The updated 2015 Volkswagen Amarok ute range has arrived - and that's a good thing for the brand, as it's set to face an onslaught of new rivals over the next 12 months.
The German brand’s first-ever pick-up has fresh competition arriving all year – the new Mitsubishi Triton is first, followed by the Nissan Navara, updated Ford Ranger, revamped Mazda BT-50 and, possibly by the end of 2015, the big-selling Toyota HiLux.
As such, Volkswagen has introduced an updated version of the Amarok ute, with a range of changes to the line-up and revised equipment levels, too. Read the full 2015 Volkswagen Amarok pricing and specifications story here.
We tested the second-from-top TDI420 Highline automatic model, which costs $55,490 plus on-road costs. As part of the 2015 update, this model has seen its standard front and rear parking sensors complemented by a reverse-view camera (previously only on the range-topping Ultimate) as part of a new media screen upgrade. It also has satellite navigation standard, new interior trim, and the front seats can now be had with lumbar adjustment.
Buyers can also choose to add bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, which are standard on the Ultimate, and cost $2390 on this spec.
One thing we’ve always believed about the Amarok is that it sets the benchmark in terms of comfort and driving manners in the ute segment, and that remains the case.
The steering is light but responsive and gives the impression you’re driving a mild mannered SUV rather than a workhorse ute. The steering wheel twirls easily for low speed parking moves (aided by the standard front and rear parking sensors, as well as that newly added reverse-view camera), while at higher speeds it offers assuredness to the driver and the tiller doesn’t buck or wobble in the hand as it can in some other utes.
A lack of bucking and wobbling is a good way to describe the way the Amarok rides, too. It was this tester’s first ever chance to sample an Amarok without the brand’s “Comfort Suspension”, which essentially sees the removal of two leaf springs at the rear, thus lessening the rigid nature of the ride and reducing the payload (from the regular 1000 kilograms to 801kg).
It’s still not as comfortable or compliant as, say, that aforementioned SUV, but the way the Amarok shrugs off big bumps and potholes puts its rivals to shame. There is some juddering to be felt over sharp-edged lumps when the tray is empty, but adding a few hundred kilos of weight to the tub soon settles that down.
The tray is big – the biggest in its class in fact, measuring 1555 millimetres long and 1620mm wide at the broadest point, while between the wheel-arches there is 1222mm of space, enough for a standard Aussie pallet to slot in. The tub’s high walls (508mm) are handy for keeping things from falling out, and there are four tie-down points to fully secure your load.
One element of the Amarok that can’t better its contemporaries – we’re looking at the Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max, here – is its towing capability. The best braked capacity on offer from the VW ute is 3.0 tonnes, while those rivals boast 3.5-tonne capacity.
We didn’t get a chance to tow using our test Amarok, but in all honesty it feels like it might struggle with a big load behind it, as the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine can feel a bit wheezy under hard load. It certainly doesn’t offer the same unbridled grunt of the powerhouse 3.2-litre five-cylinder used in top-spec BT-50 and Ranger models.
That said, the Amarok’s 2.0-litre betters all and sundry in terms of its refinement when motoring around town, with smooth power delivery and ultra-clean shifts from the eight-speed automatic. It will always aim to get to the highest possible ratio in order to save fuel, and it is one of the most frugal of the hardcore workhouse utes on the market, with claimed consumption rated at 8.3 litres per 100km – the equivalent five-cylinder auto Ranger and BT-50 models use a claimed 9.2L/100km.
While manual Amarok variants have a selectable 4Motion four-wheel-drive system, the automatic-only Amarok Highline has standard permanent 4Motion four-wheel drive – and you can tell it has more traction than utes with switchable systems that tend to chirp the rear wheels in 2WD mode. It also has an off-road mode that controls hill descent speed, and there’s a locking rear diff that you won’t find in any specification of the country’s best-selling ute, the Toyota HiLux.
Inside, the Amarok has seen a few changes as part of this update, the main one being the new media system. The 5.0-inch touchscreen colour display is standard on Highline and Ultimate models, and optional on the lower-grade Trendline. It’s the same system as is seen in the Volkswagen Golf, and while it looks a bit pixelated and blocky on the navigation screen, the menus are logically laid out, and it’s simple to use and get used to.
However, in our test car we found the navigation could be annoying. For instance, rather than muting the instructions during a phone call, it continued to read them out, making for a jilted conversation. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a way to disable it, and it was even more frustrating given the centre display on the instrument cluster also relays directions to the driver.
The storage is excellent through the cabin, with large door pockets (which seem a bit daft for a tradie truck – imagine the pie pastry flakes and crud from the bottoms of travel coffee cups that will accumulate in the lush fabric lining!), a dash-top bin with 12-volt outlet, and a reasonably large centre console bin – though the lid on our car’s centre bin was wobbly.
That aside, the interior is arguably the best in its class. There’s a quality feel to the cockpit, aided by new seat trim, dual-zone climate control and some nice piano black finishes that are hard to find in any other utes on the market. That said, the similarly priced Isuzu D-Max X-Runner gets even more kit – including keyless entry, push-button start and a black headlining – for less money.
We still think it’s rubbish, though, that the rear seat has no airbag protection as Volkswagen doesn’t offer the Amarok with curtain airbags, despite many major competitors offering the potentially life-saving protection in their dual-cab utes. That said, it scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2011, and it has dual front head airbags and front side/thorax ‘bags.
If you can deal with that, the rear seat is otherwise great – there’s good head and leg room available, and the bench itself is comfortable and broad enough for three adults. There are three child seat anchor points and two ISOFIX points as well.
Ownership will play a big part in the decision making process for most ute buyers, and the Volkswagen Amarok is reasonably well placed in that regard. The German maker offers capped-price servicing for the first 90,000km or six years of ownership, with the annual cost being a little on the high side at about $550 per year averaged out over the coverage period. All VW models have a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and three years of roadside assistance.
In summary, the 2015 Volkswagen Amarok remains one of the most polished and impressive utes on sale in Australia today. It can’t boast the same big numbers as some of the class-leaders in terms of towing or torque, but it is the most comfortable and car-like truck in its class.