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Unlike a number of other market segments, private commercial ute sales tend to be top-heavy in terms of specifications and the addition of aftermarket accessories.
Enter the Volkswagen Amarok Core edition — an entry-level dual-cab all-wheel drive ute that doesn’t compromise on design, and thereby bucks a trend.
If you look at most other brands, entry-level utes tend to look and feel basic. The Amarok Core is contrasted by its body-coloured bumper bars, alloy wheels and ‘Core’ stickers on the side flanks.
The starting price is $41,490 plus on-road costs for the 4MOTION (Volkswagen-speak for all-wheel drive) cab-chassis dual-cab, increasing to $42,990 for its tray-bearing sibling. An eight-speed automatic transmission can be had for an additional $3000 in each instance. It’s a cheaper entry point than most of its competition — with the dual-cab diesel Ranger, Colorado, D-Max and BT-50 more expensive.
One of the Amarok’s main downfalls is a lack of dual-range on automatic models, despite the buyer paying an additional $3000 for the privilege of the self-shifter. As an avid four-wheel driver, it’s hard to imagine four-wheel-driving without a dual-range gearbox available.
In a bid to dispel that myth, we joined Volkswagen for a road trip from Weipa in far-north Queensland to Cape York along the Old Telegraph Track.
The Old Telegraph Track aims to challenge drivers with a range of creek crossings and rough terrain, and is often tackled by modified vehicles with four-wheel drive tyres, higher-riding suspension and a low-range gearbox. The only modification to our test vehicle was a snorkel to extend its wading depth from 500mm to more than 1-metre.
The Amarok Core edition comes with chunkier 245mm wide, 16-inch Pirelli Scorpion ATR tyres and a vinyl floor to make washing out gunk easier.
With a generous 1620mm x 1555mm cargo area and a 1051kg payload capacity (1050kg for the six-speed manual), the Amarok Core is capable of carrying an Australian-sized pallet in its tray. There's also a 3000kg braked towing capacity — down on the segment leaders that offer 3500kg.
At the rear, the Amarok range utilises a five-leaf leaf spring suspension setup that can be changed to a three-leaf system that improves ride comfort. But, an improvement in ride comfort comes at the cost of payload, dropping to 810kg.
Inside the cabin, the Amarok Core is all business. The cabin features cloth seats with a vinyl floor and reach/rake adjustable steering. The seats are comfortable and allow for ample seat and seatbelt adjustment to reach comfortable levels.
In terms of entertainment, it’s barebones in there. The small entertainment system features a monochrome display screen that accepts SD cards, USB and auxillary inputs. There is also Bluetooth phone functionality for taking calls hands-free.
While storage is great around the cabin, there is very little space in the centre console, which looks big from the top but is eaten away by the emergency brake.
Powering the Amarok Core is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine that produces 132kW of power and 400Nm of torque when mated to a six-speed manual, or 420Nm of torque when mated to the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The use of a smaller diesel engine allows Volkswagen to record impressive fuel economy figures of 7.9L/100km for the manual and 8.3L/100km for the automatic.
On the open road, the Amarok rides beautifully, even without a load bearing down on the leaf spring rear suspension. The front end feels directly in tune with the rear and allows the car to feel progressive through corners and over rough terrain.
The hydraulic steering feels weighty enough for feedback, but doesn’t carry the weight of something like the NP300 Nissan Navara. The steering wheel also sits nicely in hand and is reminiscent of the steering wheel you would find in any other Volkswagen.
Thankfully, VW has avoided a dual-clutch gearbox for the Amarok and has instead gone with an incredibly versatile and quick-shifting automatic gearbox with torque converter. Regardless of speed or gear selection, the Amarok is able to confidently switch through gears and hunt down the correct ratio.
The torque-laden engine copes well both in higher gears and when moving off from standstill in low gears. While a manual shifting mode or a Sport mode is available, they are redundant given the nature of this smooth gearbox.
One of the many stretches of long and open dirt roads we tackled really tested the Amarok’s ability to handle rutted gravel roads and uneven corners. In its standard operating mode, the stability control could sometimes be overly intrusive and interfere with the vehicle’s balance.
But, Volkswagen has engineered a solution that voids that problem altogether. The Amarok’s ‘Off-Road’ mode engages off-road ABS and ESP modes along with hill-descent control above certain incline/decline angles.
With this mode selected there was very little stability control intrusion and the ABS worked to bite into the gravel more, to help pull up the Amarok when surprise dips would appear out of the blue.
When the going got really tough, we manually engaged the Amarok Core’s rear differential lock that uses an electro-mechanical coupling to ensure both rear wheels receive equal amounts of torque.
The all-wheel drive system splits torque 60/40 between the rear and front wheels respectively, giving the Amarok Core steadfast traction through corners and on uneven surfaces.
When it came to creek crossings, some proved to be much deeper than they looked. That’s where the aftermarket snorkel came in handy. With a standard wading depth of 500mm, it would be quite easy for the Amarok’s engine to become filled with water.
Some of the creek crossings were deep enough to push water across the bonnet and fill the tray. While you would consider the interior to be a volatile environment in these situations, it was interesting to see channels within the doorframe that would fill with water to relieve pressure on rubber seals.
These door channels took on enough water to ensure even the deeper creek crossings didn’t cause water to enter the cabin.
Even on some of the steeper and muddier uphill stretches we didn’t find the car lacking, despite missing out on a low-range gearbox. In most situations the permanent 4MOTION system and rear differential lock allowed the car to power through.
The only time a low-range gearbox and manual centre differential lock would have came in handy were at the infamous Gunshot creek crossing. Gunshot is known as the most extreme piece of four-wheel drive track on the Old Telegraph Track, claiming many four-wheel drives and egos in recent times.
With an approach and departure angle of 28 degrees, the crew only attempted Gunshot in the cab chassis lead vehicle. After dropping the car off a near-vertical section of road, the front-end crashed into the mud before powering through and getting stuck — a gallant effort nevertheless and easily fixed with a snatch strap recovery.
An unexpected durability test was encountered close to the end of our journey where we travelled on hours of continuously rutted corrugations that literally shook the Amarok to its core. The dashboard, seats and our luggage were being attacked from countless corrugations and uneven road surfaces. There were no issues at all among the fleet of vehicles.
In terms of gripes, the only ones that presented themselves were the lack of rear parking sensors or reversing camera on Amarok Core models, along with the floaty ride with no load in the rear.
These things aside, the Volkswagen Amarok Core is an accomplished and superb vehicle built for a purpose — punters after a no frills four-wheel drive commercial ute. It's a good balance between tough and comfortable.
With a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, the Amarok Core makes sense for those wanting a well-built and durable ute. Given its four-year tenure on the market, the Amarok still feels just as good as it did when it landed locally in 2011.
Click on the photos tab to see more images of the 2015 Volkswagen Amarok Core.