The Volkswagen Amarok emerged in 2011 as a rare European rival to the established Japanese brands in the ute segment.
Amarok is built in Argentina but this ute has plenty of hallmarks associated with the German brand.
The Volkswagon Amarok range is expansive to give it the broadest coverage against key competitors, comprising single cab chassis, single cab ute, dual cab chassis and dual cab ute, as well as a split of 4x2 (rear-wheel drive) and 4x4.
This review focuses on a model towards the higher end of the Amarok spectrum: the TDI420, priced from $48,990.
VW’s model designations for its utes differ to its passenger cars and SUVs. Where they feature a power figure followed by the engine type – such as 103TSI for the 103kW turbocharged stratified injection Golf – the Amarok not only swaps that around but uses a torque figure instead for its turbo diesel (TDI).
That’s a reflection of the importance of an engine’s pulling ability – or torque – in a segment also know as ‘One tonners’.
The German ute, however, sounds admirable when you consider it produces its torque from just a 2.0-litre four-cylinder compared with the 3.0L V6 Nissan, 3.2-litre five-cylinder Ford/Mazda and 2.8L four Holden.
And with a pair of turbochargers, where other dual-cab utes opt for one, the VW Amarok TDI420 delivers quick performance, good fuel efficiency and strong towing capability.
In CarAdvice’s dual-cab ute megatest, the Amarok was second only to the powerful Navara STX in the 0-100km/h sprint, with a time of 11.7 seconds. It was also one of the most frugal, with recorded consumption of 10.2 litres per 100km.
You won’t experience a drivetrain combination like the Amarok’s in any other rival.
Besides that unorthodox small-capacity engine utilising twin turbos, the Volkswagen Amarok also features permanent all-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox with the most ratios: eight. (A HiLux auto has just four gears.)
The auto contributes to the drivetrain’s slickness, with smooth shifts and quick thinking to downshift or upshift to keep the Amarok moving swiftly along.
If you’re in a sportier mood, the tipshift function can be used to hold gears because this is a diesel engine that will rev eagerly towards a 5000rpm redline – and sound more like a petrol engine compared with other turbo diesels.
There’s still some diesel clatter but not to the extent heard in other utes, except for the also-quiet Navara.
Permanent all-wheel drive means the Amarok driver doesn’t need to worry about shifting secondary levers or rotating dials for off-road driving.
The Mitsubishi Triton has selectable all-wheel drive for all surfaces including the bitumen, though the majority of dual-cab utes are rear-wheel-drivers with selectable high range (4H for higher-speed off-roading) or low range (for trickier, low-speed off-roading).
Some buyers may be dissuaded by the VW’s lack of a proper low-range transfer case, and one of the lowest ride heights in the class, though the Amarok is highly capable away from the bitumen.
A lockable rear differential is included and the Amarok includes an Off-road mode, which can be activated at up to 130km/h via a button to alter the calibration of the stability control, electronic diffs and brakes to adjust for trickier terrain.
The auto’s short first gear also aids crawling, while the hill descent control employable below 30km/h is effective.
On the road, Volkswagen’s ute is one of the best to drive. There’s a firm ride and it doesn’t absorb bumps as well as the company’s large SUV, the Touareg, but among dual-cab utes it’s one of the most comfortable.
Only a Ranger or Navara will provide a more soothing passage around town or along freeways.
It’s also in the upper echelon along with the Ranger and BT-50 when it comes to composure on winding country roads, while the Amarok’s steering does a great job of mimicking the steering of other Volkswagens with its likeable linearity and weighting.
Our Amarok sat on a Comfort suspension – a no-cost option that removes a leaf from the rear springs to improve suppleness but does cut the payload by 200kg.
If carrying loads is a greater priority, buyers can simply stick with the standard heavy-duty suspension.
That brings a payload of 969kg, which beats the equivalent Navara (906kg), Triton (931kg) and HiLux (940kg) but trails the rival Isuzu D-Max (1015kg), Ranger (1041kg), Colorado (1047kg) and BT-50 (1088kg).
Amarok boasts the biggest tray among its closest peers, though.
When ferrying passengers rather than cargo, the Amarok offers those in the back seat good headroom, excellent forward vision, and a bench that’s firm but good for under-thigh support.
It’s a shame Volkswagen doesn’t offer the additional protection of curtain airbags for rear-seat passengers, though the Amarok was commendably the first of the dual-cab utes to make the breakthrough to a five-star NCAP crash rating (and now matched in this respect by the Ranger, BT-50, Colorado and HiLux).
It’s also one of only two utes (including Ranger) to include rear parking sensors as standard at this price level.
Volkswagen’s reputation for quality interiors also translates to the Amarok despite its workhorse status. Sure, hard plastics dominate – for the sake of durability – but this is the classiest dual-cab ute interior design thanks to instrument dials, heating and ventilation controls and an infotainment screen that clearly relate the Amarok’s cabin with the likes of the Golf and Passat.
Even the (large) door bins are carpeted, while no ute could match the satisfying door-closing thuds of the VW that enhanced its reputation for build quality.
The Volkswagen Amarok TDI420 comes in a choice of three trim grades: $48,990 Trendline, $53,990 Highline and $61,490 Ultimate.
Trendline feature highlights include foglights, 4-speaker audio, leather gearlever, handbrake and multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth with audio streaming, 16-inch alloy wheels, full-size spare, electric side mirrors, and cruise control.
Highline additions include rear parking sensors, higher-grade audio with six speakers, stainless steel side steps and sports bar, chrome exterior touches, 17-inch alloy wheels with extended wheelarches, rear privacy glass, and dual-zone climate.
The flagship Ultimate gains 18-inch alloy wheels and leather seats.
The warranty is the average three years, though with unlimited kilometres where most competitors limit to 100,000km. Mitsubishi and Isuzu are the most generous, though, with five years.
Predicted resale values for dual-cab utes are around the 47-51 per cent, with the Amarok at 48 per cent against the HiLux and Triton that retain their value the best after three years.
European brands have often been criticised for high servicing costs, but Volkswagen is one of those to have joined the capped price servicing brigade.
The upshot is that the Amarok was the fourth cheapest to service in our eight-ute mega test – costing $1933 over four years at every 15,000km.
Call these last points nice little bonuses for a dual-cab ute that with its strong performance, capabilities on and off road, interior and build quality, and passenger comfort makes itself one of the strongest choices for buyers looking for a ute that is effective both during the week and at the weekend.
Click to read CarAdvice’s Dual-Cab Ute comparison.