The all-new Volkswagen Amarok is the beginning of a new chapter for the giant German manufacturer as it seeks to become the world's largest car maker by 2018.
Nearly one in every five (17 percent to be precise) vehicles sold in Australia is a Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV). So if you want to gain more market share, you have to play in all the right categories. The Volkswagen Amarok is the first German-branded, Argentinian-built ute to be sold in Australia, and it's one hell of a thing.
There is a reason Toyota dominates sales figures every single month. Not only does it cater to the passenger and SUV market, but it also dominates the Pickup/Ute segment with its Toyota Hilux. So successful is the HiLux that it claims more than one in every four ute sales. So how can Volkswagen desire to be the world's largest car maker when it has so far not competed in the worldwide ute market, one of the largest segments in the world?
The Volkswagen Amarok project has been going on for some time with CarAdvice having previously reviewed the car in South America last year. Nonetheless, it's now finally in Australia with prices starting from $33,990 for the RWD base model.
Volkswagen Australia's director of commercial vehicles, Phil Clark, was quick to point out that the Amarok isn't just a “me too” product rushed to the market to fill a hole in the ute segment but a vehicle that captures the essence of Volkswagen's DNA and technology.
From the outside there is no mistaking the Amarok as anything but a European car. The two giant Volkswagen badges on the front and rear plus the overall shape of the vehicle help set it apart in this competitive market. But you can't sell a ute on looks alone.
At the launch of the vehicle in Hobart, we had the opportunity to put the Amarok through its paces during two days of off- and on-road driving. So important is the success of this vehicle to the Germans, that they had even built a mini makeshift town and named it Amarok Town. Complete with wooden walkways, street signs and cleverly designed themes throughout. Despite all this, the two drive days were all about the product itself.
While the Japanese have had decades to build up a near-indestructible reputation among buyers (we are talking about broad mainstream acceptance), Volkswagen is very much late to the party. If you ask a 20-year-old female on the street, she will more than likely recognise the HiLux name and may even be aware of its 'indestructible' reputation (Top Gear has certainly helped that). So what chance does the Amarok have?
Volkswagen has gone for a slightly different approach. It's built the first ute to be sold in Australia that has gained a five-star ANCAP safety rating, plus it happens to have the largest load area dimensions in class (dual-cab).
For those looking to compare, the tray measures 1555mm long by 1620mm wide, resulting in a load area of 2.52 square metres (payload capacity of up to 1.15 metric tonnes). To add even more fuel to the fire, the Amarok also has the highest load width (1222mm) between wheel wells in its class. Volkswagen says that this makes it possible to load Australian-sized pallets sideways.
To get the bad news out of the way first, the Volkswagen Amarok range in Australia lacks a few things. There is no automatic transmission and there is no single-cab option, yet. Plus, there is currently only the one engine choice. Volkswagen won't confirm an exact timeline for future product variations but it doesn't sound like it's just around the corner.
So then, does Volkswagen have a hard fight on its hands? It's hard to say. As a vehicle designed to do the things it's designed to do, the Amarok is a brilliant piece of machinery.
Our drive program consisted of nearly two hours of proper four-wheel driving (with the option to do much more). Usually when a car company includes an off-road section as part of its launch program, you can pretty much bet that it won't be that hard or challenging so to not put its vehicle in a compromising situation. But Volkswagen had something to prove. The Amarok must be just as capable or better than its Japanese rivals when it comes to toughing it out in the outback. So it was a case of putting your money where your mouth is.
We drove through a 15km section of dirt and muddy road which appeared to have been neglected for decades. Originally the drive wasn't meant to be incredibly challenging but the addition of near-torrential rain the day before had made the surface loose and much harder to overcome. So much so that if you had even the most momentary lapse in concentration, you could find yourself stuck in soft mud.
Nonetheless it's fair to say that Volkswagen's incredible expertise in off-roading (think Touareg and its Dakar cars) had all been put to use in the Amarok. Our test vehicle performed the entire leg with dignity and no sign of any issues.
Volkswagen has equipped all 4x4 models with ESP, off-road ABS, Hill Hold Assist and Hill Descent Assist. Plus you can engage 4x4 high and low with a simple click of a button near the gearstick (at speeds of up to 130km/h for high). You can also lock the rear diff and engage off-road mode.
The off-road mode instantly recalibrates the ESP system, electronic differential locks (EDL), antislip regulation (ASR) and anti-lock braking system (ABS) to better handle the task at hand. One of the features we did test extensively was the hill descent assist, which - at speeds below 30 km/h - holds a constant speed on steep descents by automatically applying the brakes. You can even leave the Amarok in neutral and it will still work just as good. Whatever speed you enter the descent in, the vehicle's computer will maintain it. You can reduce or increase the speed simply via the brake or accelerator pedal.
Overall, it's hard to fault the off-roading ability of the Volkswagen Amarok. It's impossible to say if it's better or worse than its Japanese rivals given we didn't have one there to compare, but given the tracks it successfully tackled during our time behind the wheel, you can be assured that it's certainly capable of conquering any real-world situation.
The Amarok boasts a 230mm ground clearance (193mm with underbody protection), an entry angle of 28 degrees across the range and a departure angle of 28 degrees for the base model (23.6 degrees on the rest). It has a wadding depth of 500mm and can lean up to 39.7 degrees.
So, off-roading ability: a green tick. What about on-road? You only have to drive a base model HiLux to realise how nervous it can feel around corners. Perhaps herein lies Amarok's biggest charm. Having built so many performance cars (think Volkswagen R line, Audi, Bugatti, Bentley, etc.) over the years, the Germans certainly know a thing or two about ride and handling and they've applied some of that to the Amarok design.
Sure, the Amarok may have leaf-springs in the rear for practicality, but boy does it still corner! On-road we drove it like it was a Volkswagen Golf R and it proved to be a very satisfying experience. Don't for a moment think this is a sports car, but it certainly beats its Japanese rivals in the ride and handling department. Best of all, it's smooth and without that sense of uneasy nervousness around tight bends.
Sit inside and you'll instantly know this is a Volkswagen. If the ride height wasn't so high you'd almost think you were in a Golf, except that there is a fair bit of hard plastics used throughout the cabin (which is good, because the Amarok is built to be a workhorse). During our test we drove the Trendline and Ultimate and both presented a comfortable cabin that one could easily spend many many hours in.
The Ultimate did seem to lack a few basic things, however. For example there were no audio controls on the steering wheel and the cabin could've done with a little more, well, bling.
Powering the entire Amarok range is 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine previously seen in the Volkswagen T5 range. It has been modified to fit the Amarok's design characteristics and delivers 120kW (at 4000 rpm) and 400Nm of torque from 1500 to 2500rpm. It uses anywhere between 7.7 and 7.9 litres of diesel per 100km on the combined cycle, depending on variant. Despite the different mechanical requirements for 4x2 and 4x4 models, all Amaroks are mated to the same smooth six-speed manual transmission built by the reputable people at ZF.
Performance-wise, it's no slouch. Nonetheless, it certainly doesn't hold a candle to some of its Japanese rivals (e.g. Nissan's 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel which delivers 170kW and 550Nm). You can, of course, argue that Volkswagen's 2.0-litre engine is sufficient for what the Amarok will do on a daily basis and you'd be right. But let me tell you why it doesn't work as a single-engine option across the entire model range.
There are four variants in the Amarok line-up. The base model Amarok (from $33,990 for 2WD, $43,990 for 4Motion), the Amarok Trendline 4Motion (from $47,990), Amarok Highline 4Motion (from $52,990) and the range-topping Ultimate (from $58,490).
The idea is to appeal to the entire ute market, from government departments and fleets with the base model to the private sector with its Trendline and Highline, and to those that simply must have the best with the Ultimate.
But there may be some potential bottlenecks for the Amarok. It's only available in a manual, which may limit its sales to government departments and fleets. It's not exactly the cheapest ute on the market (if its feature-list and safety credentials mean nothing to you). As for those that simply must have the best, at nearly 60K for the Ultimate, the powertrain doesn't cut it. Not because it's not sufficient or under-delivers, but because you surely don't really want your Ultimate ute to perform the same as the base model?
Speaking of performance, the 2.0-litre diesel is a good little thing. It delivers its torque where it's needed and the six-speed gearbox is made to make the most of it. It can reach its top speed in fifth gear with sixth best used just for fuel efficiency.
There are three different drivetrains available across the Amarok range. The 2WD (rear-wheel drive) on the base model, the 4Motion selectable transmission (standard on all but the base model variant) and the 4Motion permanent transmission.
From the outside the difference between the two 4Motion systems is simply a red or black colour badge on the 4Motion symbol.
Underneath the glossy exterior the selectable 4Motion system allows for a change between 4x2 and 4x4 driving modes while the permanent variant make use of a purely mechanical system that delivers 40 percent of power to the front and 60 percent to the rear during normal driving conditions. It can deliver as much as 80 percent power to the rear when required and 60 percent to the front if the rear-end needs some help. We didn't get a chance to test the permanent 4Motion system off-road, but if you plan on doing a lot of off-roading it would make a lot more sense to go with the selectable 4Motion system instead.
All variants come standard with heavy-duty rear leaf-spring (3+2) suspension but can be optioned with comfort suspension (2+1 leaf springs).
Safety is one of the vehicle's biggest draw cards and Volkswagen has equipped all variants with all features as standard. That includes driver and front passenger airbag, front side and thorax airbag plus all the electronic 'keep-you-from-crashing' gadgets you can think of.
Overall, the all-new Volkswagen Amarok is an excellent entry into the Ute segment. Offering class-leading on-road ride and handling, best-in-class safety credentials and capable off-roading ability, the Amarok brings a much-needed sense of European class and sophistication to the segment.
- Amarok TDI400 2WD 120kW 6-speed manual $33,990
- Amarok TDI400 4MOTION 120kW 6-speed manual $43,990
- Amarok Trendline TDI400 4MOTION 120kW 6-speed manual $47,990
- Amarok Highline TDI400 4MOTION 120kW 6-speed manual $52,990
- Amarok Ultimate TDI400 4MOTION 120kW 6-speed manual $58,490
- Metallic Paint $490
- Pearl Effect Paint $490
- Rear Differential Lock $790
- Heated Front Seats (Ultimate only) $590
- Park Distance Control – Rear (Trendline and Highline only) $590
- Cruise Control with Multifunction Display $590
- 16” Alloy wheels “Taruma” (Amarok) $690
- 17” Alloy wheels “Aldo” (Trendline) $990
- 18” Alloy wheels “Durban” (Trendline) $1,590
- 19” Alloy wheels “Alastaro” (Trendline) $2,190
Click through to see the specification document outlining the feature list of each variant: 2011 Volkswagen Amarok Specifications and see the gallery below for more details pictures of each variant: