lock if the terrain gets particularly gnarly, but for the most part the Amarok is just a point and shoot tool when the going gets rough.
The lack of a specific low-range drive doesn’t seem to slow the Amarok down, as it is capable of climbing a 45-degree angle slope in standard trim. To be clear, your body doesn’t want to go up or down a 45-degree slope - it’s pretty ridiculous.
Further, there are 29-degree approach and 24-degree departure angles and a 500mm wading depth.
We’ve talked about the V6 Amarok being more of a lifestyle pick-up than a working one, but that doesn’t mean that payload and towing isn’t important.
Despite the increase in engine capability, the Amarok retains its 3,000kg tow rating, despite other vehicles in this segment offering as high as 3500kg.
Volkswagen states that the up-rated (by an extra 500kg) gross-combination mass of 6000kg gives greater flexibility for towing and combined load management. In our experience, too, finding a trailer that approaches, let alone exceeds, a 3.0-tonne weight is much more the exception than the rule.
Since it arrived a bit over six years ago, some 41,000 Amaroks have been sold locally. In fact, Australia is the largest world export market for the big VW and was a crucial market for the implementation of the V6. So much so, VW are expecting the torque-monster to account for at least 50 percent of sales.
We’ve been seeing the 4x4 pickup segment get ever more up-market by the day, and the V6 Amarok is the most premium looking and feeling pick-up yet. This great engine is what the category has been missing, and we secretly hope it will ignite some kind of ute output arms race in the years to come. Imagine a VR38DETT powered Navara!
But while that powertrain is excellent, there are still a number of areas where the Amarok could improve upon. Rear passenger space and the inclusion of safety and driver assistance technology that is becoming the norm for this segment, are where we would like to see some big changes.
The lack of this equipment hasn’t hurt interest though, with VW claiming over 7000 enquiries have been made on the V6 models since they were announced.
Combine this with the power, capability and all-round flexibility of the 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6, we’re going to suggest the biggest problem buyers will face is getting their hands on one!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.